Santa Monica College Planetarium Director Jon Hodge, whose sky shows have attracted tens of thousands of adults and children over the past 26 years, has had an asteroid named after him.
The tribute is timely, as Hodge will soon officially retire from SMC.
“Jon is very charming, educated and well-read,” said Vicki Drake, chair of the SMC Earth Science Department, which includes astronomy. “I can’t think of a more worthy individual to receive this eternal honor.”
Asteroid 18117 was discovered July 5, 2000 by the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. It is located in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. 18117 is now “jonhodge.”
Officially, Hodge is being recognized for his “enormous contribution to the dissemination of astronomical and scientific knowledge to the general public, college students and schoolchildren.”
In addition to his work at SMC, Hodge has also lectured at UCLA and Griffith Observatory.
“I was completely bowled over,” Hodge said, referring to the surprise sprung on him by his colleagues in the Earth Science Department when they recently presented him the certificate affirming the naming of the asteroid after him. “I was, for once, speechless.”
With titles such as “Apocalypse Now: The Asteroid Risk,” “How Big is Space?” and “This Alien Earth,” Hodge’s public planetarium shows are held on Friday nights and feature the 7 p.m. “Night Sky” and 8 p.m. feature shows, which change monthly. He has also put on shows and lectured to thousands of SMC students and schoolchildren.
The planetarium was closed for nearly five years in the early and mid-1990s – first by a reconstruction project in what was then called the Technology Building, and is now Drescher Hall, and then, shortly before it was to reopen, by the 1994 earthquake.
With a generous gift from the late John Drescher – the planetarium reopened in June, 1997 with new seats, a new dome, and a state-of-the-art Digistar projection system.
In the years the planetarium was closed, Hodge gave his illustrated lectures in an SMC classroom – with no dip in attendance.
Ironically, though Hodge began USC as an astronomy major, he switched to the history of medieval science. “It turned out to be good background for the planetarium field,” he said.
After graduating, he went to work at the Griffith Observatory in 1971, first as a guide and then as a lecturer. He took over as SMC’s planetarium director in 1979, but continued to lecture at Griffith until it closed three years ago for major renovations. He is currently a member of the Griffith curatorial committee, which has worked on the design of new exhibits that will be on public display when the observatory reopens in 2006, as well as working with UCLA, organizing popular public seminars.
Hodge is very active in Southern California’s active astronomical scene, bringing guest lecturers to SMC from Griffith, Cal Tech, UCLA and the Jet Propulsion Lab. He is also a member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and the International Planetarium Society.
“He knows everybody and everybody knows him,” said John Mosley, program supervisor at Griffith, who has worked with Hodge for 28 years.
Aside from the opening of the new John Drescher Planetarium at SMC, other highlights Hodge recalls were Halley’s Comet close approach to Earth in 1985 and 1986, the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter in the early 1990s, and the Earth’s close approach to Mars in August 2003.
Halley’s Comet “brought out a huge number of people,” Hodge said. “There were nights we’d have 300 people standing in line for SMC’s rooftop telescope.”Hodge and his wife Mary have three children, two grandchildren and a third on the way.