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Asteroids, Women Astronauts and the Theory of Relativity

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By Jorge Casuso

July 31, 2023 -- In August, the Santa Monica College (SMC) planetarium will explore the struggles of women astronauts and present a math-free explanation of Einstein's theories of relativity.

Einstein's handwritten theory of relativiy
The formula for the special theory of relativity handwritten by Einstein
The free virtual presentations at the John Drescher Planetarium also will take a look at samples from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, according to event organizers.

The free shows take place Fridays at 8 p.m. and are preceded by a streamlined, virtual digest of the popular Night Sky Show at 7 p.m. that offers the latest news in astronomy and space exploration.

August's lineup kicks off this Friday with "Women in Spaceflight," part of a series on women in space presented by lecturer Sarah Vincent.

After Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the fisrt woman to travel into space on June 16, 1963, America's female aviators known as the “Mercury 13” underwent the same screening process as the original seven NASA astronauts, without the chance to go into space.

"Until relatively recently, women in spaceflight saw small breakthroughs, but little wholesale progress," organizers said.

"While women are now routinely seen in program management and mission commander positions, it has been a struggle" chronicled in the show.

On Friday, August 11, Vincent will present "Solar System Exploration Survey: Part 5: Asteroids, which "reviews several examinations of the solar system’s large and diverse population of asteroids."

The show will take a special look at samples of "near-Earth asteroid Bennu heading back to Earth in September," which according to NASA will deliver at least 2.1 ounces and possibly up to almost four and a half pounds of matter.

The sample from the "pristine remnant from the early days of our solar system" promises to be "the largest amount of extraterrestrial material brought back from space since the Apollo era," NASA said.

The lineup concludes with two shows exploring Einstein's theories of Special Relativity and General Relativity.

On Friday, August 18, Vincent and senior lecturer Jim Mahon will present "A Math-Free Look at Special Relativity,” which explains the meaning of what is perhaps the most famous equation in all of science -- E=mc2.

"If light is the fastest thing in the universe, what happens if a beam of light could look at another beam of light?" That is one of the key questions explored in the lecture.

The August lineup concludes on Friday, August 25, with "A Math-Free Look at General Relativity,” presented by Vincent and Mahon.

The lecturers note that "Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion can get humans to the Moon and back, but Einstein’s help is needed when it comes to understanding black holes -- or, by the early 20th century, the orbital behavior of Mercury."

Planetarium lecturers are currently using the Zoom platform to present shows while the actual on-campus planetarium remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To attend the shows, the Zoom software must be installed on the viewer’s computer. A free download is available at

"The shows include the chance to chat with the planetarium lecturers and ask questions related to astronomy and space exploration," planetarium officials said.

More information is available online at or by calling 310-434-3005. Shows are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

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