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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.

Learn more

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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 (July–September 2014)

July 3

Earth at aphelion (greatest distance from the Sun)—152,093,481 kilometers/94,506,507 miles—showing that the seasons are not caused by Earth’s distance from the Sun but rather by the tilt of its axis of rotation. If its orbit were less circular and more elliptical, like that of Mars, it would be a different story. See August 17.

July 5

Moon at first quarter, lit from the right-hand side. As seen from the West Coast just after nightfall, it is nestled snugly between the red planet Mars and the bright star Spica in Virgo the Maiden.

July 12

Full moon in Capricornus the Sea Goat. Native Americans named this full moon the "Killer Whale Moon" (Haida), the "Crane Moon" (Choctaw), and the "Moon of the Giant Cactus" (Pima).

July 18

Last quarter moon for the Pacific time zone, where it occurs before midnight. In the Mountain, Central, and Eastern time zones, it occurs after midnight and so on the 19th. Either way, it rises tonight against the stars of Pisces the Fishes and is high in the southeast at dawn, lit from the left-hand side.

July 26

New moon. Sighting of the first thin crescent after new marks the start of the month Shawwal in the Islamic calendar. This will not be possible until after sunset on the 28th.

August 3

First quarter moon lit from the right-hand side and located in the southwest after sunset, visible only for the first half of the night.

August 10

Full moon in Aquarius the Water Carrier and a perigeal full moon—that is, a full moon occurring within a half hour of perigee (the Moon’s nearest approach to Earth), making this the closest and biggest looking full moon of the year and resulting in higher tides than usual. The full moon of August is also known to some Native American nations as the "Sturgeon Moon" (Algonquin), the "Time When the Cherries are Ripe" (Cheyenne), and the "Blueberry Moon" (Ojibway).

August 12

Peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower as Earth plows through the trail of dust left in the wake of Comet Swift-Tuttle, producing up to 80 meteors per hour radiating from the constellation Perseus the Hero. Unfortunately, the Moon is a waning gibbous—two days past full—and its bright light will obscure all but the brightest meteors from view during the post-midnight hours that are considered best for watching a shower.

August 17

Last quarter moon occurs during the predawn hours, when the Moon is in Taurus the Bull, lit from the left-hand side.

August 25

New moon. The first visible crescent after new marks the start of Dhul-Qi’dah, the 11th month of the Moon based Islamic calendar. This will be visible only from South America on the 26th and from most of the rest of the world including the U.S. on the 27th.

September 2

First quarter moon in Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, not one of the usual constellations of the Zodiac, but one which intrudes across the ecliptic (the Sun’s path against the stars) and where solar system objects spend more time than against the stars of neighboring Scorpius the Scorpion.

September 7

Full moon in U.S. time zones (some calendars written for Greenwich Time say this occurs on the 9th). Located against the stars of Aquarius the Water Carrier, rises at sunset and is visible all night. Although the full moon is supposedly fully illuminated and theoretically shadowless, some observers search for a hint of shadows along the edge of the Moon’s disk. September’s full moon was known to some Native American tribes as the "Wild Rice Moon" (Ojibway), the "Cool Moon" (Cheyenne), and the "Moon When the Plums are Scarlet" (Lakota Sioux). Being closest to the September Equinox, this moon is also called the "Harvest Moon" (details in Notes for This Season).

September 15

Last quarter moon for the Pacific and Mountain time zones (after midnight and so on the 16th for Central & Eastern. Rises at midnight against the stars of Taurus the Bull.

September 22

September equinox at 7:29 p.m. PDT. Sunrise and sunset are due east and west, respectively, and—at least in theory—day and night are of equal length. For observers located on Earth’s equator, the Sun passes directly overhead at noon. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the beginning of fall. In the Southern Hemisphere, it's the beginning of spring.

September 23

New Moon (the 24th in all but the Pacific time zone). Sighting of the first crescent after new marks the start of the month Dhul-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar, not visible in the U.S. until the 25th, and not in the Middle East or Asia until the 26th.

 
Mercury

Mercury

Fast moving Mercury starts to appear in the morning twilight by mid July, in the midst of a retrograde loop, and might be glimpsed very low in the predawn sky as it approaches to about 6 degrees of brighter Venus on July 16. Then, it quickly retreats back into the Sun’s glow by the end of the month. Passing behind the Sun as it reaches superior conjunction on August 8, Mercury reappears in the evening sky in late August, reaching its greatest angular separation from the Sun on September 21. Because of the shallow angle of the ecliptic with respect to the horizon, however, the September apparition will be a difficult one for skywatchers in the northern hemisphere to observe. The crescent Moon’s pass nearby on the morning of July 25 will be a challenge to observe, almost 10 degrees below bright Venus, and it will likely be obscured by the glow of twilight. The Moon’s subsequent appearances with Mercury on the evenings of August 26 and September 25–26 will be too close to the Sun to be seen.

 
 
Venus

Venus

The brightest of the planets is a morning object, rising in the northeast shortly before sunrise—about 2 hours before on July 1, an hour and 45 minutes before on August 1, and about an hour before on September 1. It passes a fifth of a degree from Jupiter on the morning of August 18, rising one hour before dawn and less than a degree from the binocular—visible "Beehive" Star Cluster in Cancer the Crab. The waning crescent Moon passes near on the mornings of July 24 and August 23, but its pass on September 23 is washed from view in the glare of the Sun.

 
 
Mars

Mars

An evening object, the red planet gradually moves toward a late August encounter with Saturn, with several striking encounters with stars and the Moon along the way. It passes near the star Spica the week of July 8–17. Zooming eastward past Alpha Librae (also known as Zubenelgenubi) from August 23–24, it is only 3° south of Saturn on August 25 and officially in conjunction with it on the 27th, when they share the same right ascension (the equivalent of longitude on the celestial sphere). On September 28, Mars is 3 degrees from Antares, the star named after it (Antares=anti-Ares="rival of Mars"). The Moon passes near Mars on the nights of July 5th (with the star Spica nearby), August 2 & 31 (with Saturn nearby on the 31st), and September 29 (with the star Antares nearby).

 
 
Jupiter

Jupiter

Too close to the Sun to be seen in July, the largest of the giant planets passes behind our star on July 24 and emerges from the glare by mid-August, when it begins peeking out of the predawn twilight, just in time for a spectacular conjunction with Venus in which the two planets draw to one-fifth of a degree against the stars of Cancer the Crab on the morning of August 18. Rising slightly earlier each morning, Jupiter gradually climbing higher into the morning sky, located high in the east at sunrise by the end of September. The Moon’s pass near Jupiter on July 26 is too close to the Sun to be seen, but those on the mornings of August 23 and September 20 are progressively easier.

 
 
Saturn

Saturn

The ringed planet is easy to see in the early evening skies, plodding through Libra the Scales, and Mars eventually catches up with it, moving in slowly from the west. On August 25, the two are only 3° apart, forming a tiny equilateral triangle with the star Alpha Librae. Look for the Moon nearby on the nights of July 7, August 3 & 31, and (lowest after sunset) Sept 27.

 
  Sunrise Local Noon Sunset
July 1 5:52 am PDT 1:14 pm PDT 8:36 pm PDT
August 1 6:13 am PDT 1:16 pm PDT 8:18 pm PDT
September 1 6:40 am PDT 1:09 pm PDT 7:39 pm PDT

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

 

Summer Notes

A number of medium-to-bright Spring and Summer stars are on or near the ecliptic (the Sun’s apparent path against the constellations), meaning that some planets and the Moon will occasionally be seen close to them. Encounters between the planets and the Moon or planets and bright stars are noted elsewhere, and here are some others involving the Moon and bright stars:

  • The Moon is five degrees south of Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion, on the night of July 1.
  • On the morning of July 22, the Moon is less than two degrees north of Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull.
  • On the night of August 5, the Moon is seven degrees north of Antares, the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion.
  • On the morning of August 18, the Moon encounters Aldebaran again, passing 2 degrees from it.
 
Asteroid Vesta

The asteroid 4 Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres are only a fifth of a degree apart on the night of July 4 (that’s less than half the apparent diameter of a full moon). Observing them requires a telescope, since these two minor worlds are far away and faint, but they’re located against the stars of Virgo the Maiden, only 1.5° south of the star Zeta Virginis. Already having orbited Vesta for more a year (July 2011–September 2012), NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is now en route for Ceres, which it is expected to encounter in early 2015.

 
Crab Nebula

On July 4, 1054, Chinese astronomers recorded the appearance of a "guest star" in the sky that was visible to the naked eye in the daytime sky for 23 days. Even after it faded from daytime view, the "star" remained visible at night for 2 years. Looking at the exact spot where the "star" appeared, modern astronomers see the Crab Nebula. Located some 6500 light years away, this is a supernova remnant—the tattered shell of a massive star that exploded 7554 years ago, its light taking 6500 years to reach Earth in 1054. This stellar explosion was also observed by Japanese and Arab skywatchers, and evidence suggests that it may also have been seen by European astronomers.

 
Apollo 11 Lunar Boot Print

On July 20, 1969, humans walked on the surface of a celestial body other than Earth for the first time. Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin rode the Apollo 11 lunar module "Eagle" to the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, where they stayed for nearly a full day (2.5 hours of it actually walking on the surface). Their lunar EVA was broadcast live to Earth, where it was viewed by an estimated 600 million people. Traversing as far as 196 feet from the lander, the astronauts collected nearly 50 pounds of lunar regolith for scientific study, which included three minerals (armalcolite, tranquillityite, and pyroxferroite) that were only later found on Earth. The astronauts returned safely to Earth on July 23, 1969.

 
Apollo 15 Lunar Lander

On July 29, 1971, the Apollo 15 lunar module "Falcon" landed amid the Moon’s Hadley-Apennine Mountains, the seventh human flight to the Moon and the fourth successful manned landing on its surface. The Hadley-Appenine region is on the eastern edge of the Sea of Rains, at the foothills of the 15,000-foot lunar Apennine Mountains and near 80 mile-long Hadley Rille, a sinuous collapsed lava tube. This was the first mission to land away from the Moon’s equator, and the site was selected with the goal of collecting material from deeper in the Moon’s crust than had been collected in previous missions. This mission was marked by the first use of the lunar roving vehicle, an electric-powered car which allowed astronauts David Scott and James Irwin to travel farther from the landing site than previous lunar explorers had been able to walk. In total, Scott and Irwin drove for 17.5 miles. Scott also performed a demonstration in honor of Galileo Galileo, who postulated that different weights would fall at the same rate. Scott simultaneously dropped a geologist’s hammer and a falcon feather, and in the absence of air resistance, both hit the ground at the same time. The astronauts returned safely to Earth on August 7, 1971.

 
Felix Nadar 1878 Jules Verne Portrait

Asteroids with their closest approaches to Earth in July (keep in mind that most of these are orbiting in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, so at their closest to Earth, they’re still on the order of more than an astronomical unit (93,000,000 miles) away and certainly not "close" enough to be any cause for concern: 41488 ("Arabian Nights" character) Sinbad, 1537 Transylvania, 5231 (science fiction pioneer Jules) Verne (see picture), 10189 (American artist) Normanrockwell, 4151 Alanhale (co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp, not the Skipper on "Gilligan's Island").

 
Robonaut

Asteroids with closest approaches to Earth in August: 30444 Shemp (of the Three Stooges), 7032 (filmmaker Alfred) Hitchcock, 11548 (comedian) Jerrylewis, 3623 (Charlie) Chaplin, 4536 (pop-culture doctor) Drewpinsky, 9617 Grahamchapman (of "Monty Python's Flying Circus"), 4150 ("Beatle" Ringo) Starr, 12561 (Hollywood director Ron) Howard, 8249 (composer George) Gershwin, 15907 Robot (see picture), 5203 (opera tenor Luciano) Pavarotti.

 
Autumnal equinox on Mars

August 17 is the Autumnal equinox…on Mars. The red planet’s axis of rotation has a similar tilt to Earth’s, only 25.2° as opposed to Earth’s 23½°, so it does experience seasons, unlike Venus, whose axis is nearly vertical, resulting in virtually no seasonal differences. However, Mars’ orbit is also more elliptical than Earth’s, so variations in its distance from the Sun contribute to seasonal changes to a greater degree than we find on our own planet.

 
Saturn Moon Enceladus

On August 28, 1789, while exploring the sky with his 47-inch diameter telescope (at the time the largest in the world), William Herschel discovered Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 62 known moons. Covered by a layer of ice that makes it the most reflective body in the solar system, Enceladus is known to eject plumes of water from its south pole and is a leading candidate for future exploration of the outer solar system. Being only about 300 miles in diameter, Enceladus is too small to be seen in small telescopes, but the world it orbits—Saturn—is visible all season, gradually descending in the southwest just after sunset.

 
Through the Looking Glass character Tweedledee

Asteroids with their closest approaches to Earth in September: 9387 ("Through the Looking Glass" character) Tweedledee (see picture), 91287 ('60s songsters Paul & Art)) Simon-Garfunkel, 3325 (science fiction conveyance) TARDIS, 6371 (author Robert) Heinlein, 9007 (fictional spy) James Bond, 9860 (prehistoric flying reptile) Archaeopteryx, 1815 (composer Ludwig) Beethoven.

 
Moon rise

The full moon on September 8 is also known as the "Harvest Moon." This name is traditionally given to the full moon nearest the Autumnal (or September) equinox. At this time, the angle of the ecliptic where the Moon is located is shallowest with respect to the eastern horizon. This means that even though the Moon moves 12 degrees eastward from day to day, it rises at nearly the same time on several successive nights. Typically the Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later from one night to the next, but around the equinox, it rises as little as 25–30 minutes later from night to night. When the Moon is full, this offers more continuous light following sunset, traditionally allowing farmers to continue the autumn harvest by the light of the Moon. This is an example of how the solar and lunar calendars are sometimes combined to lock certain events to particular seasons. Otherwise, the event would either always occur on the same day of the year according to a solar calendar or it would occur 11 days earlier from year to year under a lunar calendar, since a year reckoned as twelve lunar cycles is 11 days shorter than a 365.25-day solar year.

Harvest Moon

The Harvest Moon often brings with it observations that the rising full moon is larger and more yellowish than usual, but that actually applies to the appearance of all full moons, regardless of when they occur, when the "Moon Illusion" is seen. The yellowish color is a real effect of our atmosphere, scattering out the blue light and leaving the predominantly yellow/gold light to reach our eyes. As the Moon rises higher into the sky, this effect is gradually reduced until the Moon is its usual white and gray colors. The explanation for why the Moon looks larger on the horizon is still the subject of some debate, mostly concerning the comparative size of the Moon with respect to nearby objects on the horizon but the fact that it’s an illusion can be seen in time-lapse photography which shows the rising full moon is the same size no matter if it's on the horizon or higher in the sky.

 

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