Local photographer published in S&T

A local astrophotographer has received a nice bit of global recognition for his excellent work. A photo of the Rosette Nebula by Matt Dahl, a co-owner of Cloud Break Optics in Seattle, has been published in the reader gallery section of the March 2016 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine. Dahl has submitted a number of photos to the magazine in the past, but this is the first time one has made it into print.

Rosette Nebula

Matt Dahl’s photo of the Rosette Nebula is included in the reader gallery section of the March 2016 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

“It’s really neat, and a lot of people have seen it, which is cool,” he said. “It’s good exposure.”

Dahl created the photo from more than 13 hours of exposures collected over two nights about a year ago.

“It’s a lot of work, a lot of time in the cold, and even more time in the warmth post-processing,” he said. “It requires a lot of time to get the detail that you want.”

“It’s definitely a process but it’s nice when it pays off,” Dahl added.

Interestingly enough, the gallery includes two shots of the Rosette, making for a nice comparison of the different results photographers can get depending on the filters they use and other techniques.

Photos, or just looking?

Dahl enjoys visual observing as well as astrophotography.

“One of the things I really like about imaging is that I have a goal and I get a product at the end,” he said. “I like the visual aspect, I like to be able to look at stuff. But there’s this whole process I go through. It’s somewhat cathartic, despite the fact that it takes a long time to do it. I really enjoy, and I find very relaxing, just sitting with my scope—or having my scope running, and sleeping!”

Dahl feels that amateur astronomers are making images that rival what professional observatories were turning out two decades ago, and they’re doing it with cameras that can cost as little as a few hundred dollars.

“The technology, both in its advancement but also in its affordability to the amateur, has been impressive,” he noted. “It’s nice to have this available as a means for enjoying the hobby.”

The March issue of Sky & Telescope is on the newsstands now. You can see some of Dahl’s other images on his Flickr page.


Find Uranus on Alki

While walking along Alki Avenue in West Seattle today I encountered the planet Uranus. Not the actual planet—that would create some unpleasant conditions—but an artist’s representation that is part of a scale model of the solar system created by kids at the Three Dragons Academy, an arts-based alternative for elementary-age children.

Uranus as part of the Three Dragons Academy scale model of the solar system.

This sandwich board along Alki Avenue SW marks the location of Uranus in the scale model of the solar system created by students at Three Dragons Academy. Their Sun, 18 feet in diameter, is outside the University Heights Center 7.3 miles away. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Last month the students, aged five through 10, studied painting and scale. This city-wide art installation is the result of their work. The Sun is an 18-foot circle painted and chalked onto the south plaza of the University Heights Center at NE 50th Street and Brooklyn Avenue NE. At that scale Uranus is about eight inches in diameter, and is at 58th Avenue SW and Alki Avenue SW, in front of Coastal Surf Boutique, across the street from Duke’s Chowder House, and just a block away from Astro Biz Blue Moon Burgers. That places Uranus about 7.3 miles from the Sun as the crow flies, at least according to the Google Maps measuring tool. The scale of the model solar system is about 1:253,718,000.

At that scale Mercury, just three-quarters of an inch in diameter, is a mere six blocks away from the Sun at 50th and Roosevelt. All of the other planets are represented, too, and, bless them, the students have even included some dwarf planets. There are a couple of one-third-inch Plutos out there, one up at Paine Field in Everett and the other in Des Moines. Ceres is on the University of Washington campus, fittingly enough near the Physics/Astronomy Building.

They’re already at work on figuring out the recently speculated upon Planet Nine, which is thought to have a highly irregular orbit. At its closest might be around Portland and at its furthest somewhere near Missoula, Montana. They’re not planning to make that trip to place a painting!

You can read more about the project on the Three Dragons Academy website and probably find a planet near you. Visit one or visit them all!


Astro Biz: PietraLuna wine

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

Today’s Astro Biz is PietraLuna wine. We’ve featured a number of wines of late with moon-related names, all of them exclusively for sale through Trader Joe’s. This is not one of them. A Negroamaro produced in the “boot heel” of southern Italy, the PietraLuna is, nonetheless, a reasonably value-priced wine.

We chose a “luna” name for this week in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the first soft landing of an Earth spacecraft on another celestial body. The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 touched down on the Moon on Feb. 3, 1966. The lander sent back photos and radiation measurements from the Moon for about three days before contact with it was lost.

Do you have a favorite Astro Biz? Send us a photo and a brief description, and you may be featured in a future Astro Biz!

Astro Biz index


Mr. Eclipse says west may be best for 2017 total solar eclipse

Fred Espenak has earned the moniker “Mr. Eclipse” though almost 46 years of observing, predicting, and chronicling solar and lunar eclipses. Espenak spoke about The Great American Total Solar Eclipse, which will cross the United States in August 2017, during his keynote talk Saturday, Jan. 30 at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

Fred Espenak

Fred Espenak, known as “Mr. Eclipse,” gave tips during a talk at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society for viewing the August 2017 total solar eclipse. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Espenak retired in 2009 after a long career as the head eclipse guy at NASA, where he maintained the agency’s eclipse information pages. His photography of eclipses has appeared in numerous magazines, and he’s often tapped by the news media to provide expert commentary about eclipses. He’s had a hand in several books about the topic.

Espenak was bitten by the eclipse bug when he was in high school. He had just gotten his driver’s license and went on a 600-mile road trip to watch and photograph a total solar eclipse from Windsor, North Carolina in March 1970.

“I was overwhelmed by the experience,” Espenak said. “It was like nothing I had read in the books. The spectacle of totality just cannot easily be conveyed through books, through writing, through photographs, through video.”

The total solar eclipse that will happen on August 21, 2017 will be the first one visible from the continental United States since 1979. We’re lucky to live in the Northwest because some of the best odds for clear weather for the event are close by. That’s not the sort of sentence we write often on Seattle Astronomy.

Madras in August

“In Madras, Oregon the prospects there are 35 percent [cloudiness] from satellite data and 24 percent probability of clouds from the nearest airport,” Espenak said. “Madras is favored with probably the best long-term climate along the entire eclipse path, and that’s why a lot of people are heading in that area.”

Madras is about 45 miles north of Bend in central Oregon.

Espenak and eclipsing partner Jay Anderson have done some exhaustive analysis of the 2,500-mile path the total eclipse will take across twelve states from Lincoln City, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Anderson crunched weather data from satellite photos and airport reports and found that, in general, our chances are better out west. The midwest is prone to thunderstorms in the summer and the east coast can get clouds because of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. But Espenak cautions about relying too heavily on history.

Where to see the eclipse

“I can’t tell you the magic place where the best weather is going to be,” he said. “All of these statistics that Jay has concocted and derived are based on climate and 20-year studies.”

“On eclipse day you don’t get climate, you get weather,” Espenak added. While he has no magic spot, Espenak plans to start his personal pursuit of the 2017 eclipse in Casper, Wyoming, which is near the center of the eclipse path and has pretty good weather prospects.

“Casper is the location where the Astronomical League will hold its 2017 annual conference, and of course that’s going to bring a lot of eclipse chasers there,” Espenak explained. “That’s also what will bring me there, the conference. But I’m not saying I’m necessarily going to watch the eclipse from Casper, because it depends on what the two-day weather forecast is before eclipse day. If the weather looks good, I’ll stay there. If not, I’m prepared to run.”

That is Espenak’s most important piece of advice. As with real estate, when it comes to total solar eclipses, location is everything.

“Mobility, mobility, mobility is the key to seeing the eclipse, especially in this day and age with the wonderful weather forecasts you can get 24 to 48 hours in advance,” he said. “The biggest thing to keep in mind is if some large frontal system is moving across the United States, because that’s going to be the exception to the rule that throws these weather statistics out the window. That’s what’s going to change everything. If there’s a big front coming through, you want to look at the forecasts and make sure that you are on the dry side and clear side of that front at your location on eclipse day.”

That might mean you have to drive hundreds of miles to get a view of the Sun on eclipse day. Espenak said just do it if you have to.

“It’s worth it to see the total eclipse,” he said. “It’s the most spectacular thing you will probably ever see with the naked eye.”

Don’t miss this eclipse

After a long drought, it’s interesting to note that another total solar eclipse will be visible from the United States in 2024. But Espenak cautioned that this is no reason to bail on next year’s event because of a cloud or two.

“You really need to take every opportunity, becuase you never know what hand you’re going to be dealt in terms of weather,” he said, noting that, even with all of the data available and his experience chasing eclipses, about a quarter to a third of the time the weather leads to disappointment.

“It’s just a fact of the game,” he said.

More resources

Books by Fred Espenak


Astronaut visit, three club meetings this week

A talk by a visiting astronaut and three astronomy club meetings highlight the week on the Seattle Astronomy calendar, and two of the week’s featured events are on the west side of Puget Sound.

Astronaut Wilson speaks at MOF program

Stephanie Wilson

Astronaut Stephanie Wilson. Photo: NASA.

Astronaut Stephanie Wilson, the second African-American woman to travel to space, will give a talk at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Museum of Flight. Wilson, who flew on three shuttle missions, appears in recognition of Black History Month and in conjunction with the Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program, named after the Washington native astronaut who died in the space shuttle Columbia tragedy. The program brings in mentors for at-risk students and gives them exposure to aerospace education, improving their chances to graduate from high school.

The talk is free with admission to the museum.

Astronomy clubs meet

Three area astronomy clubs have their regular meetings scheduled this week.

The Olympic Astronomical Society gathers at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1 in room Art 103 on the Olympic College campus in Bremerton. The club has a half-dozen interesting talks on its agenda for the evening.

Tacoma Astronomical Society will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2 in room 175 of  Thompson Hall on the campus of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Popular speaker Ron Hobbs, a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, will give a talk about the DAWN mission to Ceres.

The Spokane Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5 in the planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. Guest speaker and program information hadn’t been published as of this writing.

First Friday Sky Walk

Pacific PlanetariumIf you haven’t checked out Pacific Planetarium in Bremerton, this Friday would be a good time to do so. The planetarium presents a First Friday Sky Walk each month, with the next being on Feb. 5. These family-friendly presentations give a look at what’s up in the night sky for the coming month. The first show is at 5 p.m. and it is repeated hourly through 8 p.m. Before or after shows you can explore the planetarium’s space science exhibits and activities. Volunteers from the Olympic Astronomical Society will be present to answer your astronomy questions.

Tickets are $3 and are available online or at the door. For those coming from the east side of the sound, the planetarium is less than a mile from the Bremerton ferry terminal.

Up in the sky

The Moon passes near Mars, Saturn, and Venus this week as the early-morning lineup of planets continues. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have other observing highlights for the week.

Follow the Seattle Astronomy calendar to keep up to date on astronomy happenings in the area.


Astro Biz: Orion Building

Orion buildingMany 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 the Orion Building on California Avenue SW in West Seattle. The three-story structure was built in 2010, but the main, street-level retail space remained vacant until a little over a year ago, when West Seattle Runner moved out of its original store and into the Orion Building. The building also is home to West Seattle Orthodontics, Pacific Endodontics, innerspace healing center, and Elite Sports and Spine.

We chose the building for this week’s Astro Biz because the constellation Orion is well up in the southeastern sky as darkness falls on his eternal chase of the seven sisters, or Pleiades, across the night sky. We featured the Japanese name of the Pleiades, Subaru, a few weeks ago.

Do you have a favorite Astro Biz? Send us a photo and a brief description, and you may be featured in a future Astro Biz!

Astro Biz index


SAS banquet Saturday, Leavitt play opens this week

An appearance by “Mr. Eclipse” and the opening of a play about noted astronomer Henrietta Leavitt highlight the events on this week’s Seattle Astronomy calendar.

SAS banquet

EspenakThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its annual banquet on Saturday, Jan. 30 at the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue in Seattle. The keynote speaker for the event will be Fred Espenak, known as “Mr. Eclipse” for his long career tracking, viewing, and writing histories of eclipses. Espenak will speak about preparing to view the Great American Solar Eclipse, the total solar eclipse coming up in August 2017 that will be the first visible from the lower-48 since 1979.

Tickets for the banquet are sold out. Check our preview of the event from earlier this month.

Silent Sky opens at Taproot

FB_Silent_Sky_banner_lowline_700x259Silent Sky, the true story of the work of American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, will have its Northwest premiere when it opens Wednesday at Taproot Theatre in Greenwood.

The play, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Karen Lund, will run through Feb. 27. Leavitt discovered the relationship between the luminosity and the period of Cepheid variable stars. Her work at Harvard College Observatory received little attention during her lifetime, which spanned 1868–1921, but her discovery was the key to our ability to accurately determine the distances to faraway galaxies.

Remembering fallen astronauts

It’s hard to believe that Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger that killed seven astronauts. Oddly enough, all three U.S. space disasters happened about this time of year. This Apollo I fire killed three astronauts on Jan. 27, 1967, and the shuttle Columbia was destroyed on re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Museum of Flight pays tribute to the fallen fliers with its annual astronaut remembrance weekend this Saturday, Jan. 30.

The museum plans displays and video looking back at the events. NASA JPL solar system ambassador Ron Hobbs and Museum of Flight Challenger Learning Center coordinator Tony Gondola will give a presentation at 2 p.m. Saturday remembering the astronauts who paid the ultimate price in the line of duty.

Ready, Jet, Go!

Ready, Jet, Go!The Pierce College Science Dome and KBTC public television team up Sunday, Jan. 31 for a special event to launch the new PBS KIDS astronomy show Ready, Jet, Go! The event runs from 10 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. and includes hands-on science activities and screenings of the program at 10 a.m. and noon in the planetarium.

TAS public night

taslogoThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The planned program will be about Apollo missions to the Moon. Club members will be on hand with telescopes for observing, weather permitting.

Up in the sky

The Moon passes near the star Regulus in the constellation Leo on Monday, Jan. 25 and flirts with Jupiter on Wednesday evening. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have other observing highlights for the week.