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UCLA planetarium reveals L.A. stars

By Daily Bruin Staff

May 30, 2002 9:00 p.m.

OSCAR ALVAREZ/Daily Bruin Students lined up to see the planets
from telescopes on the roof of Math Sciences Wednesday. June 12
will be the last planetarium show of the school year.

By Wendy Su
Daily Bruin Contributor
[email protected]

The small planetarium with its white dome top was packed with 45
people in the audience.

In the middle of the dome was a long, black sky projector from
the 1970s when the planetarium was purchased, said Matthew Barczys,
a graduate student in astronomy who led the show.

The room was dark except for a few pink lights in one of the
corners. Pinpoints of light came out from every direction of the
projector, showing up as stars on the top of the dome. After the
show, the Los Angeles sky was still foggy, in stark contrast to the
brightly lit stars inside the planetarium.

An undergraduate from the Astronomical Society leads the
telescope viewing group to the top of the Mathematical Sciences
Building.

Passing different sized telescopes on the roof, the group on
this night observed the large 16-inch diameter telescope, but the
telescopic viewing was through a 14-inch reflector telescope. A
reflector telescope has a series of lights inside that reflect the
light back to the viewer.

The larger telescopes were not used because they were not as
easy to handle. But the smaller telescopes are not able to view
fainter objects, said Sabrina Pakzad, a fourth-year astrophysics
student and president of the Undergraduate Astronomical
Society.

Most of the stars in the sky that are visible with the naked eye
are within 10,000 light years, according to Barczys. To view stars
farther than 10,000 light years away, bigger telescopes must be
used.

Ray Kachelmeyer, a 1952 alumnus and an astronomy teaching
assistant, said a lot has changed in the past 50 years.

“All the telescopes are very different from when I was
here, they are all computerized now,” Kachelmeyer said. The
position of the telescopes were controlled with a joystick-like
controller.

The horizon was still bright with light and only Jupiter, Venus
and Mars were visible in the early evening sky. At a 16-inch
telescope, students gathered around computer images taken of
previous planet and moon viewings.

The planetarium is open because the school wants the public to
come and explore the skies, Barczys said.

“There has been more public attendance since Griffith
(Observatory) closed,” Pakzad said.

The Griffith Observatory, located in Los Angeles, closed to the
public this past January for an extensive three-year renovation and
expansion. The UCLA planetarium is one of the few left in the area
so organizers want to focus more on public outreach, Pakzad
said.

Among the students was Kaz Bielinski, an alumnus who came to the
viewing with his family.

“We came because our 6-year-old son is interested in
space,” Bielinski said.

Shogik Oganisyan, a first-year European studies student, was at
the show for her Astronomy 3 class.

This summer there are plans to add house lights to the
planetarium and a computer projector to show movies and animations
by astronomers, Barczys said. The white dome will be left alone
because it was touched-up a few months ago.

The volunteer-run shows are viewed every Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Mainly graduate students give the planetarium shows during the
school year.

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