New documentary series takes a look at private space

Private space exploration is a relatively new and booming industry, and a small company out of Santa Monica, California is launching an ambitious effort to create a series of short documentary videos exploring the political, legal, and social implications of the industry.

Private Space has produced three episodes so far, and is hoping to raise at least $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign in order to produce nine more over the next year.

Tamir ElSahy

Tamir ElSahy is the writer and director for the documentary series Private Space.

Tamir ElSahy, the writer and director of the Private Space series, which is hosted on YouTube, says it started as a passion project and creative outlet for him. ElSahy is genuinely interested in the topic.

“The world has a lot of stories to tell and this just seemed like an interesting one,” he says. Beyond just telling a good story, ElSahy aims to provide useful information for an informed public. The series will orbit around three main topics: the entrepreneurs who propel the private space industry, the public officials who influence it, and the citizen scientists who are contributing in significant ways to the research and exploration of space.

“Our hope is to highlight a story in each episode from one of these themes to help us take a more holistic approach to breaking down what the developments are and how they’ll impact people’s lives,” ElSahy says.

“I don’t want to just rehash what happened,” he adds. “I want to make sure that we’re there to explain and break down what’s going on, the complicated issues, and simplify them for the online audience.”

Early episodes have featured California state senator Steve Knight, who authored the state’s Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act; Dr. Lee Valentine, chairman of the Space Studies Institute and an early investor in XCOR; and Adam Block, renowned astrophotographer whose work is frequently featured on the popular Astronomy Picture of the Day website. The shows are well done; check them out on the Private Space YouTube channel.

As of this writing the Kickstarter effort has raised more than $1,600 from 33 backers. ElSahy says the funds raised will help him and his crew, “go to New Mexico, to Texas, to Washington D.C., to Seattle, to all the places that have buzzing activity regarding the industry and get some insight wherever we can.”

Seattle Astronomy wishes Private Space and ElSahy best of luck with their efforts. You can view the trailer for their Kickstarter campaign below.

More information


The Lyrids are here! Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of April 20

Astronomy Day is this Saturday and several local astronomy groups are observing the event. Check out the Lyrid meteor shower and celebrate the 25th birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope, too.

adlogoAstronomy Day began in 1973 as an effort to bring astronomy to the people. Doug Berger, then president of the Astronomical Association of Northern California, decided that rather than try to entice people to travel long distances to visit observatory open houses, they would set up telescopes closer to where the people were, busy urban locations like street corners, shopping malls, and parks. Now a program of the Astronomical League and 13 other organizations, Astronomy Day features hundreds of events around the United States and the world.

Locally there are several events planned. The Everett Astronomical Society will celebrate Astronomy Day from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 25 at the main downtown branch of the Everett Public Library. They’ll have solar telescopes for views of the Sun, plus displays of meteors, telescopes, and other information. In addition, EAS will hold public star parties both Friday and Saturday evenings from dusk until around midnight at Harborview Park between Everett and Mukilteo.

Seattle Astronomical Society will hold public star parties Saturday evening at Green Lake in Seattle and at Paramount Park in Shoreline. Both get under way at about 8 p.m. The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its public night at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College, with a presentation about space exploration at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Happy birthday to Hubble

Hubble25th-1024x663The Hubble Space Telescope was deployed April 25, 1990. This weekend we celebrate a quarter century of Hubble’s amazing photos and innumerable scientific discoveries.

The Pierce College Science Dome will host a birthday party from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. Friday, April 24. The event will include a live stream of the National Air and Space Museum celebration, hands-on science projects, and a planetarium show about Hubble.

Watch for our own Hubble article later in the week.

Lyrid meteor shower

Watch on all clear nights this week for Lyrid meteors. The annual shower will peak on the evening of Wednesday, April 22 to the wee hours of the morning on the 23rd. Look toward the radiant in the northeast sky. This EarthSky page tells all you need to know about the Lyrids.

Talk, talk, talk

There are three promising astronomy talks scheduled for Wednesday evening, and the more dedicated listener might be able to catch at least parts of all three.

AOT2 posterThe Museum of Flight celebrates Earth Day all day April 22, capped by a talk at 4 p.m. by former astronaut Ed Lu. Dr. Lu, now CEO of the B612 Foundation, will give a talk titled “Defending Earth From Asteroids” about the foundation’s proposed Sentinel mission to watch for potential killers. Check our coverage from a news conference with Lu last year to learn more about Sentinel.

Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs will give a talk at 6:30 p.m. at Explorer West Middle School in West Seattle. Hobbs will discuss discuss comets, dwarf planets and the Mars Rover and how missions to these new frontiers will impact life on earth, now and far into the future.

The second Seattle iteration of Astronomy on Tap will be held Wednesday evening beginning at 7 p.m. at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. Topics of talks by University of Washington astronomy graduate students will include supermassive black holes, and the extreme seasons on the recently classified Game of Thrones planet. And there will be beer.


Astro Biz: Blue Moon Tavern

Many businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring them regularly on Seattle Astronomy.

The Blue Moon

The iconic Blue Moon sign at the tavern on NE 45th Street in Seattle’s University District. Photo: Greg Scheiderer

Today’s Astro Biz is the famed—many online sources, including its own Twitter account, use the term infamous—Blue Moon tavern in Seattle’s University District. Opened shortly after the end of prohibition in 1934, the Blue Moon was said to be a hit with University of Washington students. Location is everything; the tavern was just over a mile away from the campus of the time, and state law then prohibited the sale of alcohol within a mile of the university.

The Blue Moon website notes that the tavern “welcomed an assortment of radicals, artists, writers, journalists, beatniks, hippies, and wannabees,” as well as universitiy students and faculty. The site tosses out such names as poets Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo, Carolyn Kizer, Stanley Kunitz, and David Wagoner among the clientele, along with famous visitors such as Dylan Thomas and Allen Ginsberg, and perhaps even Jack Kerouac. A Seattle Astronomy favorite, Tom Robbins, is also said to have hung out at the Blue Moon back in the day.

It turns out Blue Moon is not such a rare name. We’ve already featured Blue Moon Burgers on Astro Biz, and an internet search for “blue moon tavern” also turned up results in Everett, Portland, Baltimore, Newton, NC, Eben Junction, MI, Parkersburg, WV, Coos Bay, OR, and Buford, GA. The Eben Junction spot burned down a couple of times and was rebuilt as the New Moon. Blue Moons may turn up wherever the Merry Pranksters travel, or in places where occasional tipplers go for a brew once in a blue moon.

More info:

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


Battle Point sundial project nearing completion

Seattle Astronomy was excited to get a note over the weekend announcing that the Battle Point Sundial Project is nearing completion. The Battle Point Astronomical Association (BPAA) reports that its spectacular, 12-foot-tall equatorial bowstring sundial should be installed near its Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island within the next few weeks, depending on the delivery schedule of the sundial’s fabricator.

Sundial foundation

The foundation is prepared for the Battle Point Astronomical Association equatorial bowstring sundial. From L-R: Dylan Sievertson (PHC Construction, built the foundation); Nels Johansen (BPAA Vice Pres); David Browning (Sundial Engineer); Bill Baran-Mickle (Sundial Artist/Designer). Once the foundation was aligned and leveled, more concrete was poured around it to lock it in place. The Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory is in the background. Photo: Malcolm Saunders.

The BPAA has had this project on the drawing board for a long time. After slowly collecting funds over the years at their planetarium shows and other events, they reached a critical mass two years ago. Committed volunteers started to drive the project, and in late summer of 2013 they launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $17,000 to bring their kitty up to the $30,000 they needed to build the sundial and install it in the park. The campaign drew some 75 donors, including Seattle Astronomy, and though it fell somewhat short of its goal, the attention the campaign attracted drew other outside funding, including a $1,000 grant from the North American Sundial Society, and BPAA amassed enough cash to move ahead with the project.

Their original goal was to have the sundial installed and dedicated by last spring, but they ran into some delays as sometimes happens with construction projects. They’re on track now with the foundation in place and ready for sundial delivery, and the sundial itself is fabricated and painted and ready to roll.

The sundial will be more than just a celestial timepiece. It will be a work of art and a conversation starter, and it will be a focal point for the BPAA’s facilities, which include the Ritchie Observatory, home of the 27.5-inch Ritchie Telescope and the John H. Rudolph Planetarium.

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Seattle Astronomy Calendar, week of April 13

A visiting author is the highlight of the week’s astronomy events, and the Moon will be involved in two interesting observing opportunities in the next seven days.

Does general relativity baffle you? Dr. Jeffrey Bennett says you’ll come away with a grasp of the concept if you attend his talk at Wednesday’s meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society. Bennett is the author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter (Columbia University Press, 2014.) The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. April 15 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Check our preview article from last week for more about Bennett and the talk.

More talks

Theodor Jacobsen ObservatoryAlso on Wednesday the UW hosts one of its bimonthly open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. Tom Esser, a senior in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Program at the university, will give a talk titled, “The Solar System: Planets, Spacecraft, and Rockets!” It will be a jaunt through the solar system, covering the spacecraft we have sent to the planets and some of their moons, and the rockets we used to get them there. Weather permitting, visitors will be able to get a look through the observatory’s vintage telescope, operated by volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society. Reservations for the talk are highly recommended, as the classroom where they’re held is relatively small. The events get under way at 8 p.m. April 15 at the observatory.

Another UW student will give a talk Thursday at Town Hall Seattle. Paige Northway, a student in UW’s Earth and Space Sciences Department, looks at magnetic field measurements in space, and the critical work played by magnetometers on small satellites. Her talk begins at 6 p.m. April 16 at Town Hall. It’s part of the UW Science Now lecture series.


The Moon will be part of some interesting celestial sights this week. On Wednesday evening Neptune will be easy to find, just four degrees south of the Moon. You’ll need a telescope to spot the most distant planet. At dusk Sunday a super-thin crescent Moon bunches up with Mars and Mercury low in the western sky. Mars and Mercury are drawing closer together; they’ll be just 1.3 degrees apart by April 22.

Check This Week’s Sky at a Glance, from Sky & Telescope magazine, for other observing highlights for the week.

Yuri’s Night

LogoYurisNight_WHITEring_TRANSPARENTbackground250x250Yuri’s Night, marking the 54th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human in space, was last Sunday, but the celebration rolls on at Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, Washington, which will hold a Yuri’s Night World Space Party Saturday, April 18, beginning at 5 p.m.


Bennett talk Wednesday at SAS: general relativity made easy

Dr. Jeffrey Bennett says you don’t have to have the brain of an Einstein to understand general relativity.

“If you want to deal with all the mathematics of it then it is pretty complex,” Bennett says, “but if you want to just understand it on a conceptual level, it’s not that difficult to get a general grasp of it.”

Bennett, the author of of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter (Columbia University Press, 2014), will talk about the book, and relativity, at next week’s meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society. The meeting, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. There’s still time to pick up the book, by clicking the link above or the cover to the left, before the talk.

Seattle Astronomy spoke earlier this week with Bennett, an adjunct research associate with the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy at the University of Colorado. He says his Relativity Tour is a bit of an accident of timing. He’d been thinking about writing a book about relativity for several years. When the book came out last year it was just in time for the centennial of Einstein’s breakthrough, and Bennett decided to do his part for the International Year of Light and help the general public understand general relativity and how it makes so many everyday things possible.

Einstein was right

While Einstein proposed general relativity one hundred years ago, Bennett notes that many people still think of it as new physics, and others still strive to prove Einstein was wrong, but Bennett says that’s not going to happen.

“You can’t do that because it has checked out so much; you can’t make the evidence where it does check out go away,” Bennett explains. “In the same way, Einstein didn’t show Newton to be wrong. What you’re really looking for is to see if we can find a place where Einstein’s theory is not yet complete, and we need something else to take us to that next level.”

A good example of such a place is trying to find agreement between general relativity and quantum physics.

“That’s the known hole in our current understanding,” Bennett says. “Even though both work extremely well in the regimes in which they’ve been tested, they don’t quite meet up, and therefore there must be something else that we have not yet figured out that brings them together.”

Relativity for all audiences

Dr. Jeffrey Bennett

Dr. Jeffrey Bennett

Bennett, a recipient of the American Institute of Physics Science Communication Award in 2013, speaks to a wide variety of audiences, from adults down to elementary school kids, and has written children’s books as well as college texts.

“The commonality across all of the work that I do is that it’s all aimed at people who are not really very familiar with science and math, and in some cases, with the older audiences, maybe thinking they’re sort of afraid of these topics,” he says. “I’m always dealing on that introductory level—what science is and why you should care about it. When you’re dealing with it at that level, it’s not really that different to deal with children or with grownups, because either way you’re dealing with the same lack of knowledge and lack of understanding.”

Bennett recommends the talk he will do Wednesday for people from middle school on up, though he says younger kids often understand it as well.

“Come with an open mind,” he urges. “Even if you think this is something that you can’t understand, I think you’ll find you actually can, so I hope people will come in that spirit.”

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Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of April 6

A salute to the Mercury Seven, plus a planetarium show and Yuri’s Night highlight the Seattle Astronomy calendar for this week.

Mercury Seven

The Mercury Seven. Front row L-R: Schirra, Slayton, Glenn, and Carpenter. Back row: Shepard, Grissom, Cooper. Photo: NASA.

It was 56 years ago April 9, in 1959, that NASA announced which men had been selected as the Mercury Seven, the first group of U.S. Astronauts. The seven were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. The death of Carpenter in 2013 left Glenn as the only living member of the original astronaut corps.

Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff is a fascinating telling of the story of the astronauts, and the 1983 movie version of the book, directed by Philip Kaufman, is fantastic as well. I still chuckle at the cast names: Ed Harris played John Glenn, Scott Glenn portrayed Alan Shepard, and Sam Shepard was cast as Chuck Yeager. There’s also a local note on the film; Seattle actress Pamela Reed portrayed Trudy Cooper, Gordo’s wife. Reed recently had a recurring role in the TV series Parks and Recreation, and was on the Seattle stage as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Seattle Rep last year.

Yuri’s Night

LogoYurisNight_WHITEring_TRANSPARENTbackground250x250Sunday, April 12, marks the 54th anniversary of human spaceflight. On that date in 1961 Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person launched into space. Worldwide on and around this date there are many observances of Yuri’s Night to commemorate the feat.

Only two area events are registered on the Yuri’s Night website. The Seattle Chapter of the National Space Society will meet at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 12 at the Museum of Flight, and a Yuri’s Night observance will be held next Saturday, April 18 at 5 p.m. at the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, Washington.

Club events

At lot of eyes were on the sky on April 11, 1986 when Halley’s Comet made its closest approach to Earth during its most recent visit to the inner solar system. Area clubs will be looking skyward this Saturday to mark the date.

The Everett Astronomical Society holds its monthly meeting at 3 p.m. April 11 at the main downtown branch of the Everett Public Library. Program details had not been announced as of this writing.

That evening beginning at 7:30 the Battle Point Astronomical Association hosts a planetarium program and evening of observing at its Edwin Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. The program topic is telescopes: the great ones of history, new ones on the drawing boards, and which one is right for you. Club members will be on hand with scopes for observing if weather permits.