Astro Biz: Alpha Centauri Imperial IPA

Alpha Centauri IPAMany 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 Alpha Centauri Imperial IPA from Hop Valley Brewing Company in Eugene, Oregon. The company also brews Proxima IPA, as well as a variety of other beers and ales that do not have astronomy names. The company’s focus is on Oregon hops.

We chose Alpha Centauri this week because we just spotted it while strolling through the beverage aisle of our favorite supermarket. Plus it had been nearly a month since we featured a beery Astro Biz.

More info:


New Space conference, and science news meets science fiction this week

The 2016 New Space Conference will be held in Seattle this week, and the city will see five world premiere plays about astronomy and other sciences next weekend.

New Space

New SpaceThis year’s New Space Conference, presented by the Space Frontier Foundation, will be held June 21-23 in Seattle. The conference brings the three pillars of the space industry—startups, established companies, and government agencies—together with private investors and tech innovators. The three-day conference focuses on the current, near term, and future issues and challenges in commercial space and is attended by distinguished members from all sectors and verticals of the space industry, making this conference a hotbed of innovation and partnership.

This conference has been held annually since 2006, and each since 2009 has been held in the Silicon Valley. This year’s is the first to be held in Seattle, in recognition of the city’s growing status as a hub for companies involved in the space industry.

Seattle Astronomy will be attending the conference and will post dispatches about the sessions.

Art meets science

CentrifugeScience news meets science fiction this week as Infinity Box Theatre Project presents Centrifuge, a project that will result in five world-premiere one-act plays based on the latest science headlines. Five pairs of playwrights and science writers will create presentations based on a theme drawn at random on Monday evening. The science writers will help inform the playwrights about the science involved, then the playwrights will have two days to write a ten-minute play, while the science writers create brief presentations about the science presented in the plays. Teams of actors, directors, and designers will run with the scripts starting with rehearsals Wednesday, and the plays will be performed, preceded by the presentations by science writers, beginning at 8 p.m. both Friday, June 24 and Saturday, June 25 at Stage One Theater at North Seattle College.

There will be at least one astronomy-themed play, as Greg Scheiderer of Seattle Astronomy is one of the science writers participating in this interesting project.

There’s more information on the Infinity Box website. Tickets are available online as well. Don’t miss this event, a partner project of the 14/48 Projects.

Rose City

Rose City AstronomersRose City Astronomers will hold their monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 20 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. Jim Todd, director of space science education and manager of the Kendall Planetarium at the museum, will be the guest speaker, on the topic of OMSI’s plans to partner with the Salem Fairgrounds for viewing of the total solar eclipse that will occur on August 21, 2017. The eclipse event will feature science lectures, astronomy-related community groups, entertainment, and more.


The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its free public nights for 9 p.m. Saturday, June 25 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The all-weather program will be about the Sun, and if the skies are clear club members will be on hand with telescopes for observing.


Total solar eclipse 2017 and aliens in western Kentucky

The point of greatest eclipse for the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017 is in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. That fact caused Cheryl Cook’s telephone to start ringing ten years ago. Cook is the executive director of the Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Eclipse Hopkinsville“It’s just going to be huge,” Cook said. “We felt like this is a gift given to us, because we’ll have, from what we’ve been told, so many people coming to our community, and it’s our time to really show off what we do best.”

Oddly enough, Hopkinsville was the site of another interesting event on August 21 in 1955, when there was a reported close encounter with a UFO and aliens.

“When we found out the eclipse is going to be on the same day, is that not kind of eerie in a little way?” Cook asked. “I like to laugh and say that they came early to pick out their spot to watch the eclipse.”

Extraterrestrials and other visitors to Hopkinsville next August will be able to enjoy the annual Little Green Men Days festival to celebrate the UFO encounter. In addition to the eclipse, Cook says the area will have its annual Summer Salute festival and Cattleman’s Rodeo on eclipse weekend, area distilleries will be doing special bottlings, and music festivals will abound.

“There should be something for everyone,” Cook said.

WKU out on the edge

About 55 miles to the east of Hopkinsville, Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green is also making plans. Gordon Emslie, a professor of physics and astronomy at the university, says they expect a lot of visitors because Bowling Green is right on I-65, which will likely bring thousands of eclipse watchers in from Louisville, Indianapolis, and other points north.

Emslie said the university’s 780-acre farm on the outskirts of town will be a primary viewing spot.

Eclipse WKU“There will be some balloon launch experiments from that farm location to carry balloons with cameras up so they can take pictures of the eclipse from above the eclipse path and see the Moon’s shadow as it appears from a high altitude,” he said.

WKU will also open up its football stadium for viewing the eclipse. Emslie said they had a trial run of that in 2012 with the Venus transit. They passed out eclipse glasses and had lots of information about the event.

Citizen CATE

The university is one of the participants in Citizen CATE (Citizen Continental America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment), a project that hopes to observe and shoot video of the corona of the Sun from 60 locations across the country during the eclipse.

“Doing what I call Photoshop on steroids, you’ll be able to synthesize these images taken from across the eclipse path into a continuous movie of a solar eclipse for 90 minutes, which no one has ever seen before,” Emslie said. “It’s the first possible attempt to do this. It’s remarkable.”

Southern Illinois University is also a participant, as noted in our eclipse preview article about Carbondale, Illinois.

Why Kentucky for the eclipse?

Interestingly, Cook and Emslie have different takes on the best reasons for heading to Kentucky to see the eclipse. Cook touts Hopkinsville’s location at the point of greatest eclipse, as well as the aforementioned activities, and other attractions such as the Trail of Tears Commemorative Park. Emslie likes the notion that Bowling Green and WKU are closer to the edge of the path of totality.

“We therefore get to see the Sun not completely centrally obscured,” he explained. “The Moon is slightly to one side of the Sun’s disk. Therefore at the other side you get to see some of the near solar-surface phenomena; the chromosphere, the loops, the spicules, the prominences.”

“These can be visible to the naked eye without the glasses on during the period of totality,” Emslie added. He noted that there are different definitions of “best,” and while most everyone in the country should be able to see a partial solar eclipse in August 2017, it is worth it to find a way to see the total show.

“Until you’ve experienced a total solar eclipse, it’s just not possible to describe,” Emslie said. “The variety of experiences that happen during the brief couple of minutes of totality are so unusual.”

Room at the inn

While Emslie’s impression was that hotel rooms in Hopkinsville have been booked for some time, Cook said that there are some 10,000 rooms within an hour of the town, and many don’t make reservations for more than a year out. She added that there is a lot of camping available in the region as well.

Emslie told a story of booking a room more than a year in advance for a total eclipse near Paris in 1999. The innkeeper told him that, as the date of the eclipse approached, she was getting offers for as much as ten times the usual rate for the rooms. Emslie said that’s not unusual.

“Most communities don’t realize this will happen until it’s almost upon them, and then the pressure gets very significant to accommodate the sudden demand for accommodations, for food, and for travel,” he said.

Our podcast with Emslie and Cook:


Astro Biz: Rhea Healing Essentials

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

Rhea Healing EssentialsThis week’s Astro Biz is Rhea Healing Essentials in Greenwood. Rhea is a holistic wellness center that offers massage therapy, acupuncture, nutrition services, and Reiki, as well as a variety of health classes, products, and resources.

We chose Rhea this week as our third in a series of Astro Biz posts recognizing the opposition of Saturn, which occurred on June 3. Rhea is the second largest moon of Saturn and the ninth largest moon in the solar system. In Greek mythology Rhea was a Titaness, the daughter of Uranus and Gaia and “mother of the gods.”

More info:


Wednesday astronomy at UW

Most of the week’s astronomy activity is focused on a couple of events Wednesday at the University of Washington.

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 15 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the Seattle campus. Society member John McLaren will give a presentation about solar exploration, covering early human interactions with the Sun and their unexpected impacts on our growing technology. He’ll discuss how we learned about the Sun before the space age, what we’ve since discovered from space-based observing, and what the future holds for solar observations from space. The meeting is open to the public.

TJO goes retrograde

Theodor Jacobsen Observatory

Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

After the SAS gathering you’ll have just enough time to dash up campus to one of the twice-monthly open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory, which begins at 9 p.m. With both Mars and Saturn in the retrograde parts of their orbits, the observatory director, Dr. Ana Larson, will talk about what that means, will discuss the historical context, and help visitors plot the motion of Mars against the background stars using a star map.

With both planets well placed for viewing, hope for clear skies and at peek at them through the observatory’s vintage telescope, operated by volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society.


The Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center has several astronomy shows every day. Check our calendar for the schedule.

Pacific Planetarium in Bremerton will offer public shows on Friday, June 17, with hourly presentations at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 7 p.m. The topic will be star hopping: how to explore the heavens using the constellations and stars as a guide. Admission to the shows is $5.

Up in the sky

Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn all remain well placed for evening viewing these days, but there’s plenty more to see. 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.


Juno set to answer big questions at Jupiter

Almost five years after it was launched, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter on July 4, and Ron Hobbs is pretty excited about it. Hobbs, a Seattle-based NASA Solar System Ambassador, recently learned the inside scoop about the Juno mission during a teleconference with the mission’s principal investigator, Dr. Scott Bolton, who is the associate vice president for the space science and engineering division at the Southwest Research Institute.

Juno at Jupiter

Artist concept of Juno at Jupiter. Image: NASA/JPL.

“The Juno mission is about reverse-engineering the recipe of the soup that is our solar system,” Hobbs said. He noted that the Sun contains the vast majority of the mass in the solar system. After the Sun was born, Jupiter formed next, and it weighs two-and-a-half times more than everything else—the rest of the planets, comets, asteroids, the works.

Juno has four main scientific objectives, according to Hobbs: figuring out what’s at Jupiter’s core, studying the planet’s atmosphere and magnetosphere, and figuring out where its water came from.


Ron Hobbs

NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“The present theories about the solar system origin and evolution do not explain how Jupiter was enriched in heavy elements,” Hobbs said, noting that, in astronomical terms, anything above hydrogen or helium is considered heavy. “The key to understanding how the giant planets form, and then how the rest of the planets form, and how other planetary systems form is really the key to how those heavy elements got into Jupiter.”

Hobbs noted that the Galileo mission in 1995 sent a probe into Jupiter in search of water but didn’t find much. Scientists speculate they may have just gotten unlucky, and hit a sort of Sahara Desert area of Jupiter. Juno will avoid that problem by using antennas to measure microwave radiation from Jupiter; we’ll be able to tell how much water is there by how much energy is absorbed. It’s a lot less costly than probes and we’ll be able to get measurements from all over Jupiter and to greater depths.


Juno will answer questions about Jupiter’s most visible features as it studies the Jovian atmosphere.

“It’s going to be able to get atmospheric composition, temperature, cloud opacity and dynamics to depths greater than 100 bars at all latitudes,” Hobbs said. “We’re really going to start to understand what those belts and zones that we see here from Earth are composed of.”


“Jupiter has a huge magnetosphere, and there’s still some uncertainty about how it formed,” Hobbs noted. Like Earth’s Van Allen Belts, there’s a lot of radiation trapped there.

“They’re so intense at Jupiter that any spacecraft going into them is in danger of having its electronics fried,” Hobbs said. “Humans, living things, would never survive; the radiation levels are just incredible.”

Juno will make polar orbits around Jupiter. Previous missions have taken equatorial orbits. Hobbs said the polar orbit will help the craft avoid intense radiation, and will create some great imaging opportunities.

“We know that Jupiter has incredible aurorae, but they’ve never been seen up close,” Hobbs said. “In polar orbit Juno is going to be able to get close-up views.”

Gravity science

Jupiter is known as a “gas giant,” but scientists believe it has a metallic core of really heavy elements: iron, nickel, silicon and the like. They don’t know for sure.

“The gravity science that Juno will do will answer that question, will tell us the interior structure,” Hobbs explained.

Juno will study the interior of Jupiter by mapping both its gravitational and magnetic fields. Hobbs said scientists expect to find metallic hydrogen.

“We believe that at some point down in this giant body hydrogen is under so much pressure that it becomes a metal,” Hobbs said. “We believe there’s a whole ocean, if you will, or mantle of metallic hydrogen.”

About Juno

Hobbs said Juno is the second mission of NASA’s New Frontiers program. New Horizons, which flew past Pluto last summer, was the first.

“New Frontiers is a follow-on to the Discovery program, where NASA basically funds investigator-led missions,” Hobbs said. “The Discovery missions are all low-cost missions, largely to the inner solar system, but there were enough targets of opportunity that they saw the need for an expanded program.”

Juno will make 33 orbits of Jupiter, each taking about two weeks. It will get within 5,000 kilometers of its cloud tops. The electronics are protected from radiation inside a 200-kilogram titanium vault. The craft is powered by huge solar panels that are about 80 feet across as the craft spins. It will be the furthest we’ve sent a solar-powered spacecraft.

Juno Cam

Junocam photo of Earth

This image of Earth was taken during the close flyby of NASA’s Juno spacecraft on October 9, 2013. The coastline of Argentina is at the upper left, and clouds cover much of Antarctica at bottom. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Juno will be spinning, which makes photography a challenge. But we love our space images, and Hobbs said the craft carries the Juno Cam to grab photographs, though it’s not considered to be an official scientific instrument. Still, it took some great images of Earth during a gravity-assist fly-by in 2013. Hobbs said Juno Cam is naturally outside the titanium vault, which will leave it exposed to radiation.

“I’m looking forward to getting those pictures taken and down here on Earth early on in the mission, because I have a feeling it’s going to be one of the first things that gets fried,” he said.

Hobbs is looking forward to getting data from Juno starting next month.

“It’s a cool mission and it’s answering some really fundamental questions,” he said. “We’re going to learn a lot about our place in the universe once again.”

Podcast of our conversation with Ron Hobbs:


Astro Biz: Saturn building

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

Saturn buildingThis week’s Astro Biz is the Saturn Building in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. The Saturn Building features some street-level business spaces such as a bank, a wine and whiskey bar, and a skin care business. The building contains a variety of other work spaces of various sizes to meet the needs of many different sorts of businesses. The building in Fremont, the self-proclaimed center of the universe, has a big globe of the planet Saturn on its roof, and is right across the street from the Fremont Rocket.

We chose Saturn this week because the ringed planet was at opposition to the Sun last Friday and will be beautifully placed for observing all summer.

More info: