In a circular brick building in the middle of El Camino College, appreciative third-graders ooh and aah as a projector transforms the 30-foot dome overhead into a shifting night sky.
Titters erupt as a sketch of pudgy Gemini twins appears against the stars, and planetarium director Jim Lund explains the mythological origins of the constellation.
It's a lot of fun to do these presentations for grade-school students, said Lund, who does numerous free shows a year for area elementary and junior high schools. "I just want to get them excited . . . . They're going to be living with this sky all their lives."
To get adults excited, Lund creates hourlong shows open to the public every Friday at 8 p.m. Video clips from the two Voyager probes that passed Jupiter in 1979 are highlights in the November program, "Jupiter, Ruler of the Gods," timed to coincide with the period when the giant planet can be clearly seen evenings in the eastern sky.
Views of the planet will become clearer as the month progresses and the planet is higher in the sky at sunset. A celestial object is most clearly seen when it is directly overhead because there is less atmospheric muck to peer through, Lund said.
In the show Lund explains the relation between weather patterns and the "belts of color" encircling the giant planet, and discusses whether there could be life in Jupiter's cloud layer. There also is a discussion of the four Galilean moons, named after Galileo Galilei, who discovered them using a crude telescope in 1610.
The show also describes the Galileo spacecraft that is to orbit Jupiter for several years and analyze the planet's atmosphere for the first time. That project cannot be launched until the Shuttle space program resumes.
A tight community college budget allows for few fancy special effects here; a blackboard and laboratory sink next to the projector console remind visitors that education comes before entertainment.
Lund blends the two with a personal touch that's refreshing to people used to spectacular, packaged shows at larger planetariums. Almost every presentation at the planetarium, including the Jupiter program and the Christmas Star show in December, is live, starring Lund and supplemented with slides and video segments. He even takes questions at the end.
After the shows, Lund takes the group up a freight elevator to the 16-inch Celestron telescope for a peek at the real thing.
The planetarium also displays space photography from Challenger missions along with a model of the shuttle, and lunar and Mayan calendars that depict how different cultures measured time.
There is also an orrery--a mechanical apparatus that uses colored globes to illustrate the relative positions of planets. It was a gift from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and was used during the Mercury space program in the early 1960s to familiarize astronauts with planet configurations. It can show our solar system's planetary alignment for any given day between 1900 and 2050.