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UCLA

Family Values: Watch the Skies

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By Cynthia Lee

Published Jan 29, 2008 8:00 AM


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Copyright © Photos: (icon) by Louie Psihoyos/Corbis; (above) Courtesy of UCLA Planetarium


Where can you go to gaze into the immense inky darkness of a cloudless night sky, awash with thousands of tiny pinpricks of light from distant constellations and galaxies?

Not anywhere in light-polluted L.A., where urbanites get only a murky view of a starlit night. There is a place, however, where you and your junior astronomers can be dazzled by constellations, planets, star clusters and celestial phenomena. For free.

UCLA's graduate students in astronomy and astrophysics bring a virtual night sky alive every Wednesday for an intimate audience of no more than 50 at the UCLA Planetarium, a small, domed theater that's located on the rooftop of the Mathematical Sciences Building. Sky gazers are treated to a tour of the current night sky before their volunteer student guide presents a special show on the topic of the evening — it could be galaxies, famous telescopes of the world or Egyptian astronomy. New shows are being developed all the time.

But that's only half the fun. On clear nights after the planetarium show, weather permitting, visitors can peer through two telescopes at the real night sky. For one hour, you can take turns locating, with help from members of the Undergraduate Astronomical Society if necessary, the planets, moon, stars and galaxies, depending on the season and viewing conditions.

The 50-year-old planetarium and its $35,000 star projector, installed in 1973, were once in dismal shape, badly needing repair. But thanks to a donation from the Nicholas Foundation, renovation and repair began two years ago on the equipment. Today, the planetarium can boast of reconditioned seats and new flooring, and the projector, along with the control console, is once more star-worthy.

UCLA Planetarium. Every Wednesday evening. Planetarium show, 7 p.m. Telescope viewing, 8 p.m. Free. For more information, log on to www.astro.ucla.edu/planetarium/ or e-mail planet@astro.ucla.edu.

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