It’s that time of year again, when folks start lining up for the popular Sky Theater shows at Mt. Hood Community College’s planetarium.

Pat Hanrahan, planetarium director, says the first shows, slated for 7 and 8:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1, will address “Exploring the Autumn Sky.”by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Cassiopeia's Pac-Man nebula is one of the unusual objects that can be found in the autumn sky.  It got its name from the early video game as it looks like a pizza faced character (minus a slice). This is among the celestial features to be discussed at the Sky Theater show at Mt. Hood Community College Oct. 1. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

“One thing that I’ll be talking about is the mythology of the northern sky and some of the amazing objects that you can find in that area,” Hanrahan says.

Hanrahan will address such subjects as the “Miracle Star” or Mira in the constellation Cetus; some interesting nebulae in Cassiopeia; the famous Perseus Double Cluster of stars; and two galaxies in the Andromeda constellation.

The ancients projected their own myths onto the stars, he adds.

“Andromeda ends up being a damsel in distress as she is chained to a rock by her evil mother, Cassiopeia, while her husband, Cepheus, looks the other way,” he says, noting the ancients would connect proximate constellations and stars with such narratives.

“At the same time, a sea monster, Cetus, is about to devour the helpless Andromeda,” he says. “Our hero, Perseus, finds Andromeda quite attractive and decides to come to her rescue by jumping onto Pegasus the Winged Horse and carrying the head of Medusa to face Cetus and turn Cetus into stone. He is successful and wins Andromeda’s hand in marriage. I’m not sure how Andromeda felt about the whole thing.”

Dawn of exploration

Contemporary stargazers have new tales to tell, thanks to the latest space missions, Hanrahan adds, noting he’ll also talk about NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which explored the asteroid Vesta, the brightest asteroid visible from Earth.

Dawn entered Vesta’s orbit between Mars and Jupiter in July 2011 and left it Sept. 5. Hanrahan says he’ll show a short movie put together with images from Dawn.

“Vesta shows evidence of being a leftover from the early years of our solar system, an example of the material that also became building blocks for rocky planets like Earth,” he says. “Vesta’s ancient surface shows heavy cratering and long troughs likely created by huge impacts by other asteroids.”

The asteroid also features a mountain twice as high as Mount Everest, he says, although the asteroid itself is a mere 500 kilometers across.

Dawn is moving on to the largest asteroid in our solar system, Vesta’s neighbor Ceres, which it should reach in 2015.


Hanrahan also will address NASA’s latest mission to Mars via the Curiosity rover, and show pictures of Gale crater, where it landed.

“It’s a place where they know Mars once had water,” he says, adding the region features the same kind of stratified topography found on Earth typically caused by water sedimentation.

The mission has reignited interest in whether there ever was — or is — life on Mars, he says. Like the moon, Mars is a celestial body everyone can see from Earth and wonder about.

“If there was life on Mars, I think that would be one of the most amazing findings ever,” he says. “That would really give us an idea of how common life forms are in the universe.”

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