The sky’s the limit as UCLA’s planetarium reopens for in-person shows


The UCLA Planetarium hosted its first in-person show on Wednesday since March 2020.

The planetarium, which is on the eighth floor of the Mathematical Sciences Pavilion, was completed in 1957. It includes a star projector installed in 1973 that has features such as full sky coverage of the entire celestial sphere. , according to planetarium website.

The planetarium show was called “Powers of 10” and had approximately 16 participants. The title comes from a documentary of the same name released about half a century ago, said Rory Bentley, the astronomy and astrophysics doctoral student who hosted the show.

Virtual shows on various topics such as women astronomers, super-Earths and the formation of planetary systems took place on Wednesday evening this year. The graduate students in astronomy mainly present the shows. Public shows are free and do not require a reservation, according to the website.

Briley Lewis, a doctoral student in astronomy and astrophysics and planetarium show coordinator, said the planetarium is run entirely by students with the help of an educational advisor. Students are in charge of regular maintenance and holding shows that may be open to the public or private events for schools.

For the “Powers of 10” show, Bentley first presented a slideshow showing an image of the planetarium, then gradually enlarged the goal by a factor of 10 each time until the scale reached 10 to the power of 27 meters. Audiences saw locations from the UCLA campus, to the location of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, to the Andromeda Galaxy and beyond.

After the presentation, the show included half an hour of sky viewing. Bentley used the Star Projector to show the public the night sky over Los Angeles, New Zealand, Hawaii and Antarctica, and identify the locations of several celestial bodies, including the Milky Way and the constellation. of Sagittarius.

Bentley said he chose the “Powers of 10” topic in part because it covered a variety of astronomical and scientific knowledge.

“We talked about the planets, the stars, the galaxies, the Big Bang. We even got to atoms at some point at the very end, ”he said.

Bentley said he had been interested in astronomy since he was two years old and now studies under the tutelage of Andrea Ghez and Tuan Do, the former of whom won the Nobel Prize in Physics the last year.

Bentley said the important thing about planetarium shows is education, adding that you can share interesting and interesting details without being too formal and academic.

Lizvette Villafaña, a doctoral student in astronomy and astrophysics, was another coordinator of the show on Wednesday. She said that graduate students as potential future academics are responsible for increasing the diversity and accessibility of educational outreach work.

Sara Lehman, a sophomore economics and communications student who attended the show, said the spotlight is a good way to observe the stars and that she most enjoyed the moment the spotlight was turned on and the stars began to be displayed.

“I’m really happy to have this on campus,” Lehman said. “This is a truly unique opportunity.

Nancy Ning, Leonardo Clarke and Grant Weldon are three PhD students in astronomy and astrophysics who also attended the show. They said they could also give shows or come as participants in the future.

Ning enjoyed the process of continuously zooming out during the “Powers of 10” presentation.

“It’s a really good way to put it because it shows everything we study in astronomy,” she said. “You just see all these different objects, you see the structures.”

Clarke enjoyed the Planetarium show because he grew up in a city with poor visibility of stars in the night sky due to light pollution. Weldon had attended one of the planetarium’s previous virtual shows in October, which was the first show of the 2021-22 school year and focused on exoplanets.

[Related: UCLA Planetarium hosts virtual show, plans for in-person relaunch]

Weldon enjoyed the connection between the first and last thirty minutes of the show in person. The Andromeda galaxy, for example, was discussed in the presentation and then displayed by the star projector.

Both virtual and in-person planetarium shows will continue to take place on Wednesdays, depending on host availability, Bentley and Villafaña said.

According to the planetarium’s website, the next two shows are scheduled for November 17 and December 1 and will focus on the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole and the month of launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, respectively. The next two shows are currently scheduled in person, Bentley said.

“We have to continue to make it known that we are open again,” Bentley said. “I think for the next few months it will probably be a little less (busy) than normal, but we still had a good turnout today.”


Arline J. Mercier