Space, the final frontier.
Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, pondered the incomprehensible vastness of the universe, the placement of planets, the geometry of constellations.
It’s human to look to the stars – and what might lie beyond – but it’s not always easy, here in Orange County. Ambient light makes faraway suns hard to see, and the local focus has historically been much more about surf culture than space travel.
But as of last week, tides may be tipping a bit more in favor of stargazers, with the opening of Costa Mesa’s own, brand-new, state-of-the-art Community Planetarium on the campus of Orange Coast College.
The 11,000-square-foot facility has been 10 years in the making, and boasts a 50-foot domed theater, 125 cushioned seats, and Orange County’s only Foucault pendulum – a large, yet simple, device that visually demonstrates the continual rotation of the earth.
The New Community Planetarium at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California.
Photos: Brandy Young
It’s a “Community Planetarium” because it’s meant to reach beyond just OCC students.
The facility was funded by the community – mainly through Measure M and private donations – and designed to be used and enjoyed by everyone. College professors can use the planetarium as a visual aide for topics ranging from history to oceanography. Locals can enjoy astronomy shows and special presentations. School kids can look forward to delving further into the sciences with space-themed field trips.
Planetarium Director, Scott Mitchell, is thrilled to be spearheading this next chapter for Orange Coast College.
“I can remember my first-ever visit to a planetarium in fifth grade,” said Mitchell. “The experience really stuck with me. I am really looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm for astronomy with the public and local kids. I would be so happy if, ten years from now, I found out that a student who first came here for a field trip, was now off working at a big planetarium somewhere.”
Planetarium Director, Scott Mitchell, at the Brand New OCC Facility in Costa Mesa.
Photo: Brandy Young
Mitchell grew up watching Star Trek and Star Wars, and chose a physics major – with a concentration in astronomy – in college. In need of a part-time job, he began working at the Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine.
“I had been working at the planetarium for about two years, when the director of 35 years decided to retire,” said Mitchell. “They couldn’t find an immediate replacement, so they said, ‘Guess what, Scott? You’re now in charge of the five-million-dollar planetarium.’ It was terrifying, but I definitely learned a lot. After ten months, they eventually hired a new full-time director.”
Mitchell’s experience – of learning through having leadership thrust upon him – paved the way for him to hit the ground running here at OCC.
“I’m most excited to get back to doing planetarium shows, again,” said Mitchell. “That is the part of the job I enjoy the most. Presenting to people, getting people excited about science and space. I love the look on people’s faces, when you first bring the lights down in the dome, and then the stars come alive on the screen.”
The 50-foot, dome theater is the pinnacle of any visit to the OCC Planetarium. Large, spacious, round and well equipped to visually highlight topics ranging from astronomy to physics to geography… and more.
“Our theater is really immersive,” said Mitchell. “We can fly you from the bottom of the ocean, all the way to the very edge of the galaxy – and even further up than that. It’s such a cool, visual experience. People often compare it to IMAX, but that’s not a fair comparison. IMAX screens only curve in one direction. I’ve got a screen curved in every direction. The effect really surrounds you completely in the environment. It’s something everyone should try at least once in their lives.”
The New, State-of-the-Art Planetarium Theater Transports You Anywhere In The Universe You Want TO Go.
Photos: Brandy Young
Planetariums have the ability to bring science to life in the mind of the layperson. Even if science isn’t your “thing” – and the closest you get to astronomy is watching sci-fi on Netflix – the OCC Planetarium is worth the visit.
“Some of the coolest things you hear about astronomers doing right now – looking at things like dark matter, the expansion of the universe, how galaxies form – a lot of that can get lost in the technical aspects,” said Mitchell. “While the math, the equations, are all important and interesting, you’re just not going to reach a wide audience with the data alone. The planetarium is a way to take all of that data and bring it to life in a way everyone can understand.”
Photo: Brandy Young
Mitchell wants to invite all Costa Mesans to come enjoy the new OCC Planetarium and its educational and entertaining shows.
“Anyone in Costa Mesa can come see a star show, and they should,” said Mitchell. “It’s unique. You’ll learn more than just going to see the next Marvel blockbuster, and now you don’t have to drive all they way up to the Griffith Observatory to get a quality experience.”
Tickets can be purchased online here.
“We offer public shows every weekend, from now until the rest of forever,” said Mitchell. “Our tickets are cheaper than a movie theater! $6 for adults and $5 for kids under 12, seniors and veterans. That means going to space is cheaper than going to McDonald’s, and so there’s really no good reason not to come check us out.” ♥
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