Looking for something to do now that Christmas has come and gone? The Chabot Space and Science Center is open this week, with the 10th annual New Year's Eve balloon drop, which has become a family tradition for many — a highlight on the center's schedule.
This would be a good week to see the new planetarium show "Tales of Maya Skies," which is a breathtaking immersion in Mayan science, art and mythology and is narrated by Grammy award winner and Oscar nominee Lila Downs. It is the first full dome digital show to highlight Latin American culture, and while it is scheduled to show in other planetariums in the U.S. and Latin America, it is having its world premiere here.
Alexandra Hall, the former executive director of Chabot Space and Science Center, conceived the idea of bringing "Maya Skies" to audiences while on a visit five years ago to Chichén Itza, a World Heritage site in the Yucatán region of Mexico. She approached the National Science Foundation for funding to bring to life the extraordinary era many thousands of years ago, when the Mayan built cities and temples aligned to observed movements of the sun, moon and planets. These observations of astronomical events by the Mayan people were documented with great accuracy, studies by later researchers and anthropologists would determine.
"Tales of Maya Skies" weaves together a rich combination of science, culture and legend for audiences seated
Chabot's history as an institution dates back to 1883, when the then-Oakland Observatory was built downtown in Lafayette Square park across from Oakland High School. The observatory and its 8-inch telescope were gifts to the school students of Oakland from 19th century mining engineer and philanthropist Anthony Chabot (1813-1888).
Chabot founded the Contra Costa Water Company in 1866, which developed a monopoly for supplying water to Oakland and neighboring communities, history files reveal. He built a dam across Temescal Creek, creating Lake Temescal, and later a second dam at San Leandro Creek near Castro Valley, creating a reservoir that would later be named Lake Chabot.
History files further reveal that Chabot, a French Canadian by birth, and largely self taught, built for himself a spacious Victorian-style residence (no longer standing) overlooking Lake Merritt.
Chabot contributed funds for a second telescope with the capability of measuring the passage of starts across its axis, which was used for many years to set the official local time for the entire Bay Area. Upon his death in 1888, Anthony Chabot endowed the observatory with funds to insure its ongoing operation.
A new facility was built in 1915 on Mountain Boulevard and was used for several decades until the current center was constructed, under a joint powers agency agreement with the city of Oakland, the Oakland Unified School District, the East Bay Regional Park District, and the Eastbay Astronomical Society. A groundbreaking ceremony for the current site was held in October 1996, construction commenced in May 1998, and in August 2000 the center opened to the public.
Since opening a decade ago, the science center has served 250,000 visitors annually, including 50,000 schoolchildren, and offers a wide range of award-winning education programs. Chabot is recognized by the White House Millennium Council as one of 92 affiliates nationwide as a model for raising public awareness of the interrelationship of all the sciences.
Chabot is located in the Oakland hills of Joaquin Miller Park at 10000 Skyline Blvd. Winter break hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Visit www.chabotspace.org to learn more, and Happy New Year to all.