OAKLAND -- Before the new year begins, the Chabot Space & Science Center is beginning a new era with the Begin the Baktun event Saturday.

"We're really excited about (the event)," said Autumn King, event manager and visitor and community engagement manager at Chabot. King said the event is a great way to connect culture, art, and science.

In the Maya culture, an ancient Mexican civilization, a baktun represents an era or 144,000 days, with Dec. 22, 2012, marking a new beginning on the Maya's calendar.

A 6 a.m. hike starts the day, followed by an invocation at 10 a.m. by an elder of a California Native American Indian tribe. The activities for the day will end about 5 p.m. Native Maya people will be at the event, and out of respect for the Ohlone, the Native American people whose land the center sits on, the Mayas have asked permission from the Ohlone to attend the celebration.

Activities during the day include a visitor-led effort creating large-scale temples out of Legos and hands-on demonstrations, Maya food, two dance performances, a story time for children, a round-table style conversation with representatives of Native American tribes, and the movie, "Tales of the Maya Skies," in three languages. The large-scale Lego temples will have 364 steps on each side; the top or 365th step will mark a complete cycle. The hands-on demonstrations include mask-making, Maya math, coloring crafts, constellation tube creations and a cacao chocolate demonstration.

Poc-Chuc, a San Francisco restaurant, will be creating three authentic Maya meals for visitors, as well as selling aquas frescos in different flavors. One of the meals will be a vegetable dish. Chan Kahal, a Maya dance group, will be performing traditional Maya dance.

The story time is based on a Maya children's book, with instructors reading the book live in the planetarium. "Anyone can join in," King said of the story time, but the book is geared mainly toward children 12 and under. The story is "very lyrical," King said, and the center will be displaying the colorful pages from the book on the planetarium's dome during the reading.

"Tales of the Maya Skies" will be playing from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in English, Spanish, and Yucatec Mayan. At two screenings archeologist, Dr. Donald Hart, who worked on the movie, will answer questions from the audience.

The executive director of the movie is Chabot's chief executive officer, Alexander Zwissler, who is an Oakland native.

Zwissler said the objective of the movie is to tell the story of the ancient Maya astronomers and how they integrated mythology with what they observed in the night skyand with their lives. For example, Zwissler said, the path of Venus indicated to the Maya when to plant corn.

Also, the story is interesting because the Maya are an ancient civilization, Zwissler said, yet they were sophisticated. They aligned their temples with astrological events.

The science center produced the show for two reasons: to get young people inspired by science and to reach out to the Latino and Maya communities with "culturally sensitive and relevant material." Zwissler said there is a significant Maya population in the Bay Area.

To produce the movie, a team made a digital laser scan of Chichén Itza, a Maya city that served as an urban center for the ancient people, according to travel.nationalgeographic.com.

The information from the laser scan went into a database, which was used to create the temples in the movie. An interdisciplinary team produced, with writers from Mexico, a producer from Hollywood, and a local animator.

Though the movie is computer-made using digital animation, the animation is based on the digital scan of Chichén Itza and the planetarium's own database of the universe, which provided shots of the earth and space.

Zwissler said the Maya's understanding of math led to the development of a calendar. The Maya had the concept of zero, which allowed for thousands, "and the show explains some of that," Zwissler said.

And "there was no prediction of the end of the world" in the Maya culture, Zwissler said.

IF YOU GO
What: "Begin the Baktun," the start of a new Maya calendar cycle, with a full day of festivities including screenings of "Tales of the Maya Skies" and a question-and-answer session with the film's producer and director; story time; conversation with representatives of Native American tribes; Maya cuisine; a Lego temple project and hands-on demonstrations; dance performances; and more.
When: Saturday; sunrise hike begins at 5 a.m.
Where: Chabot Space and Science Center, 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland'
Tickets: $15.95 adults; $11.95 children ages 3-12
Information: www.chabotspace.org or call 510-336-7373