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Satellites and Sunspots at the SMC Planetarium

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By Lookout Staff

September 15, 2022 -- A fleet of satellites, increasing sunspots and a new lunar lander are among the topics the Santa Monica College (SMC) planetarium will explore next month.

One of October's free, live virtual shows will also look at the first women to be honored with astronomy hardware named after them. The shows take place on Friday nights at 8 p.m., following The Night Sky Show at 7.

Next month's line-up kicks off October 7 with "Here’s Looking at You, Earth," a presentation by Associate Lecturer Sarah Vincent that explains the role played by some of NASA's satellites orbiting Earth.

The satellites, Vincent explains, "provide crucial data for understanding Earth's changing climate."

The series continues Friday, October 14, when Senior Lecturer Jim Mahon takes a look at the Sun's increasing activity toward Solar maximum.

"Estimated to occur in a range from late 2024 to 2026, it is under unprecedented scrutiny by humanity," according to Mahon.

The sun goes through a natural solar cycle approximately every 11 years "marked by the increase and decrease of sunspots -- visible as dark blemishes on the sun's surface," according to NASA.

"The greatest number of sunspots in any given solar cycle is designated as 'solar maximum.' The lowest number is 'solar minimum.'"

The show "will review results of ground and space-based solar astronomy, and survey what science theorizes those results might portend for our future," event organizers said.

On Friday, October 21, Vincent's presentation will showcase some of the women "honored with astronomy hardware eponyms."

She will look at the accomplishments of Vera Rubin, who pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates and Nancy Roman, who made important contributions to stellar classification and motions and was the first female executive at NASA.

The show will also feature the work of Rosalind Franklin, a British chemist and X-ray crystallographer who played a key role in discovering the molecular structures of DNA and had a Mars rover named after her.

The series concludes on Friday, October 28, with a show presented by both lecturers that focuses on Astrobotics Peregrine 1, the first lunar lander being flown under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

"With plans for launch to the lunar surface by the end of this year on the inaugural flight of the new Vulcan booster, Peregrine is designed to prepare for human return to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis program to explore our nearest neighbor."

Planetarium lecturers are currently using the Zoom platform to present shows while the actual on-campus planetarium remains closed due to the COVID-19 emergency.

To attend the shows, the Zoom software must be installed on the viewer’s computer. A free download is available at

"The shows include the chance to chat with the planetarium lecturers and ask questions related to astronomy and space exploration," planetarium officials said.

More information is available online at or by calling 310-434-3005. Shows are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

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