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Morrison Planetarium

Morrison Planetarium is the largest all-digital planetarium in the world. State-of-the-art projector and software technologies allow the planetarium to produce the most accurate and interactive digital Universe ever created.

About the Dome

Morrison Planetarium, all-digital dome, California Academy of Sciences, immersive full dome, Bay Area Planetarium

The Morrison Planetarium is the largest all-digital dome in the world with a 75-foot diameter projection screen tilted at a 30 degree angle. Thanks to immersive video technology, the dome seems to disappear when imagery is projected onto it, creating an experience more like flying than watching a movie.

The planetarium relies on scientific data to depict current discoveries with unprecedented accuracy. It also has the flexibility to present a wide variety of programming that is both educational and entertaining. Traditional star shows will be supplemented by live “tours of the Universe,” and programming will include live NASA feeds as well as broadcasts from Academy scientists in the field.

 

Planetarium Shows

Dark Universe at the California Academy of Sciences

DARK UNIVERSE

Everything we know about the Universe has changed: Galaxies are held together by a substance we can’t see, and a force strong enough to counteract gravity is at work in the dark in-betweens. Explore two of today’s greatest cosmic mysteries—dark matter and dark energy—in this vast, data-fueled starscape of beauty and wonder. Hurtle through Jupiter’s atmosphere, sail out to deep space, and be there for the birth of our own galaxy while exploring never-before-seen visualizations of the invisible matter and forces at work in our Universe. Written by best-selling author Timothy Ferris and narrated by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dark Universe is a celebration of the pivotal discoveries we’ve made thus far—and of the questions that still drive our pursuit of the unknown.

Dark Universe was developed by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (www.amnh.org), in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, and GOTO Inc., Tokyo, Japan.

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Educator Guide

Cassiopeia-A, the remains of an exploded massive star in which heavy elements were made.

From Stardust to Skeletons

The atoms and elements that form everything in the Universe—from the largest galaxies to the tiniest moons, to the bones in the human body—were forged within stars. Explore the cosmic connection within us all in this live, 15-minute program hosted by our planetarium presenters in Hohfeld Hall. Passes not required, all ages welcome.

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SKYWATCHER’S GUIDE (October–December 2014)

October 1

Moon at first quarter. Starting from the last new moon, our satellite has just completed the first quarter of its orbit around Earth. It is due south at sunset, lit from the right-hand side.

October 8

Full Moon. This is also the Moon’s opposition, since it is located opposite the Sun in the sky, rising at sunset and visible all night. Following September’s "Harvest Moon," this is also known as the "Hunter’s Moon." Other traditional Native American names include the "Blackberry Moon" (Choctaw), the "Turkeys Moon" (Natchez), and the "Ripe Corn Moon" (Laguna). During the early predawn hours, the Moon passes through Earth’s shadow, causing a total lunar eclipse. Details in Notes for this Season.

October 15

Moon at last quarter, also known as third quarter. The Moon has just completed the third quarter of its orbit around Earth and is starting the last. Rising around midnight, the Moon is seen high in the south at dawn, its Earthward face half-lit from the left.

October 21

Peak of the annual Orionid meteor shower, radiating from the upraised club of Orion the Hunter. This display averages about 20 meteors per hour, though rates of 70 per hour have occurred. Favored by a waning crescent moon, just two days before new.

October 23

New Moon. The first sighting of the young crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Muharram, the first month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting will be possible from the U.S. after sunset on October 25. A partial solar eclipse is visible over eastern Siberia and most of North America. See Notes.

October 30

First quarter moon, due south at sunset and lit from the right-hand side as we see it from the northern hemisphere.

November 2

End of Daylight Saving Time at 2:00 a.m., local time. Adjust clocks back one hour at bedtime on Saturday night, the 1st, and enjoy an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning…or stay up late and experience the 1:00–2:00 a.m. hour twice. If you were in Europe, you would have returned to Standard Time last weekend, on October 26.

November 6

Full Moon rises at sunset and is located against the stars of Aries the Ram. November’s full moon was known to Native Americans as the "Freezing Moon" (Cheyenne), the "Bison Moon" (Natchez), and the "Beaver Moon" (Algonquin).

November 14

Last quarter moon rises around midnight near the planet Jupiter, both just slightly west of the bright star Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion.

November 17

Peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower, usually displaying a modest 15 meteors per hour. The light of the waning crescent Moon shouldn’t interfere too much when it rises around 1:30 a.m.

November 22

New moon. Sighting of the first crescent after new (possible just after sunset on November 23) begins the month Safar in the Islamic calendar.

November 29

Moon at first quarter. With binoculars or a telescope, scan along the "terminator" the line that divides the Moon’s day and night halves. That’s where it’s morning on the Moon—because of the low sun angle there, the shadows of craters and mountains are very long, making the surface relief stand out.

December 6

Full moon at 4:26 a.m. PST, as the Moon descends in the west, near the star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. When it rises tonight, it’ll be near the star Zubenelgenubi, the tip of the Bull’s southern horn. Also known by traditional Native American names that include the "Peach Moon" (Choctaw), the "Big Freezing Moon" (Cheyenne), and the "Baby Bear Moon" (Osage), high in the south at dawn.

December 14

Last quarter Moon rises at midnight in Leo the Lion, located high in the south at dawn. Peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower—the most reliable shower for the past 50 years. As seen from dark locations, this display averages 50–120 bright meteors per hour radiating from near the star Castor in Gemini the Twins. This year’s peak competes with the light of the Moon, which rises at about midnight, but the Geminids are one of the few showers which can put on a good show before midnight, since they strike Earth perpendicular to its direction of motion. In the early evening, watch for rare "Earth-grazers"—slow-moving meteors that skim parallel to the atmosphere, having long paths across the sky.

December 21

December solstice at 3:03 p.m. PST. For the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun follows its lowest, shortest arc across the sky, rising and setting at its most southerly points, marking the start of the Winter season. This, the day with the least sunlight, was seen by many ancient cultures as the most frightening day of the year, and with its passing, they celebrated the anticipated return of warmth and life to the world. South of the equator, the seasons are reversed—this is the day the Sun is above the horizon for the longest time and is the start of Summer.

New moon at 5:35 p.m. The first sighting of the thin lunar crescent after this (possible though challenging in the U.S. just after sunset on the 22nd) marks the start of Rabi-al-Awwal, the third month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar.

December 28

First quarter moon rises at noon, due south at sunset, setting at midnight.

 
Mercury

Mercury

At the beginning of October, Mercury is very low in the west-southwest just after sunset, but is moving westward and too close to the Sun to be seen. Swinging quickly in front of the Sun, it is in conjunction with our star on October 16 and moves into the morning sky, making its best predawn appearance at greatest elongation on November 1, when it rises barely 90 minutes before sunrise. The Moon’s passes nearby are all hidden in the Sun’s glow, but occur on the mornings of October 22 & November 21 and the evening of December 22.

 
 
Venus

Venus

Brilliant Venus is hidden in the Sun’s glow at the beginning of October. Passing superior conjunction on October 24, it is hidden from view for all of November, moving into the evening sky and appearing very low in the southwest, peeking out of the twilight just after sunset around mid-December. The razor-thin crescent Moon will be close just after sunset on December 22, but seeing both will be difficult in the glow of twilight. Its close-encounters on October 23 and November 22 will not be visible in the Sun’s glare.

 
 
Mars

Mars

The Red Planet remains low in the southwest after sunset all season, setting about 3 hours after the Sun. Having just passed the red star Antares (the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion), Mars is now within the boundary of Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer and chugs steadily eastward through the month, finally entering Sagittarius the Archer by late October. It takes until early December to cross the Archer’s stars, entering Capricornus the Sea-Goat on December 4. The Moon passes nearby on October 28, November 25 & 26, and December 24.

 
 
Jupiter

Jupiter

The largest planet is a morning object, located near the eastern edge of Cancer the Crab and rising four hours before dawn in early October. By early November, it has crossed the border into Leo the Lion and rises about 6 hours before the Sun. By early December, it rises around 10 pm. Look for the waning crescent Moon nearby on the mornings of October 17 & 18. The Moon is at third quarter as it passes near Jupiter again on the morning of November 14, and it’s a waning gibbous when it passes again on the mornings of December 11 & 12.

 
 
Saturn

Saturn

Very low in the southwest just after sunset in early October and vanishing into the twilight, the ringed planet leaves the spotlight and passes behind the Sun on November 18. Hidden from view for most of November & December, it reappears in the morning sky by mid-December, all the while lumbering slowly against the stars of Libra the Scales. The Moon’s passes nearby on the evening of October 25 and the morning of December 19 will be very close to the Sun and probably washed from view. Their encounter on November 21 will be in line with the Sun and definitely not visible.

 

Fall Notes

  Sunrise Local Noon Sunset
October 1 7:05 a.m. PDT 12:59 p.m. PDT 6:53 p.m. PDT
November 1 7:35 a.m. PDT 12:53 p.m. PDT 6:11 p.m. PDT
December 1 7:06 a.m. PST 11:29 a.m. PST 4:51 p.m. PST

(Times are for San Francisco, CA, and will vary slightly for other locations.)

 

The Space Age began on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the unmanned Sputnik 1 satellite into orbit. Today, there are approximately 1000 operational satellites circling the planet, some in low orbit around 200 miles up and others at the geosynchronous orbit 23,500 miles above the surface, where they orbit at the same rate at which Earth rotates, and so maintain a position above the same spot on the surface. During the early hours on any dark night, away from bright lights, about half-a-dozen satellites can be seen with the naked eye, looking like faint stars slowly following straight-line paths across the heavens.

On October 6, 1995, 51 Pegasi b, the first-known extrasolar planet orbiting a sunlike star was discovered. Though the planet itself—a gas giant 50 light years away in the constellation Pegasus the Flying Horse—is not visible to telescopes, the star it orbits, 51 Pegasi, is visible in the evening sky (the planet is designated with the letter "b"). Just within the grasp of the unaided eye, it is located just beyond the western side of the Great Square of Pegasus, about halfway between the stars Alpha and Beta Pegasi (aka Markab and Scheat, respectively). Because of the constellation in which it’s found, some have suggested the name "Bellerophon," after the hero from Greek myth who is traditionally associated with Pegasus.

On October 7, the distant, green giant Uranus is at opposition, or opposite the Sun in the sky, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise. This makes it visible all night as it slowly crosses overhead against the stars of Pisces the Fishes, which you can imagine as a "V" bordering the eastern and southern sides of the Great Square of Pegasus. Uranus is about 3 degrees south of the halfway point along the southern arm of the "V." Uranus was the first planet discovered telescopically, with a distance about twice that of Saturn’s from the Sun. Visible as a tiny, greenish disk, Uranus is tipped over on its axis, rolling along in its orbit around the Sun instead of spinning like a top like the other planets. At four times Earth’s diameter and possessing at least 27 moons, Uranus has been visited by only one spacecraft—Voyager 2, which made a quick flyby in 1989. When Sir William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781, he could see that it wasn’t a starlike point, but he thought at first that it was a comet. He proposed naming the new planet in honor of King George III, who was dealing with a small uprising in the American colonies at the time, but the astronomical community voted for a more traditional name drawn from mythology.

The total lunar eclipse on October 8 is for early-risers, taking place from 2:14–5:35 a.m., PDT, with totality from 3:24–4:24 a.m. As the full moon passes through Earth’s shadow, the Sun’s light is bent by our planet’s atmosphere and filled in with the reddish light that isn’t scattered in the air to produce our blue skies. During the partial phase—that is between 2:14 and 3:24, look for the curvature of Earth’s shadow, which shows that our planet is spherical. For more on this event, visit eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov.

A close encounter with Mars: Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring passes 83,000 miles from Mars on October 19. That distance is equivalent to about 10 Earth-diameters or 20 Mars-diameters. At Mars’ distance from the Sun, the comet is probably not bright enough to be seen easily from Earth…but imagine the view from the surface of the red planet! NASA and the European Space Agency are taking precautions to shield their spacecraft from any possible debris shed by the comet and are altering their orbits so that they’ll be on the side of Mars away from the comet when the debris density is expected to be at its greatest. Meanwhile, the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers on the surface are thought to be well-protected by Mars’ atmosphere, which will cause any debris from the comet to burn up before it reaches the ground. After the most hazardous period has passed, the seven robotic spacecraft will turn their cameras and other instruments on the comet to see what they can observe.

Two weeks after the October 8 total lunar eclipse, a partial solar eclipse occurs on Thursday, October 23. In this case, the Moon is between Earth and the Sun, casting its shadow earthward. However, the dark, central portion of the shadow misses the planet, so from the ground, the Moon never completely covers the Sun’s disk. For San Francisco observers, first contact (when the partial eclipse begins) is at 1:52 p.m. PDT, with the Sun 38° high in the south-southwest and descending. Mid-eclipse occurs at 3:15 p.m. PDT, when the Sun is 30° high in the southwest. At that time, the Moon will encroach 50.4% across the Sun’s diameter, obscuring 39% of its disk. After that, the Moon continues sliding eastward, now moving away from the Sun’s face, with last contact ending the partial eclipse at 4:32 p.m. PDT, when the Sun’s altitude has dropped to 19° high in the southwest. Local times and the percent of obscuration will vary for other observing locations, with more coverage seen from farther north and less as seen from more southerly locations. The eclipse will occur later in the afternoon for locations farther east, with the eclipse still in progress at sunset for locations in the eastern half of the U.S.—only observers in the western states will be able to see the eclipse from beginning to end. Details can be found at eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov.

The solar eclipse in October is only partial from wherever it is seen, but consider it practice for the future: American skywatchers will have an opportunity to see a total solar eclipse in 2017 as the path of the Moon’s shadow runs from Oregon through parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. Eclipse-chasers will have to plan their trips carefully to place themselves on the narrow path of totality, and hopefully will have better luck than the first U.S. expedition to study a total eclipse that occurred on October 27, 1780. As this was during the American Revolutionary War, a group seeking to observe the eclipse requested permission from British forces to set up their observing station in enemy-held Penobscot Bay, Maine, which was granted in the name of science. However, as they watched, the party discovered that they had miscalculated the path and wound up just outside the zone of totality. More here on the 2017 eclipse as the date approaches, or visit eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov.

Asteroids discovered in October: 2620 (Carlos) Santana in 1980, 214476 (comedian/satirist) Stephencolbert in 2005, 3623 (vaudevillian/actor Charlie) Chaplin in 1981, 21811 ("Tarzan" & "John Carter" creator Edgar Rice) Burroughs in 1999, 9007 (fictional superspy) James Bond in 1983, 2866 (vaudevillean Oliver) Hardy in 1961, 125071 ("Dracula" actor Bela) Lugosi in 2001, 115561 ("Dune" author) Frankherbert in 2003, 7672 (astrophysicist Stephen) Hawking in 1995, and 10221 (film director Stanley) Kubrick in 1997.

On October 30, 1938 Orson Welles celebrated Halloween by broadcasting his "War of the Worlds" radio play, dramatizing H.G. Wells’ (no relation) novel of a Martian invasion. Though we know that real "Martians" may be a long-shot, the presence of Mars itself in our sky is unquestioned: look low in the southeast just after sunset through the remainder of the year.

Construction of the International Space Station began on November 6, 1998, when the Zarya and Unity modules were docked together, providing the power-core for the orbiting structure. Now the size of a football field, the Space Station is the largest object ever built in space, and with a relatively-low orbital altitude of 230 miles, one of the brightest objects in the sky, occasionally surpassing the brightness of even the planet Venus. Find out when you can see it passing over your city at spotthestation.nasa.gov.

As of this writing, the European Space Agency has decided to attempt a landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (or just "Comet 67P" for short) on November 11. Having accomplished a rendezvous with the comet, the Rosetta spacecraft settled into orbit in September and will deploy the smaller Philae lander, which it has been carrying since launch in 2004. Being only 2½ miles long, the small comet nucleus has very weak gravity, so Philae’s landing has been characterized more as a slow "docking," and to prevent the spacecraft from bouncing off the surface and escaping back into space, it will embed a pair of harpoons into the ice to anchor itself. Since the comet’s shape has been compared to that of a rubber duckie, the primary landing site would be at the top of the duckie’s head. For an early animation of the comet, showing its shape, see www.bbc.com. For a more recent, high-resolution view of its surface, see blogs.esa.int.

The Rosetta spacecraft is named after the Rosetta Stone, which contained a decree written in three different languages, helping to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Philae lander is named after an island where an obelisk was found containing the same decree, helping to fill in missing portions of the engravings on the Rosetta Stone. Scientists hope that the Rosetta mission will help decipher some of the secrets of the solar system when Philae makes contact with the surface of 67P.

Asteroids discovered in November, followed by their respective discovery years, include 7032 (Alfred) Hitchcock (1994), 12426 Racquetball (1995), and 11548 (comedian) Jerrylewis (1992).

On December 3, 1973, NASA’s Pioneer 10 spacecraft became the first to encounter the giant planet Jupiter. Now far beyond the planets, Pioneer 10 is headed in the general direction of the star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull, 65 light years away, which it would reach in a bit over 2 million years if it were actually aimed for the star. Contact was lost with the spacecraft in 2003, after reception of the final, very weak signal. Pioneer 10 carries a "postcard" from Earth—a greeting to any possible extraterrestrials—showing a human male and female, the spacecraft, and a map of its journey from Earth relative to several known pulsars. The greeting was conceived and designed in part by astronomer Carl Sagan, who would’ve celebrated his 80th birthday this year on November 9.

Asteroids discovered in December include 849251 (former Assistant Supervisor of Morrison Planetarium and avid amateur astronomer) Kenwilson (2003), 19367 (rock group) Pink Floyd (1997).

 

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