Visitors to the Griffith Observatory have been taking imaginary voyages into outer space since 1935 when the planetarium opened its first public show. Seated in a circular theater, the audience seems to soar into the sky, conveyed by a projector that transports viewers to distant planets millions of miles away.
During the summer of 1948, a program was introduced that doubled attendance--"A Trip to the Moon" took patrons on a simulated journey to the moon's surface. Subsequent programs have taken visitors to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and beyond the Milky Way.
The planetarium's newest show, "Quaking Worlds," is an in-depth look at quakes in the universe. The program examines lunar, Martian and comet quakes--and draws comparisons between them and seismic disturbances on Earth. The audience, seated around a Zeiss Mark IV planetarium projector controlled by a staff astronomer, is asked to participate and ask questions. Viewers see the stars and planets as they would be seen through a telescope or even from a passing spacecraft. Also shown will be current earthquake-detecting and -predicting methods, plus an explanation of the Richter scale.
"During the show, we will be discussing earthquake preparedness," said Suzanne Gurton, astronomy lecturer at the Observatory. "We take for granted most of the earthquake activity in Southern California. The experts have predicted that within the next 50 years we'll have a major one here, so we have included advice on how to prepare for it.
"This kind of violent activity is present in other worlds in our solar system. The Apollo 15 astronauts recorded moon quakes. They set a seismograph on the surface and it recorded a series of them until its battery system failed."
Tracing the imaginary journey viewers will take, Gurton continued, "We'll go to the moon when Apollo 15 landed. We'll take you to Io, one of the moons of Jupiter--500 million miles from Earth. We'll travel to Mars where we will see the largest extinct volcano in the solar system, twice the size of the island of Hawaii. . . . We'll also take you to the icy worlds in the outer solar system where our own Voyager spacecraft has revealed frigid moons that have been the victims of catastrophic collisions that reshaped their surfaces."
Also this month, "The Christmas Star" planetarium show returns for the holiday season. It will be presented daily through Jan. 4 (except on Wednesday and Christmas Day) at 3 p.m. This multimedia show looks at the star followed by the Magi, or Wise Men, at the time of the birth of Christ. The powerful Zeiss planetarium star projector recreates the sky as it appeared almost 2,000 years ago--showing a series of conjunctions of the planets Jupiter and Venus in the years 3 and 2 BC that might have been the astronomical events that sent them on their journey.
The Griffith Observatory has long been a public link to science and the future. It was the gift of Col. Griffith J. Griffith, who provided funds for its construction in his will. Griffith, who died in 1919, came to Los Angeles in 1875 and made his fortune by investing in mining properties. He gave the land that became Griffith Park to the city in 1896. His will also provided for construction of the Greek Theater.
Located on Mount Hollywood, the Observatory has become a landmark visible from across the city. It combines the planetarium, an astronomy museum and two large telescopes in one facility. One of several exhibits in the museum is a computer programmed to answer celestial questions. It will, for example, ask for your name and birthdate, which you type into the machine. The computer then responds with complete information on what was taking place in the sky on that day, including the phase of the moon. There is also a meteorite exhibit, photographic displays and models tracing America's discoveries in space.
In the east dome is a Zeiss refractor to study the stars and planets at night, as well as the moon when visible. The west dome contains a triple-beam coelostat--three mirrors that face the sun and reflect its image into the observatory. One image falls on a mirror that will show sunspots. Another permits you to see the sun in detail.
The observatory is at the north end of Vermont Avenue on Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park. Hours are Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sundays, 12:30-10 p.m.; closed Mondays. However, this Monday the Observatory will be open. Hours Tuesdays through Fridays, 2-10 p.m. There is no admission charge to the museum and telescope. However, there is a charge for the planetarium shows: $2.75 for adults; youngsters 5-15 and seniors $1.50. Holiday show schedule: "Vacation to the Planets," reserved for children, 1:30 p.m.; "The Christmas Star," 3 p.m.; "Quaking Worlds," 4:30 and 8 p.m.