Astro Biz: Stargazer cocktail

Stargazer cocktailMany 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 Stargazer, a house cocktail at Cure, a charcuterie, cheese and cocktail joint in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The Stargazer is made with Old Overholt rye, Lillet blanc, and orange bitters and is garnished with an orange twist. The official recipe is a closely held secret, but we’ve been able to create a reasonable version of the Stargazer at home using equal parts rye and Lillet.

We chose the Stargazer as the Astro Biz this week because we see a couple of mostly clear nights ahead and may well drag out the telescope. Plus, we’re always thirsty.

More info:

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Club events highlight the week’s astro-calendar

There are several astronomy club events and a star party on the calendar for the coming week.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 6 in room 175 in Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus. Program information had not been published as of this writing.

BPAAThe Battle Point Astronomical Association has a big evening of events planned for Saturday, December 10. The monthly “parent-kid date night” from BP Astro Kids will be all about stellar DNA, as participants learn about the spectral makeup of common elements and how we know what the sun is made of. They’ll also create and decorate their very own take home spectrometers to investigate everything from hydrogen emission lines to the spectrum of light bulbs at home. Two shifts of events start at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the association’s Edwin Ritchie Observatory on Bainbridge Island. Following at 7:30 p.m. BPAA puts on a planetarium show “Navigating by the Stars.” Before GPS was invented people found their way around by the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars. Blue water cruiser Frank Petrie will talk about the basics of navigating with a sextant, and why it’s harder than Hollywood would have you believe. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Astronomical observing will follow if the weather is good.

The monthly Covington Community Park star party will be held at—where else?—Covington Community Park at 6 p.m. Friday, December 9. The popular suburban star party is a joint venture between the Seattle, Tacoma, and Boeing Employees’ astronomical societies.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. The page also features a full schedule of planetarium and stage science shows at Pacific Science Center.

Up in the sky

Uranus and Neptune can be a little difficult to find, but it will be a little easier this week because both will appear close to the Moon, Neptune on Tuesday and Uranus on Friday. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope offer more observing highlights for the week.

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Major changes in store at Goldendale Observatory

Big changes are in store at the Goldendale Observatory in Goldendale, Washington. The facility’s telescope, installed in 1973, has already been reconfigured and more improvements are planned. Most of the existing facility, save for the south dome that houses the telescope, will be demolished this winter and replaced with a bigger, more useful observatory that operators hope will be operational in time for the solar eclipse in August.

Troy Carpenter

Troy Carpenter, interpretive specialist at Goldendale Observatory State Park, spoke at a recent Rose City Astronomers meeting about plans for improvements at the observatory. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Troy Carpenter, interpretive specialist at the observatory, talked about the plans at the recent meeting of the Rose City Astronomers in Portland. He said that up until recently the telescope and facility had been virtually unchanged since they opened.

The telescope, originally a 24.5-inch classical Cassegrain built by amateur astronomers from Vancouver, Washington, was reconfigured this summer.

“It is still the same telescope, but it has become a Newtonian,” Carpenter said. “The primary reason this was converted from Cassegrain to Newtonian is because, frankly, a classical Cassegrain telescope is totally inappropriate in Goldendale, Washington.”

The original scope, with an effective focal ratio of f/14.5, had a focal length of more than 9,000 millimeters. For telescopes and cameras, that’s extremely long.

“I would even say excessively long because it means the telescope can only operate at very high orders of magnification,” Carpenter said. That was bad, because the telescope couldn’t really look at large, dim objects like the Andromeda galaxy or Orion nebula. Also the scope required good seeing conditions, and while it’s dark and clear in Goldendale, the seeing at the observatory isn’t typically great. On top of that, the secondary mirror was eight inches wide with a ten-inch baffle that blocked too much light, leading to poor contrast at the eyepiece.

“In short, what we had was a horribly over-magnified image with terrible contrast all the time, and as a result this very impressive-looking telescope became kind of infamous, and not so much famous, for being awful,” Carpenter said. “All of these issues contributed to the decision to convert it to a Newtonian.”

That work, and some other adjustments to the telescope, its mount, and adjustability, were completed in September. Back to a more appropriate 3,050-millimeter focal length, Carpenter said views through the telescope are much better now. An improvement yet to come is replacement of the primary mirror, which has deteriorated over 43 years of use. In addition, the mirror is five inches thick, weighs 200 pounds, and takes four hours to reach thermal equilibrium, which is essential to good viewing.

A replacement is being fashioned by a company in Pennsylvania that has done work for NASA. The new mirror, computer designed and fabricated from inexpensive materials, will be the same width but just two inches thick and will weigh only 35 pounds. It will take just 15 minutes to cool to ambient temperature. They hope to have it in Goldendale and installed within the next few months. Its price tag, with a generous educational discount, is $25,000, and while that may sound like a lot, Carpenter noted a similar-sized mirror made of fused quartz might go for ten times as much, a quarter million.

New observatory

Big changes are in store for the buildings at Goldendale Observatory State Park, too.

Observatory plans

Preliminary plans for the new facility at Goldendale Observatory.

“We’re tearing it down so that a much larger facility can be built in its place,” Carpenter said. Everything except the south dome that houses the telescope will go. The new facility will include a large auditorium for classes and lectures that will seat about 150, interpretive exhibit space, and a rooftop observation deck. The total cost of the improvements, which are being made in several phases, is $5 million, which is being covered by capital funds appropriated by the Washington State Legislature. Demolition is set for this winter and they hope to be operational with the new facility in time for the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. While Goldendale won’t be within the path of totality as it was for the 1979 eclipse, the Sun will be about 98 percent obscured at the observatory that day, so it will still be something to look at.

One page detailing the planned improvements is above; you can see more of them in the latest newsletter from Friends of Goldendale Observatory.

Light pollution

While it’s pretty dark in Goldendale, many feel that light pollution has increased in town in recent years. Concerned folks this summer held a Gorge Night Sky Symposium to discuss the situation. (See our recap of the event.) Carpenter raised a few eyebrows in the room, mine included, with his take on the issue.

Goldendale Observatory

Goldendale Observatory. Everything but the dome on the right will be demolished to make way for improved facilities. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“I’m going to surprise you by not being the loudest opponent of the light pollution we have in Goldendale,” he said. He added that he grew up in New York and has lived in Philadelphia, so he knows light pollution.

“I’ve been to places where stars don’t exist,” he said. So while Goldendale has some light pollution, Carpenter noted that they still have great views of lots of faint fuzzies in the dark night sky.

“It’s low on my priority list because it’s a politically charged issue and it makes us very unpopular every time we bring it up,” Carpenter explained. “Our friends group, however, does care very much about light pollution and they do work hard.”

He noted that the town of Goldendale is working on an improved lighting code, and is converting to full cut-off, dimmable LED street light fixtures. Despite some light pollution, Carpenter said it’s still a great place for stargazing.

“You can see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon in Goldendale,” he said, “and that’s a wonderful thing.”

We look forward to a dark, clear future at Goldendale Observatory.

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Reaching kids with “The Big Eclipse”

Those who are convinced that the stars do not affect our lives might wish to consider the story of Elaine Cuyler. Up until recently, Cuyler was minding her own business and working as marketing manager for Eola Hills Wine Cellars just west of Salem, Oregon.

“I never dreamed I’d be working on a kids’ book, let along one on eclipses,” Cuyler said. But that’s exactly what happened. When she learned that the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 will cross right over the vineyard, she decided an eclipse-viewing event would be a great way to attract visitors to the winery. As she researched the eclipse, it occurred to Cuyler that kids would really enjoy viewing a total solar eclipse.

“There was really no-one else talking to kids about the eclipse at the time,” she said. Out of that realization Orbit Oregon was born, and Cuyler became its chief eclipse officer. She teamed up with Nancy Coffelt, a well-known author and illustrator from Oregon, to create the book The Big Eclipse (Orbit Oregon, 2016).

“Although I had this concept in mind, it’s really Nancy’s drawings that brought it to life,” Cuyler noted. They also created a kids’ activity book; you can read our review of both, posted last month. Cuyler said there are a couple of purposes behind The Big Eclipse.

“First, I thought it was a great opportunity for kids to learn about astronomy and science and see something really cool,” she said. Secondly, she noted that adults often don’t know what’s going on, either. Her mother was a teacher in Portland during the 1979 total solar eclipse; they were told not to look up, and broadcasters ran public service announcements warning of the dangers of looking at the Sun. While it’s true that proper eye protection is needed to look at the partial phase of a solar eclipse, the warnings amounted to a missed opportunity.

“The concept of a solar eclipse is something that a lot of people aren’t familiar with,” Cuyler said. “That’s why there’s a lot of information [in the book] for parents, too, because they need to learn about it just as much as the kids.”

Providing inspiration

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to the kids.

“We felt that as soon as you can get kids interested in science the better,” Cuyler explained. “Maybe they’re not going to want to sit and listen to a lecture, but they do like crafts, they all know about the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. To get kids thinking about the world around them and how it functions, that’s really the start of getting them to think about why the world works the way it does, and you use science to explain that.”

As Cuyler and Coffelt worked on The Big Eclipse their research included talks with astronomers and folks from NASA who looked at their material. They also spoke with many people who had seen total solar eclipses, including one couple who had viewed 15 of them.

Greg and Elaine

Seattle Astronomy writer Greg Scheiderer, Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler, and The Big Eclipse. We thought it was fun to get a selfie in front of a sign that reads “Choose your own adventure.”

“Their feedback was so great because they shared photos with us and video footage, they told us about the different things that happen,” Cuyler said. “Talking with people who’d actually been through these was invaluable.”

They’ve already test-driven the book in school classrooms, and the kids seem to enjoy it, especially the part where they get to create and make a drawing of their own eclipse myths, just as ancient civilizations tried to explain this celestial phenomenon. Cuyler said the kids are creative and funny with their stories. Her own eclipse myth is a little more figurative.

“It would probably be the book completely eclipsing everything else in my life!” she laughed.

It’s a lot of work getting a book out there. The Big Eclipse is available on the Orbit Oregon website (which also features eclipse glasses and viewers) and Amazon.com, and it is being carried by a growing number of retailers. Cuyler is busy trying to get it into libraries, museums, schools, and summer reading programs, too.

What’s next?

As for the future of Orbit Oregon, Cuyler said The Big Eclipse is really all about the 2017 total solar eclipse, so the book sort of expires after next August 21. But she and Coffelt are considering other books, including volumes about solar eclipses in general, astronomy, and other science topics.

“We had so much fun doing this and we met so many great people that we may extend that,” Cuyler said. “Right now, we’re just focused on the eclipse.”

And on the kids. Cuyler hopes The Big Eclipse gets kids, especially girls, interested in science. When you mix in art and literature, you can grab their interest early.

“If you’re looking at science from an art perspective and crafts activities you can really start young,” Cuyler said. “It appeals to kids, and they’re learning while they’re enjoying the little story that they’re reading.”

Out of that story, and out of seeing a total solar eclipse, can come inspiration. They’ve heard many tales of science teachers who started on their career path when they saw an eclipse as a child.

“That’s what we’re going after, those young kids that might be inspired,” Cuyler said. “That’s really our mission, is to get kids to understand what they’re seeing, learn from it, and then be awed by this amazing spectacle.”

“Hopefully a new generation of science teachers will come out of it.”

Resources:

Podcast of our interview with Elaine Cuyler:


Purchases made through links on Seattle Astronomy support our efforts to bring you interesting space and astronomy stories, and we thank you.

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Astro Biz: Shooting Star aligoté

img_2102Many 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 Jed Steele’s Shooting Star aligoté wine. Aligoté is a grape variety that is a distant cousin of pinot noir, and is planted substantially in France and eastern Europe. While Steele makes his wine in California, the Shooting Star aligoté is from grapes grown in Washington. Steele was formerly with Kendall-Jackson, and their acrimonious breakup in the early 1990s made some headlines in the wine industry. Steele opened his own eponymous label, with its first wines released in 1993. Later came the more value-priced Shooting Star label. Steele’s middle name is Tecumseh, after the Indian Chief who was said to have drawn good luck from being born under a shower of shooting stars.

We chose Shooting Star aligoté as the Astro Biz this week because we enjoyed a bottle of it with our appetizer course on Thanksgiving day!

More info:

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Club events and planetarium shows on tap for this week

The first weekend in December is heavy with club events, star parties, and planetarium shows. Here’s what’s on the calendar for the coming week:

Club gatherings

Spokane Astronomical SocietyIn December many astronomy clubs opt out of a formal meeting and instead hold a banquet or other more social gathering. The Spokane Astronomical Society plans its annual potluck dinner for 6 p.m. Friday, December 2 at the Riverview Retirement Community. A guest speaker will follow the dinner at 7:30. Dr. John Buchanan, a professor of geology at Eastern Washington University, will talk about catastrophic outburst flooding that have occurred on Earth and Mars through geologic time. He will examine how the “Ice Age Floods” in eastern Washington compare with various large floods both on Earth and Mars.

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society plans its free monthly public star parties for 6 p.m. Saturday, December 3 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Poor weather will mean cancellation of the events, so watch the club’s website and social media for updates.

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its free public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 3 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The all-weather program will be about selecting gift telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy gear. (We covered that topic, too last week!) If the weather is good they’ll also put their gear into action for some celestial observing.

Planetarium shows

Planetaria have no trouble with cloudy weather! There are several shows on the docket for the week.

The University of Washington planetarium will host three free shows on Friday, December 2 at 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30 p.m. Reservations for all three times were snapped up quickly, but you can watch this site to see if tickets become available.

Pacific Planetarium in Bremerton will host its First Friday Sky Walk shows December 2, with a presentation every half-hour between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The shows look at what’s up in the sky for the coming month.

There are a variety of shows suitable for all ages every day at the Willard Smith Planetarium at the Pacific Science Center. You’ll find their complete schedule on our calendar page.

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 and the Moon make a nice pairing on the evening of December 3. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy offer more observing highlights for the week.

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Gifts for the astronomy and eclipse buff on your list

Turkey day has come and gone, and we’ve started getting a few requests for gift ideas for astronomy enthusiasts. This year, in addition to the usual tips about books, gear, and gadgets, we’ll have a special section devoted to the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017.

Our advice doesn’t really change much from year to year. Check last year’s post Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast on your list, Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast from 2014, Picking a gift for the astronomy buff from 2013, and Choosing a gift telescope from 2012. Too busy to scrape around in the past? A few quick tips:

Visit the Seattle Astronomy Store. It’s packed with our favorite gear, books we’ve read from authors we’ve interviewed, cameras, gadgets, and accessories.

The best telescope

Smart-alecky astronomy types always say that the best telescope is the one that gets used. We tend to go with a Dobsonian reflector for outstanding bang for the telescope buck. Our personal model is the eight-inch Orion XT8 classic Dob. It’s nice on planets, super on deep-sky objects, but not so hot for photography, if that’s your thing. Dobsonians are pretty easy to set up and operate. For beginners, a good pair of astronomical binoculars can be a great tool for learning to find your way around the night sky. Get one that is at least 10×50—that’s ten times magnification and 50mm lenses. We have the Orion UltraView. Best yet, for great advice about how to choose the telescope that is right for your personal observing situation and interests, grab a copy of the classic The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide (Firefly Books, 2008) by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. It’s a great reference, offers fantastic advice, and makes a fine gift in and of itself. The guide helped me get started, many moons ago, and I still use it often.

Your local experts

Cloud Break OpticsCloud Break Optics set up shop in Ballard last year, and has a fantastic showroom full of astronomy gear. They have an online store, but why non pop in and do some hands-on shopping and take advantage of their expertise and advice. Check their website for some great holiday deals. Support your local small business!

Eclipse info and swag

Next summer’s total solar eclipse will be the first to touch the continental U.S. since 1979. It’s not too early to start getting ready. That means that eclipse-related items will be welcome for most everyone. Michael Zeiler’s website The Great American Eclipse has an outstanding store through which you can purchase his fantastic eclipse maps and posters, as well as shirts, caps, sun-oculars, and other eclipse items. Get a 10-percent discount through Monday, November 28 using the code SAVE10. (Check out our article and podcast with Zeiler from earlier this year.) Eclipse glasses or viewers would make the perfect stocking stuffer this year; find them at Zeiler’s site or at the Orbit Oregon store.

Orbit Oregon has just published a children’s book called The Big Eclipse, written and illustrated by Nancy Coffelt. It and an accompanying activity book are aimed at kids from ages five to 11. These would be perfect for getting the younger set interested in the eclipse, and in science in general. It’s the only such resource we’ve encountered geared toward kids. There are a number of other books out there. Zeiler penned See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017 (Great American Eclipse LLC, 2016). The book is packed with maps and information about the eclipse. We reviewed these two books earlier this month; watch for our upcoming article and podcast with Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler. In addition, Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, has a number of eclipse books out, including Get Eclipsed: The Complete Guide to the American Eclipse (American Paper Optics, 2015) and several others shown below.

Eclipse posterAuthor, astronomer, artist, and night sky ambassador Tyler Nordgren has designed some fantastic travel posters about the eclipse, from generic nationwide posters to ones specific to some of the interesting viewing sites along the path of totality. You may have seen Nordgren’s travel posters for astronomy in National Parks and for visiting other places in the solar system. The eclipse posters are in a similar style, they’re a steal at $20 each, and they’re suitable for framing. Get them here.

Nordgren is a professor of astronomy at the University of Redlands. He was the keynote speaker at the 2014 annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

AstroBox rocks

AstroBoxOur friend Sorin this year started a business called AstroBox; you can read the article we wrote about it in August. AstroBox is a quarterly subscription collection of cool and unique items based on a space theme. The theme for December is New Horizons: Discovering Pluto, and the box includes a cool Pluto t-shirt, a fine art print, an inflatable Pluto globe, mission patches, the AstroBox magazine filled with mission news and activities, and other goodies. Order here and use the coupon code PLUTOSA and you will get a nine-percent discount just for being a friend of Seattle Astronomy! (The coupon is good through November 30.) Plus, in the spirit of giving, for every subscription sold AstroBox will donate $1 to help restore the Pluto Discovery Telescope at Lowell Observatory. The winter AstroBox will ship in early December, so order soon!

More books

Here are a few of our other book picks for this year:

Tyler Nordgren’s new book Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets (Basic Books, 2016) is a delightful read. It is part travelog, part primer for the eclipse, but the best part is the history of eclipses and Nordgren’s thoughts about the development of scientific thinking. We’ve just finished it; watch for our full review soon. Nordgren will speak at Town Hall Seattle on January 14, 2017. Tickets are available online now.

Scientist Amanda Hendrix and writer Charles Wohlforth have surveyed the solar system in search of the best place for a human colony away from Earth. Their conclusion: Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is the place to go if we have to leave the home planet. Titan has an atmosphere, suitable shielding from radiation, near limitless, cheap energy, and Earth-like features that the authors say makes it the best bet for colonization. They explain their choice in their book Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016). It explores the economics and ethics of a move off-planet as well. The pair spoke about Beyond Earth at Town Hall recently; check our recap.

Another author paid a visit to Town Hall this year; astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke about his book The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), a volume aimed at children trying to overcome their fears. Hadfield himself was afraid off the dark as a little kid, which could have been detrimental to a career as an astronaut had he not overcome it. Hadfield is a most engaging and entertaining speaker. Our recap of Hadfield’s talk includes a link to a music video he created in support of the book.

Julian Guthrie penned How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016), a book about the SpaceShipOne project that won the XPRIZE competition. The tale is an interesting one about the renegades and entrepreneurs who dreamed of getting to space without the help of the government. The book includes a preface by Richard Branson and an afterword by Stephen Hawking. It’s a thrilling tale of adventure and new space.

Happy astro-shopping!


Purchases made through links on Seattle Astronomy support our efforts to bring you interesting space and astronomy stories, and we thank you.

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