Studious stargazers sucked into planetarium event
By Sara Almalla, Special to the Star
What is the most powerful object in the universe and what makes it so powerful? Friday night’s LAVC Astronomy Group show “Point of No Return – Quasars and Supermassive Black Holes” had the answer to those questions and many more.
To start, the audience got a tour of the night sky courtesy of Professor David Falk and the Spitz SkyDome projector. This advanced machine created an IMAX-like atmosphere, projecting images all over the inside of the Valley College Planetarium dome.
“For people that are curious about what’s up in the sky, we’ll talk about things that they can see for themselves,” said Falk.
Hardly 15 minutes into the show, everyone knew which direction to face and at what time of the day to find Mars, the star cluster Pleiades, and even a handful of constellations. Falk offered witty commentary on the Greek mythology behind the different constellations.
Following the virtual excursion of the night sky, Falk relayed the latest news in the fields of astronomy.
“The most interesting news today,” he began, “happened at Cape Canaveral, when we launched a brand new spacecraft called Orion.” He went on to explain the mechanics of the spacecraft and played a short clip of it being successfully launched into orbit and circling the Earth twice before landing in the sea.
“What we want to do here is to try to get to a point where we have a vehicle that can take us not only to low orbit and the moon, but even to the asteroids or Mars,” said Falk, “and this is the effort to do it.”
He then discussed the Rosetta spacecraft in Russia and the impressive advances as well as some less-impressive defeats being suffered.
The main event began with the film, “Point of No Return – Quasars and Supermassive Black Holes.”
Made by Mueller Planetarium at the University of Nebraska, it explained the science behind quasars, which are among the most distant and most ancient celestial objects yet detected, and how they are powered by supermassive black holes (making that clearly Muse’s most powerful song). Thought to represent a stage in galactic evolution, just one of these tremendously bright and powerful objects is calculated to be 4 trillion times as bright as our sun.
Despite being occasionally difficult to follow, the film was very informative and interesting. Truly, the enigma known as black holes is a mind-blowing topic. The fact that the speed required to escape a black hole is unachievable, that not even light can escape, not even Matthew McConaughey, means there is absolutely no way to know what happens inside of them – making them both the most terrifying and fascinating forces in the universe.
After the film and on days when the weather is clear, the audience may even get to use the telescopes provided by the Astronomy Club to observe the night sky.
Although this will be the last show of the semester, there is generally one presentation a month on topics ranging from the search for extraterrestrial life to different constellations and the myths behind them.
There are no further planetarium events on the horizon this year. For more information on the Astronomy Club, including news of “Star Parties,” visit lavcastrogroup.org or call (818) 947-2335.