If you think you have to drive to downtown Phoenix, pay for parking, pay an admission fee and pay an additional charge to see a planetarium show in this town, think again.
Mesa has its own planetarium, and it will host a free screening of a film called "Tour the Universe With Pink Floyd" beginning at 6 p.m. Friday.
"The main difference between our planetarium and the one at the Arizona Science Center is that our dome is a little bit smaller," says Kevin Healy, director of the Planetarium at Mesa Community College. "We have the exact same software program. We can do full-dome video, where the dome acts as a movie screen. We can travel through the solar system or between stars to another star system."
The 53-seat building opened nearly two years ago at the school's Southern and Dobson campus, but Healy says he still finds people surprised to discover there's a planetarium in the East Valley.
"We can see what the sky would look like on any given date, going back in time or forward in time thousands of years," he says.
The facility can also display the sun, moon, planets, stars, Milky Way and other celestial objects in a variety of ways.
Friday's "Astronomy Night" will feature screenings of a new, 23-minute tour of the universe set to the music of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" LP. Made in-house at MCC, Healy says it's more of an all-ages music video than a scientific documentary.
"People will definitely learn something new, but there's no formal lecture or description of the objects as they appear on the screen," he says.
Screenings will begin at 6 p.m. and repeat every half hour through 9:30 p.m. If the night is clear, astronomy faculty, staff and students will also offer free telescope viewing outside the planetarium.
"During the summer, because it gets dark so late, we get out our solar telescopes so we can see what the sun's doing. Right now, Venus is very bright in the west, and Mars and Saturn are very high overhead. We probably won't see the moon, but there are a variety of other distant objects, like star clusters and objects outside the solar system, we can look for," says Healy.
Tickets to planetarium shows are free, and they're handed out at the event on a first-come, first-served basis. Wait times are usually no more than 30 minutes.
The Planetarium is in the college's Physical Science Building (PS 15), which is east of Dobson Road and two traffic lights south of Southern Avenue. Free parking is available in the lots south of the Physical Science Building.
No reservations are required; however, groups of 20 or more should contact Healy in advance, so planetarium staff can hold tickets for your group. Reach Healy at (480) 461-7027.
Additional Astronomy Nights will be held Aug. 6, Sept. 4 and Oct. 2. They include a screening of one of the planetarium's eight movies (titles include "Secrets of the Sun," "Sky Myths of the Ancient Maya" and "Stars of the Pharoahs") and telescope viewing.
‘Tour the Universe With Pink Floyd'
What: Music from the band's "Dark Side of the Moon" album livens up a digital journey through the universe inside a planetarium.
When: Shows begin every half hour starting at 6 p.m. Friday; last show begins at 9:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Physical Science Building (PS 15) at Mesa Community College, 1833 W. Southern Ave.
Cost: Free, and parking is free in the lots south of the Physical Science Building (Do not park in spaces marked for MCC employees.)
Information: (480) 461-7027, (480) 461-7015 or www.mc.maricopa.edu/dept/d43/ast/planetarium/astronomynights.html