As fall comes to an end this month and the holidays cause their annual scramble down here on earth, what lies above us never stops to rest. The late December sky, a favorite among stargazers, offers rewards for those who can take a clear night to view it.
And with the help of the Santa Rosa Junior College Planetarium, you can even do it from a warm, cozy place.
“Exploring the Depths of our Winter Sky” continues to run Dec. 8, 9, 15 and 16 for curious and serious stargazers alike, offering a respite from the bustle and some new insight about the seasonal stars above, some gleaned from the Hubble Space Telescope.
With an eye to offering both distraction and relaxation, the planetarium’s interim director, Travis Job, has chosen to do a show highlighting several fascinating wonderments that can be seen on clear nights.
“I wanted to give people, with just your eyes or a telescope, some of the things to look for that I find pretty spectacular and like to share,” Job said.
Unlike its First Friday Night Sky events that the planetarium puts on throughout the year, which are free for public viewing, this showing will be less of a broad overview, and more delving into deep space objects.
While spring, summer and autumn all have interesting things to look at, Job points out that one particular constellation that makes winter special is Orion, named after a hunter in Greek mythology. The Hubble Space Telescope’s focus on the Orion Nebula is yielding new insight on star and planet formation, a subject of great interest to astronomers.
He will also share a little bit about star death, how one in the constellation of Orion is running out of fuel at its core, and why it’s going to explode in a supernova very soon. This is visited up close to see how big it is, as Job discusses what will happen when the explosion occurs.
Job explains how things go from a big cloud of dust and gas, into stars and planets. He also points out some favorites for astronomers to find, including the double cluster of stars in the constellation of Perseus.
Viewers can expect to get a close look at the Castor system, which was always thought of as one single star. It turns out, however, that there are six stars, all orbiting around one another. Job shares why it looks like one star, and how this was learned otherwise.
“One thing I bring up is the Christmas tree cluster in the constellation of Monoceros,” said Job. “I thought that would be appropriate for a winter sky show for obvious reasons.”
Essentially there’s a lot about the lives of stars and things in them, such as the Pleiades, another popular sight of the winter sky in the constellation of Taurus. Audiences will gather why it’s all seen in this way, and what’s happening to allow a telescopic discovery.
Funded back in the 1960s by U.S. government, at a time when they were hoping to get America interested in space, Job has been writing and producing events at this planetarium since 2014.
Located in Lark Hall, the planetarium itself remains a campus gem, with its dome projection above, and cinema-like circular seating arrangement. It feels very retro inside, but contains state of the art equipment, like a Goto model GX-10 star projector.
Their goal, which almost goes without saying, is to entertain, excite and inspire people. In doing so, Job personally makes a very strong effort not to sacrifice any scientific rigor or accuracy in what is being presented.
“I in particular really try to keep the information accurate, as well as entertaining,” said Job. “In fact, I think the accuracy adds to the entertainment value.”
He started giving shows more than a decade ago, in 2004. While his position of interim director began this year, his passion for astronomy stems from childhood, when the U.S. space program was in its heyday.
Since then, he has devoted himself to translating the science, so he can get other people to experience the kind of awe that he and many others feel when looking at the night sky, and can contemplate what is known.
“Just being here on this little planet,” said Job, is what continues to excite the passion. “How much we know about what’s going on out there, as well as all the mysteries we still don’t know.”
As for taking the knowledge of winter skies gleaned at the planetarium to the next level, he recommended getting together with other aficianados, or a group such as the Sonoma County Astronomical Society, that offers educational public programs away from city lights, including instructions in how to use telescopes.
IF YOU GO
What: Exploring the Depths of our Winter Sky
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 8; 4 or 7 p.m. Dec. 9; 7 p.m. Dec. 15; 4 or 7 p.m. Dec. 16
Where: Santa Rosa Junior College Planetarium, 1501 Mendocino Ave, Lark Hall
Tickets: $5 ($6.17 online) for student, senior or child 5-12; $8 ($9.27 online) for general. Online tickets can be purchased at: https://srjcplanetariumwintersky.brownpapertickets.com/
Information: 707-521-6914, planetarium.santarosa.edu