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Regular Hours:

Daily

9:30 am – 5:00 pm

Sunday

11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:

Tuesday

8:30 – 9:30 am

Sunday

10:00 – 11:00 am
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Notices

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

The Academy will be closing at 3:00 pm on 4/24. We apologize for any inconvenience.

 

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

background radiation antenna

ANCIENT LIGHT

Echoes from the creation of our Universe are all around us—in the form of ancient light. One source of light, known as cosmic background radiation (CBR), is a 13.8-billion-year-old relic of the Big Bang, and our advancing abilities to map it have begun to answer questions about when the Universe was born, how it evolved, and what it’s composed of. Explore the secrets of CBR in this live, 15-minute program that features dazzling 3D models created by our own Visualization Studio and imagery from NASA and observatories around the world. Hosted by our planetarium presenters in Hohfeld Hall, Ancient Light takes a closer look at one of humankind’s most profound discoveries, and invites audiences to engage and ask questions about the Universe as we know it.

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Skywatcher’s Guide (April–June 2014)

April 7

Moon at first quarter, due south at sunset. After nightfall, look nearby for Jupiter and the stars of Gemini the Twins.

April 8

Mars at opposition, rising at sunset and visible all night against the stars of Virgo the Maiden. This is generally when Earth and Mars are closest together (about 57 million miles, though they’ve been closer). Since Earth and Mars are both on the same side of the Sun, Mars looks slightly brighter to us at this time (not to mention bigger, but only through telescopes).

April 15

Full Moon and total lunar eclipse (see Spring Notes). Native American tribes called this the “Sprouting Grass Moon,” the “Egg Moon,” and the “Fish Moon” (Algonquin), the “Strawberries Moon” (Natchez), and “Budding Time” (Mohawk)…names that generally reflect the new life appearing in the Spring. By general rule, this being the first full Moon since the beginning of Spring (which was on March 20) means that the following Sunday (April 20) is Easter.

April 20

Easter...see?

April 22

Moon at last quarter, entering Capricornus the Sea-Goat, rising at midnight, which will hinder observations of the Lyrid meteor shower peaking tomorrow night (see Spring Notes). Due south at sunrise.

April 28

New Moon. First sighting of the young crescent after new marks the start of the month Rajab in the Islamic calendar. This will be possible after sunset on the 30th.

May 5

Peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which usually displays up to 10 fast-moving meteors per hour, radiating from the faint constellation Aquarius the Water-Carrier, which doesn’t rise until about 3 hours before dawn. The Moon—a day before first quarter—sets around 1:30 a.m., leaving a few dark hours to watch for meteors before the light of dawn (for more, see Spring Notes).

May 6

First quarter Moon in Cancer the Crab. The Moon should be easy to spot, high in the south-southwest after sunset.

May 10

Saturn at opposition, rising at sunset and visible all night against the stars of Libra the Scales.

May 14

Full Moon rises shortly after sunset near Saturn, both in Libra the Scales. Native American nations called this full Moon the “Moon to Plant” (Dakotah Sioux), the “Panther Moon” (Choctaw), and the “Deep Water Moon” (Kutenai).

May 21

Last quarter Moon at sunrise. Earlier, you may have seen it rise against the faint stars of Aquarius the Water-Carrier, in a part of the sky known as the “Heavenly Waters” because of the many water-themed constellations residing in that area.

May 28

New Moon. The Islamic month Sha’ban starts with the sighting of the first crescent after new, which will be possible across most of the world after sunset on the 30th.

June 5

First quarter Moon in southern Leo the Lion. Scan the Moon’s surface with binoculars or telescope for the shadows of craters along the edge of the daylit side (also known as the “terminator”).

June 12

Full moon rises at sunset in Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer. Also known to Native Americans as the “Strawberry Moon” (Algonquin & Ojibway), the “Windy Moon” (Choctaw), the “Hot Weather Moon” (Ponca), and the “Moon of the Salmon” (Tlingit).

June 19

The Moon is at last quarter at 11:39 a.m. PDT, while the Moon is in the daytime sky.

June 21

Summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere at 3:51 a.m. PDT.

June 27

New moon. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, begins with the sighting of the first crescent after new. This will be possible across the southern half of the U.S., South America, most of Africa, eastern Australia, and parts of Indonesia on the evening of the 28th.

Mercury

Mercury

Hidden in the Sun’s glare until mid-May, the nearest planet to the Sun exhibits its elusive nature, making a brief appearance in the evening sky near the end of the month, when it reaches greatest eastern elongation on the 25th and sets more than an hour after the Sun. By the first week of June, Mercury dips back into the glow of twilight. The littlest planet is 8 degrees to the right of the waxing crescent Moon, both very low in the west-northwest just after sunset on May 30.

 
 
Venus

Venus

In “morning star” mode, the brightest of the planets rises before the Sun and is visible during the predawn hours (and even afterward, if you know exactly where to look). It rises at about 5 a.m. at the beginning of April, at about 4:30 a.m. at the beginning of May, and about 4 a.m. at the beginning of June, slowly but surely moving back toward the Sun’s glow. The waning crescent Moon can be seen nearby on the mornings of Apr 25, very close (only 1.5 degrees away) on May 25, and June 24.

For an early-riser’s challenge, the planet Uranus is 1.3° north of Venus on the morning of May 15, discernible in binoculars as a steadily-shining, pale-greenish “star,” standing out from the twinkling stars around it.

 
 
Mars

Mars

This season, the Red Planet passes opposition in early April in the course of a “retrograde loop” during which it moves from east to west against the stars (as opposed to the planets’ usual west-to-east movement). On May 3, moving westward, it passes 1.3° south of the star Porrima (Gamma Virginis)—the second brightest in Virgo the Maiden—and on the 21st resumes its usual eastward motion, passing about 3° south of Porrima on June 9. The Moon passes near Mars on the nights of April 13 & 14, May 10, and June 7.

 
 
Jupiter

Jupiter

The King of the Planets (at least in our solar system) is a bright evening object, located in Gemini the Twins and slowly following the constellations toward the western horizon. Even at a half-billion miles away, it’s large enough to reflect so much sunlight that it’s the second-brightest of the planets in the sky. The Moon pairs prettily with Jupiter on the evenings of April 6, May 3 & 4, and May 31. Its June 28 encounter may be too close to the Sun and lost in the glare.

 
 
Saturn

Saturn

The most distant of the naked-eye planets, Saturn is so slow-moving that it will remain against the stars of Libra the Scales for the rest of the calendar year, performing a retrograde loop like Mars as our faster-moving planet passes it, making it appear to move backward in the same way that a slower car seems to move backward as you pass it.

The planet’s remarkable rings are tilted with the northern side visible from Earth, making them easily visible in small telescopes. The Moon passes Saturn on April 16, May 13 (both at opposition only 4 days apart), and June 10.

 
  Sunrise Local Noon Sunset
April 1 6:55 a.m. PDT 1:13 p.m. PDT 7:33 p.m. PDT
May 1 6:14 a.m. PDT 1:06 p.m. PDT 8:01 p.m. PDT
June 1 5:50 a.m. PDT 1:07 p.m. PDT 8:26 p.m. PDT

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

 

Spring Notes

On April 8, as every 26 months, Earth and the slower-moving Mars line up on the same side of the Sun in what astronomers call “opposition,” with Earth between Mars and the Sun. At this time, Earth and Mars are closest-together, and as seen from Earth, Mars appears brighter and larger than usual—though not so large that its disk can be seen with the unaided eye (it’s still about 57 million miles away). This is when astronomers find it optimal to observe features on Mars, including its ice caps and dark patches. An early pioneer in telescopic Mars observations was Percival Lowell, a wealthy Bostonian and avid astronomy enthusiast who financed the construction of the famous Arizona observatory that bears his name. He was an ardent proponent of the supposed and now-discredited Martian “canals” but he also led the search for a theorized ninth planet beyond Neptune. Although he himself didn’t discover “Planet X,” it was at his Arizona observatory where Clyde Tombaugh finally found what would—at least for 76 years—be known as a planet, the little world called Pluto.

Mars-bound spacecraft are usually launched a few months before opposition to take advantage of the closing distance between the two planets and minimize travel time. Currently headed for the Red Planet are NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN orbiter (MAVEN), launched on November 18, 2013, and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), launched on November 5, 2013. Neither carries a lander, and both are expected to enter orbit around Mars in September. For more information, visit http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/maven/ and http://www.isro.org/pslv-c25/mission.aspx.

The following asteroids will make their closest approaches to Earth in April, though “close” is a relative term – none will be close enough to be of any concern whatsoever: 12258 (writer) Oscarwilde, 6701 (pop artist Andy) Warhol, 128036 (tennis star) Rafaelnadal, 19367 (rock group) Pink Floyd, 6600 (keyboard arrangement) Qwerty, 17627 (nursery rhyme character) Humptydumpty, 2991 Bilbo (Baggins, of Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”), 17078 (actor Peter) Sellers, 1862 Apollo, 128523 Johnmuir, 163800 Richardnorton, 12284 (science fiction author Frederik) Pohl, 17744 (actress) Jodiefoster, 9954 (dinosaur) Brachiosaurus, 17059 Elvis (Presley, entertainer), 35350 (guitar maker) Lespaul, and 4321 Zero (Mostel, actor/comedian – also the completion of a countdown, giving this asteroid’s name a clever double-meaning).

On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union launched Vostok 1, carrying cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit and back, making him the first human to fly in outer space. Fifty-three years later, this date has come to be known as “Yuri’s Night,” a worldwide commemoration of human spaceflight in art, science, and culture in which multiple venues are holding events to celebrate the past, present, and future of space travel. Visit http://yurisnight.net/#/home for more information.

Skywatchers will be treated to a total lunar eclipse on the night of April 14/early morning of the 15th as the Full Moon glides through Earth's shadow. This usually causes our satellite to turn a deep, rusty reddish color, because Earth’s atmosphere refracts, or bends, the Sun’s light that passes through it, filling in the otherwise dark shadow with the color of all the sunrises and sunsets happening at that moment. As the Moon passes through the umbra (the dark, inner portion of Earth’s shadow), this red light slowly creeps across its face, the intensity of the color depending on how clear the air is along the ring of atmosphere through which the sunlight is shining. This event will be visible throughout the United States, starting at 10:58 p.m. PDT, with totality (when the Moon is completely immersed in the umbral shadow) lasting from 12:06 a.m. PDT until 1:24 a.m. PDT. As the Moon slowly exits the shadow, the partial eclipse ends at 2:33 a.m. PDT.

Aside from Mars, two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt come into opposition in April: 4 Vesta on the 12th and 1 Ceres on the 14th—both seen against the stars of Virgo the Maiden. Vesta, the smaller of the two, is 326 miles across and is the brightest asteroid visible from Earth due to a combination of its size, distance, and reflectivity that makes it barely visible to the unaided eye. It was discovered in 1802 and was visited by NASA’s ion-powered Dawn spacecraft (http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/), which orbited it for a year starting in July 2011. Then, Dawn rocketed off for a rendezvous with larger but more distant Ceres, an encounter which is expected to occur in March 2015. As its numerical designation indicates, Ceres was, in 1801, the first asteroid to have been discovered. At 590 miles across, it is the largest object between Mars and Jupiter. Initially labeled “planets” when they were discovered, Ceres and Vesta were later reclassified as “minor planets/asteroids” when more and more similar objects were discovered in the asteroid belt. In 2006, Ceres was reclassified yet again as a “dwarf planet” along with the Kuiper Belt objects Pluto, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake. Thus elevated in status by the same redefinition that demoted Pluto from planethood, Ceres is the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system. The other four bodies reside beyond the orbit of Neptune and thus are also labeled “plutoids” (meaning, ironically, that although Pluto lost its planetary status, its name became a whole new category of solar system object). Over the next few months, Ceres and Vesta will be moving closer together, appearing only a fifth of a degree apart on July 4.

On April 22, the annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks. Typically active from April 16–25, this shower is caused by Earth passing through the dust-trail of Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, causing about 15–20 meteors per hour radiating from Lyra the Harp. This is the oldest shower currently known, with Chinese records dating back to 687 BC. The parent body, Comet Thatcher, has been observed only once, in 1861. This year, the narrow peak is coincident with a last quarter Moon that rises around midnight, so unfortunately, moonlight may obscure the view somewhat.

The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on May 5 and is one of two showers caused by dust particles from Halley’s Comet burning up as they enter Earth’s atmosphere. While most other known comets have paths that intersects Earth’s orbit only once, Halley’s path does so at two points—giving rise to the Eta Aquarid and Orionid meteor showers of May and October, respectively, as our planet sweeps up the particles of dust left scattered along the comet’s trajectory. The Eta Aquarids usually last from April 21 through about May 12, and during the May 5/6 peak, observers might see 10–20 meteors per hour. As the name suggests, meteors from this shower appear to radiate from the vicinity of the constellation Aquarius the Water-Carrier, which rises a mere three hours before the Sun. Fortunately, the first quarter Moon will have set by midnight, leaving skywatchers with a dark pre-dawn viewing opportunity.

May 10 is Astronomy Day, founded in 1973 by the Amateur Astronomers of Northern California, usually taking place on a Saturday in either April or May nearest the first quarter Moon. Immediately popular, Astronomy Day has become a national observance, giving amateur and professional astronomers alike the opportunity to share their love of stargazing with the public through presentations, displays, and activities at planetariums, observatories, science centers, and street corners around the country. If the sky is clear, telescopes are set up for free glimpses of this night’s targets: the Moon, the ringed planet Saturn, and the constellations. There’s more information at http://www.astroleague.org/al/astroday/astrodayform.html.

When the city of Chicago turned 100 years old, the occasion was celebrated with the “Century of Progress” Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. On opening night, May 27, 1933, lights across the fairgrounds were switched on in a novel way. Using telescopes, the light of the bright star Arcturus, in the constellation Boötes the Herdsman, was directed onto photocells (converting the light to electricity) at four observatories which simultaneously telegraphed signals to Chicago, activating the lights. At the time, Arcturus was thought to be 40 light years away, so the thinking was that the starlight detected in 1933 would actually have left that star 40 years earlier, coincidentally during the World’s Columbian Exposition, which also happens to have been held in Chicago, in 1893. Today, astronomers say the distance to Arcturus is 37 light years, but it was a clever idea to use the star’s distance to link the two events in time. Arcturus can be seen in the Spring sky and is easily found by following the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle to it. Since it’s the brightest star in the northern half of the sky, it’s easy to spot. Just remember the phrase “Follow the arc to Arcturus.”

The following asteroids make their closest (but still very distant) approaches to Earth in May: 6336 (extinct bird) Dodo, 2041 (Arthurian knight) Lancelot, 12542 (‘60s tennis star Rod) Laver, 25399 (writer Kurt) Vonnegut, 5891 (baseball player Lou) Gehrig, 184784 (‘50s pinup model) Bettiepage, 166614 Zsazsa (Gabor, ‘40s actress) 9941 (dinosaur) Iguanodon, 4122 (sportscar maker Enzo) Ferrari, 125071 (“Dracula” actor Bela) Lugosi, 4487 (Native American historical figure) Pocahontas*, 716 (city of) Berkeley, 9880 (Jurassic dinosaur) Stegosaurus, 9340 (actor) Williamholden, 21811 (fantasy writer Edgar Rice) Burroughs, and 18932 (English folk hero) Robinhood.

*Fascinating factoid: remember Percival Lowell from way back up in the April 8/Mars item? He was a direct descendant of Pocahontas, after whom asteroid 4487 was named.

June 21 is when the north pole of Earth is tipped most toward the Sun, making it the Summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. On the other hand, the south pole is tipped away from the Sun, so it’s the Winter solstice in the southern hemisphere. On this day, the Sun rises and sets at its northernmost points and makes its longest, highest arc across the sky, resulting in the Sun being above the horizon for the longest period of the year. In fact, at the north pole (and points north of the Arctic Circle, or 66.5°), the Sun is above the horizon for 24 hours. At the south pole (and points south of the Antarctic Circle, or -66.5°) the Sun never rises above the horizon. On the Tropic of Cancer—23.5° N latitude—the Sun is directly overhead at solar noon.

June’s interestingly-named asteroids making their closest approaches to Earth: 4017 Disneya (after cartoonist Walt Disney), 17942 (“Alice in Wonderland” character) Whiterabbit, 9621 Michaelpalin (of Monty Python), 9622 Terryjones (of Monty Python), 9620 Ericidle (of Monty Python), 6433 (singer) Enya, 5062 (bandleader) Glennmiller, 6827 (endangered marsupial) Wombat, and 15495 Bogie (after actor Humphrey Bogart).

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