Astro Biz: LUNA Sandals

LUNA SandalsMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is LUNA Sandals in Seattle. LUNA makes “adventure sandals” in its shop near the Seattle Center. The name was inspired when company founder “Barefoot” Ted McDonald traveled to the Copper Canyons of Mexico to run a 50-mile ultra-marathon with the Tarahumara natives. While there, Ted became friends with a Tarahumara man named Manuel Luna, who made Ted his first pair of traditional tire “huarache” sandals.

Here’s an interesting video with Ted about LUNA:

We chose LUNA for this week’s Astro Biz because there are several moon anniversaries this week: William Lassell discovered Umbriel and Ariel, moons of Uranus, on October 24, 1851; Giovanni Cassini discovered Iapetus, a moon of Saturn, on October 25, 1671; and the Cassini spacecraft completed its first fly-by of Titan on October 26, 2004.

More info:


Astronaut Hadfield sheds light on the darkest dark

Being afraid of the dark might be considered an indicator against a career as an astronaut. But retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield knew two things as a youngster.

“I always wanted to be an astronaut,” Hadfield said during a talk last month at Town Hall Seattle. And, as a child he was deathly afraid of what might be lurking in the shadows or under the bed in the dark at night. Hadfield has written a children’s book, The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016) aimed at helping youngsters overcome their fears. It was released on September 13, the day of his event in Seattle.

Hadfield’s interest in space was fueled by his reading list as a kid. He read Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was a big fan of the original Star Trek series and wanted to be Buck Rogers.

“It was all fantasy,” he said. “It was all science fiction. It was reading all of the different books and wanting some day to maybe be a spaceman and to go on space adventures.”

“Opening one of those books was permission to have an imagination,” Hadfield added.

The impossible becomes real

That imagination took Hadfield on many a flight around the universe in his sturdy cardboard box spaceship. It was all kind of a lark until the summer of 1969, the year he turned 10, when he watched on television as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon.

Chris Hadfield

Astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke at Town Hall Seattle last month about his new book, The Darkest Dark, aimed at helping kids overcome their fears. Hadfield was afraid of the dark as a child. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“What I looked at was Buzz and Neil,” Hadfield recalled. “These weren’t Buck Rodgers, these weren’t James Tiberius Kirk, these weren’t actors, these weren’t fantasy. These were real people. Neil was just a guy. He and Buzz did something very brave, very dangerous, very difficult, but they did it. They succeeded.”

“On the morning of that day of July 20 it was impossible to walk on the Moon,” he noted, “and yet by bedtime Neil and Buzz had put those foot prints all around the Eagle lander.”

It was Hadfield’s a-ha moment: the impossible can really happen.

“Impossible things happen as the result of somebody having a crazy, comic-book kind of inspiration and then working extremely hard and changing who they were,” Hadfield said. Even though Canada didn’t even have a space program at the time, he devoted most of what he did in life to preparing for his dream, so some day he could “put on a (spacesuit) and go to a place where nobody had ever been before.”

Preparation beats the demons

Preparation and practice chased away Hadfield’s demons and he made it to the astronaut corps, a member of NASA’s fourteenth astronaut class, in the summer of 1992. He flew space shuttle missions in 1995 and 2001. The first thing he did after reaching orbit on that first mission was to float over and look out the window.

“It’s the darkest dark you can imagine,” Hadfield explained. “The world is separate and the rest of it goes on forever.”

“Every window on the space ship has nose prints on it because astronauts are always there just trying to see and understand the rest of the universe,” he added. “It is a magnificent, humbling experience to have the world and the universe pouring by your window and to be living in a place where magic suddenly became real.”

In 2012 and 2013 Hadfield was a member of two International Space Station missions, commander of one. He became the first Canadian to walk in space.

“It is the most incredible experience of my life to be holding on to a spaceship with one hand, to be the very first person from my country—wearing a flag that means a lot to me—to be trusted to go do this on behalf of the millions of folks who might have wanted to be up there,” Hadfield said. “To have the whole world reassuringly spinning next to me, but to look the other way, to look out into the eternity of space, to truly, absolutely see the darkest dark there is.”

Hadfield read from The Darkest Dark and took audience questions at the end of his presentation. And, as you might expect from the guy who played David Bowie tunes from space, there was a song, as Hadfield played, in its world premiere, a video and song related to the book.

Further reading

Our post about Hadfield’s 2013 visit to Seattle, in which he talked about playing guitar and other space oddities.

More books by Chris Hadfield

(Purchasing items through the Seattle Astronomy store supports
our efforts to bring you coverage of astronomy events.)


LIGO, LSST, AOT set for alphabet soup week

A talk by a founder of LIGO and a closer look at the LSST are the highlights of our astronomy calendar for the week.

Wave of the future

Rainer Weiss

Dr. Rainer Weiss. MIT photo: Bryce Vickmark.

Gravitational waves have been all the rave since they were first and finally detected last year. Dr. Rainer Weiss, one of the founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) will give a lecture titled, “Gravitational Wave Astronomy: A New Way to Explore the Universe” on Tuesday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m. in room 130 of Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Weiss began his work on gravitational waves with a classroom exercise in a general relativity course given at MIT way back in 1967. He will discuss the history of gravitational waves proposed by Einstein, go over the results of the LIGO project, and look into the future of gravitational wave astronomy.

All sign-ups for the free lecture have been taken, but you can watch a live stream of the talk on Tuesday. You can also sign up for the waiting list should seating become available. The talk is part of the Frontiers of Physics public lecture series from the UW College of Arts and Sciences.


AOT LSSTTwo University of Washington scientists involved in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will talk about the project at a special Friday edition of Astronomy on Tap Seattle at 7 p.m. October 28 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. Doctors John Parejko and David Reiss will explain the LSST, currently under construction in Chile and targeted for being fully operational by 2023. The LSST will image and catalogue tens of billions of galaxies and stars and find more than three million exploding stars and six million asteroids and comets over the next decade, effectively creating a 10-year, multi-color, ultra high-resolution movie of the night sky. It will collect an astounding 20 terabytes of data every night. Parejko and Reiss will talk about the LSST telescope and camera design, the software challenges associated with processing such a huge data set, and the science to be gained from mining the sky in 4-D.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle is organized by graduate students in astronomy at the UW, this month in concert with TEDxSeattle and the LSST. It’s free. It’s always a good idea to bring a chair, as the combination of beer and astronomy is tremendously popular!

Star parties and planetarium shows

The Island County Astronomical Society will hold a free public star party on the evening of Friday, October 28 at Fort Nugent Park in Oak Harbor.

The Spokane Astronomical Society will hold a special Halloween star party beginning at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, October 29 at the club’s dark-sky observing site near Fishtrap Lake on Miller Ranch Road East near Sprague.

Haunted Night SkyIt’s Spook-tober at the Pierce College Science Dome, and this Saturday, October 29 will be the last day for its kids’ planetarium show called “Haunted Night Sky.” Participants will be able to find creatures in the night sky, build a Frankenstein satellite, and take a tour of the Sea of Serpents on the Moon, the Witch’s Head Nebula, and other spooky places in the universe. Best for kids ages 3-12. Shows are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Cost is $3.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include:

Up in the sky

Venus flirts with Saturn and Jupiter has an encounter with the Moon this week. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have more observing highlights for the week.


Mapping the 2017 total solar eclipse with Michael Zeiler

If you’ve been thinking about where to go to see the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017, you have more than likely come across the work of Michael Zeiler. Zeiler is the proprietor of the website Great American He has been an astronomy nut and eclipse chaser for many years, but just started making solar eclipse maps a few years ago.

Zeiler saw his first total solar eclipse from Baja, California in 1991 and was smitten.

Michael Zeiler

Michael Zeiler is the proprietor of the websites and Photo:

“It just was an amazing experience to see the eclipse hanging high in the sky with the blackest black you could see where the Moon is, and the shimmering corona, the most beautiful object in the sky that you never see in your life except for the few precious moments of totality,” Zeiler said.

“I was hooked from that point on,” he added.

Zeiler has used Fred Espenak’s eclipse maps ever since. In fact, back in 1991 he’d just purchased Espenak’s book Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses, and noted the date of the 2017 eclipse 26 years in advance!

Making eclipse maps

Zeiler practically fell into the business of making eclipse maps back in 2009. He booked passage on a ship for a total solar eclipse in the Pacific Ocean in July of that year. The cruise advertised that it would sail to the point of greatest eclipse. He found that Espenak’s map didn’t have a key piece of information that he needed to know if that was true.

“For a land-based eclipse, it’s straightforward, because you see the road network, you see the cities and the roads and the other geographic features so that you can place yourself on the map,” Zeiler said. “But for an eclipse at sea, there’s no real geographic reference around you, so if you have a GPS receiver, what you really need is lines of latitude and longitude drawn on the map.”

gaeclipseZeiler, who works for the geographic information system software company Esri, decided to create it himself.

“I had the interest and the skill set so I made my own maps for this cruise,” he said. “I made a large map, laminated it, brought it on board the ship, taped it on one of the walls, and over a thousand eclipse chasers were on that cruise. That map was a smash hit.”

People encouraged him to make more, so he launched the website late in 2009. The site became pretty popular. On May 20, 2012, the date of an annular solar eclipse visible from the American southwest, the site had a quarter million unique visitors and one million page views.

“I was stunned by that,” Zeiler said. “I didn’t expect that kind of response.”

It was at that moment that it struck him that the 2017 total solar eclipse was going to be huge. He snagged the URL the very next day, launched the site, and has been working on it ever since.

“We constantly get emails or phone calls from people who are just jazzed about the eclipse and excited and wanting to learn more,” Zeiler said. “It’s a real thrill to participate in that.”

Vintage eclipse maps

Zeiler is a collector of vintage solar eclipse maps, and has images of some of them on the Eclipse-Maps website. His favorite era for eclipse mapping is the early 18th century, when the maps were not only gorgeous but amazingly accurate.

Casper eclipse map

Casper, Wyoming eclipse map courtesy

“One of my key goals in making eclipse maps is to bring the artistry back into eclipse cartography, so I intentionally try and make the maps expressive, communicative, and just beautiful things to look at,” he said.

The man who has mapped the entirety of the 2017 total solar eclipse is headed to Casper, Wyoming as the starting point for his eclipse chase next summer. Zeiler said he considers three factors in making that decision: weather, mobility, and duration of the eclipse. He said the climate in Casper is good, and there are highways running east and west of town that pretty much hug the eclipse center line.

“All experienced eclipse chasers that I know are headed west for the weather, and we’re sacrificing ten or twenty seconds of maximum eclipse to get the great weather odds,” he said. The Astronomical League has chosen Casper for its annual conference in August for the same reasons. Catch our previous article and podcast about eclipse viewing in Casper.

Get eclipse stuff includes tons of information, maps, and a history of solar eclipses, plus a great selection of eclipse swag. You can buy your eclipse glasses there. Zeiler has also written a 44-page book, See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017, that aims to answer all the questions people might have about the eclipse. The book includes two pairs of eclipse glasses.

Zeiler does it all with excitement about sharing the eclipse with people.

“This will be the most fantastic astronomy event in decades for this country,” he said. “It’s going to create a new generation of people that appreciate the beauty and the majesty and the science of our universe, and many people will become newly formed eclipse chasers.”


Podcast of our conversation with Michael Zeiler:


Learning about LIGO at Astronomy on Tap

The most recent gathering of Astronomy on Tap Seattle brought to town two scientists working in one of the most groundbreaking areas of astronomy: detection of gravitational waves.

Nature was kind to us

Jeff Kissel, a control systems engineer at the LIGO Hanford Observatory, talked about how exciting it was when they switched on advanced LIGO back in September 2015.

“Boom! Right out of the gate we saw this whopper of an event,” Kissel said, detecting gravitational waves from the merger of a pair of stellar-mass black holes. “Nature was very kind to us.”

What they spotted at Hanford and at LIGO in Livingston, Louisiana was a match.

“Inside our data, which is almost always noise, we saw this very characteristic wave form that was predicted by general relativity,” Kissel recalled. They found gravitational waves from a couple of other black-hole mergers in the following months.

“This is the beginning of gravitational wave astronomy,” Kissel said.

Gravitational waves oscillate through spacetime in a way
by this animation. Credit: ESA–C.Carreau

Kissel pointed out that LIGO only detects a small part of the gravitational wave spectrum. As with light, gravitational waves can come in a wide range of wavelengths with periods ranging from milliseconds to billions of years. Longer-length waves might come from the mergers of galactic nuclei, or even from quantum fluctuations from the early universe.

“There’s a whole zoo of things to find out there,” Kissel said. He anticipates more ground-based observatories as well as some space LIGOs that could have detector arms millions of kilometers long.

How LIGO works

LIGO sounds awfully complicated, but, broken down, the idea is pretty simple. Jenne Driggers
is a Caltech postdoctoral scholar stationed at the LIGO Hanford Observatory, where her gig is improving the sensitivity of the interferometers. Driggers explained that, essentially, they shoot a laser beam into a splitter that sends beams down two equal arms four kilometers long. The beams reflect from mirrors and return to be put back together.

A simplified look at how LIGO works. A laser beam is split and sent down two equal
arms four kilometers long, then reflected back by mirrors. When they return to be
recombined, they will usually cancel each other out and no light will get to the detector.
But if a gravitational wave distorts the system, the light will be spotted by the detector.
Credit: T. Pyle, Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

“When they recombine they can be exactly out of phase, and then there’s no laser light (at the detector),” Driggers said. “They cancel each other out totally. Or the lengths will change and these two electromagnetic waves can add up, and so we do get some light.”

When that happens it means that a gravitational wave has distorted the LIGO arms ever so slightly. They measure the light received at the detector to learn more about the wave.

In practice it’s a lot more complicated. It all happens in a total vacuum to avoid any distortion from air. The mirrors are suspended from a system of four pendulums, which helps to eliminate vibration. The mirrors are highly reflective pieces that each weigh around 100 pounds and cost half a million dollars. The laser is about the best there is.

“The laser wavelength itself is our ruler that we’re using to measure the distance between those two mirrors,” Driggers said, “and we need to be able to measure that distance to 10-19 meters.”

“This is one of the highest-power, frequency stable, power-stable lasers on the planet,” she added.

Driggers invited people to tour LIGO Hanford. Public tours are held twice each month, and groups of 15 or more can arrange for a private tour.

Up next: LSST

Astronomy on Tap Seattle is presented and organized by astronomy graduates students at the University of Washington. Their next event is planned for Friday, October 28 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard and will feature UW scientists Dr. John Parejko and Dr. David Reiss, who are working on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project. The events are free. Enjoy beer and astronomy!


Astro Biz: Orion primitivo

Li Vieli OrionMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is Orion primitivo, a wine from Masseria Li Veli winery in the Solento region of Apulia in Italy. According to the Li Veli website, Orion is also the name of a road near the vineyards. The road was once considered to be the border between the Longobards domains to the north and the Byzantium region to the southeast.

We chose Li Veli Orion as the Astro Biz this week in honor of the peak of the Orionid meteor shower, meteors of which appear to originate from the constellation Orion.

More info:


Get the scoop on SpaceShipOne

A lesson on how to make a spaceship and several astronomy club events highlight the local calendar for the coming week.

Road to SpaceShipOne

Meet the principals in XPRIZE-winning SpaceShipOne project at 5:30 p.m. Monday, October 17 at the Museum of Flight. Author Julian Guthrie will discuss her book about the XPRIZE competition, How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016). Three of the renegades will join her as Geekwire science correspondent Alan Boyle moderates a panel discussion including XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis, co-founder Erik Lindbergh, and Dave Moore, project manager for Paul Allen on the XPRIZE-winning SpaceShipOne.

The evening will include a meet-and-greet reception from 5:30 until 6:30, Guthrie’s presentation at 6:30, the panel discussion at 6:45, and a question-and-answer session and book signing from 7:30 until 8:30. Cost is $10 and tickets are available online.

You can pick up a copy of the book at the link above or by clicking the image of the book cover.

Astro club events

Michael BarrattThe Rose City Astronomers will hold their monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, October 17 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. The guest speaker will be astronaut Michael Barratt, who spent 199 days in space as flight engineer for International Space Station expeditions 19 and 20 in 2009 and also flew on STS-133, the final flight of the shuttle Discovery, in 2011. Barratt is a native of the Portland area.

The Eastside Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 18 in the Willard Geer Planetarium at Bellevue College. Patti Terhune-Inverso, an astronomy instructor at the college and a member of Eastside Astronomical Society, will present the introduction to the constellations that she uses for her classes at the beginning of each quarter.

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 19 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. The program had not been published as of this writing.

Astronomy in Pierce County Saturday

Pierce College will host a couple of events at its Fort Steilacoom campus on Saturday, October 22.

haunted-night-skySpook-tober continues at the Pierce College Science Dome, which will be presenting a kids’ show called “Haunted Night Sky” on Saturdays through Halloween. Participants will be able to find creatures in the night sky, build a Frankenstein satellite, and take a tour of the Sea of Serpents on the Moon, the Witch’s Head Nebula, and other spooky places in the universe. Best for kids ages 3-12. Shows are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. each Saturday. Cost is $3.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for Saturday evening at 7:30. The indoor program will be a Halloween special. They’ll break out the telescopes for observing if the weather cooperates.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include a talk by astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan at Town Hall Seattle November 14. Natarajan will talk about her new book, Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos (Yale University Press, 2016). Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Up in the sky

The Orionid meteor shower peaks this Friday and Saturday. Learn about the showers and other observing highlights for the week by visiting This Week’s Sky at a Glance by Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week by Astronomy.