Astro Biz: Venus Karaoke

Venus KaraokeMany 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 Venus Karaoke. Venus is a club in Seattle’s International District that claims to be one of the oldest Karaoke establishments in the area and boasts a wide selection of songs in many different languages.

More info:


Astro Biz: Suntreat Citrus

SuntreatMany 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 Suntreat Citrus. Suntreat Packing and Shipping Company is headquartered in the town of Lindsay in California’s San Joaquin Valley. They specialize in a variety of citrus fruits, including lemons, oranges, grapefruit, and mandarins.

We spotted the box pictured in a stack at our local Metropolitan Market. It appears this may be an older carton, as the design doesn’t appear on Suntreat’s packaging page.

More info:


Paul Bogard visit highlights week’s astronomy calendar

A couple of appearances by author and dark-sky advocate Paul Bogard highlight this week’s calendar of events.

Bogard, author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light (Little, Brown, 2013) will be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 17 in room A102 of the Physics Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Bogard is a marvelous writer and a wonderful speaker. You can pick up his book at the link above or by clicking the photo to the left. Check out our review of his talk at Town Hall Seattle in 2013.

After speaking with SAS Bogard will head off to eastern Washington, where he will keynote the opening night of the Gorge Night Sky Symposium. Festivities begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, August 18 at the Goldendale Observatory State Park. Bogard will also speak during the symposium workshop, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday, August 19 at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles, Oregon.

The symposium is aimed at building support for protection of the outstanding dark night skies in Goldendale and throughout the Columbia River Gorge. Registration for both days of the symposium is $55 and can be done online. The symposium website has detailed agenda information, and you can also check out our preview post and podcast about the symposium.

Rose City Astronomers in Portland will get a primer on gravitational lensing at their meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, August 15 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The guest speaker will be Dr. Jes Ford, a data science postdoctoral fellow in the eScience Institute at the University of Washington.


Perseid meteor shower 2016: Where to see it

Astronomy wags love to point out that things like comets and meteor showers don’t pay much attention to the predictions of experts. This does not dissuade said prognosticators from making their forecasts. This year astronomers say the annual Perseid meteor shower may well be even better than usual, thanks to geometry and a gravity assist from Jupiter.


Direction of the Perseids. Image: NASA.

“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of August 11–12,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”

Keep in mind that you won’t see that many if you stay in the city, where all but the brightest of the meteors will be washed out by light pollution. But you’ll still be able to enjoy some shooting stars in your own backyard. That’s where I usually watch for Perseids (my back yard, not yours!).

The predicted peak is in the early morning hours on Friday, August 12.

We’re often asked where the best places are to go to see meteors or other cosmic objects. I’ll break out the answer for in-city, and away.

Within the city

You’ve got to get at least 30 miles or so from the center of a city to get away from the effects of light pollution. But some areas in a city are better than others. As a general rule, find places away from direct light. You also want to be able to see as much of the sky as possible. Large city parks are often places where both of those things can happen. For example, the Seattle Astronomical Society holds monthly star parties at Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline, where the viewing is a little better than it is next door to an automobile dealership. Other sources cite Lincoln Park and Solstice Park in West Seattle, and Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill as good places to see the stars. Parks on the water can be good; water is flat and there aren’t as many lights out on a lake or harbor.

One thing to keep in mind about parks are the official hours. Green Lake is a 24-hour park, while Jefferson and Lincoln parks are listed as open from 4 a.m. until 11:30 p.m., as are most Seattle city parks. Paramount Park is open “dawn until dusk” according to the Shoreline website. Perhaps city officials can be persuaded to waive early closures for special circumstances like meteor showers.

Be careful when you’re out at night in the parks.

Outside the city

Get away from the city lights and your stargazing prospects improve. One of the closest spots to do this is on Bainbridge Island. The Battle Point Astronomical Association has set up its planetarium and observatory in Battle Point Park on the west side of the island. Shielded a bit from the city and in a large, open space, the skies there are pretty good, given the proximity to Seattle. As a bonus, you may well find BPAA members there when there’s a meteor shower.

National Parks are great places to find dark night skies. Two spots that are great for stargazing are Sunrise Point on the way to Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park, and Hurricane Ridge south of Port Angeles in Olympic National Park. Area astronomy clubs often use Sunrise Point and the Olympic Astronomical Society holds regular events at the Ridge. Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info also recommends Staircase campground on Lake Cushman near Hoodsport on the southeast side of Olympic National Park, and Lake Ozette campground way up near the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula. For that matter, most anyplace out on the coast will be good. The beach will offer good horizons and it’s pretty dark out there.

Head east. Going out I-90 and into the mountains, perhaps into Eastern Washington, can offer nice, dark skies and better weather. One of Enevoldsen’s favorites in the Lake Kachess campground just past Snoqualmie Pass. Take exit 62 from I-90. Last year Alan Boyle of Geekwire wrote an article about the Perseids and suggested Elk Heights Road off I-90 east of Cle Elum. That’s getting to be a bit of a haul for Seattle-area stargazers. If you’re really up for a drive, head to Goldendale. It’s super dark there, and the Seattle Astronomical Society holds star parties twice each year at Brooks Memorial State Park, just a bit north of town. While you’re out there visit the Goldendale Observatory State Park on a bluff above the city. There’s also a scenic overlook of the Columbia River on I-90 just a bit past Vantage with spectacular views and dark skies. One might find countless good spots along the Gorge between the last two.

Pack it in

My first experience with the Perseids was a memorable one. When I was 12 years old and on a backpacking trip with my father and Boy Scout troop, we slept out under the stars on a crystal-clear night in an open field just west of the village of Holden. We had no idea about the Perseids, but saw a constant stream of them through the night. It was a most memorable evening. This post from two years ago tells that story. So, while you might not be up for a hike to Holden, the wilderness offers most excellent viewing opportunities.

Wherever you go, find a lot of sky, look to the northeast after midnight, and enjoy the Perseids.


Here are some maps to selected stargazing sites. Have a suggestion? Email us and we’ll check it out!

More reading:


Total solar eclipse 2017: Columbia, SC

Of all the places along the path of the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States next August, Columbia, South Carolina has some of the most interesting attractions for astronomy buffs. Beyond the spectacle of the eclipse itself, the South Carolina State Museum has a new planetarium due to a recent expansion, in addition to an observatory with a vintage telescope and a 4-D theater. Its exhibits also include telescopes and other artifacts from the collection of Robert B. Ariail, a University of South Carolina alumnus and longtime amateur astronomer and collector who donated his holdings of some 5,000 books and several hundred telescopes to the university and the museum.

South Carolina Solar Eclipse HQ“We have a really wonderful collection of antique instruments—six thousand square feet of historic telescopes—which I think will be great for some of that audience who will come to see this type of thing,” said Tom Falvey, director of education at the museum, which has declared itself solar eclipse headquarters for the August 21, 2017 event. Falvey said Ariail was particularly interested in American-made scopes, and the collection includes 11 Alvan Clark instruments and a couple of Henry Fitz telescopes, one of which dates to 1849 and is believed to be the oldest surviving American instrument made specifically for use in an observatory.

“It’s just a beautiful collection of American instruments totaling 26 telescopes,” Falvey said. In addition, the exhibit has a number of European scopes, including some by John Dollond, early Gregorian reflectors, and some rare Zeiss instruments.

“It’s a great collection, beautifully displayed,” Falvey said. “I think it would be really nice for folks who come with that specific type of interest.”

The museum is planning several days of events leading up to the eclipse, which is on a Monday. They’ll hold a Saturday-night gala, with a guest lecturer or entertainment not yet determined. They’ll be doing tours of the telescope collection and staying open late every day leading up to the eclipse.

“Being open late for us means we would have the observatory open every night; an opportunity for people to look through the big 12-inch Clark telescope and get excited by doing some observing beforehand,” Falvey said. The observatory’s telescope is a 1925 Clark instrument with Zeiss glass that was originally made for Columbia University. Ariail helped bring it to the museum back in the 1990s.

The museum is also the focal point of efforts to prepare others to see the eclipse, and has been working with city officials urging them to create city-wide events next August.

“Plans are truly under way for the next steps for the city to do something all-out to make sure that when folks come here they’ll really see how much fun the city can be and how many great resources we have and the types of things you can do here,” Falvey said.

South Carolina eclipse map

South Carolina eclipse map courtesy

He notes that Columbia has some beautiful downtown areas, thanks in part to a recent boom. He adds that it’s a great place if you like sun and heat, and that South Carolina barbecue can’t be beat. Finally, Falvey says that the people in Columbia are marvelous—and he says that as a New England transplant.

Nobody really knows how many visitors to expect, though Falvey thinks the city can handle the crowds. It has a fairgrounds and the University of South Carolina football stadium, which are right next to each other and can hold a lot of eclipse chasers. Columbia is the capitol city of South Carolina and has ample accommodations. Freeways can bring people into town from all directions, or help them get out if the weather turns bad on eclipse day.

That could be a bit of a problem. Columbia often experiences late-afternoon thunderstorms in the summer—the total eclipse will begin at about 2:43 p.m. there. The hour presents another challenge: school will have started in town, and that’s about when elementary students would typically be on the bus going home.

“(That) could be a real problem and a real shame if people were to miss a total eclipse,” Falvey said. “We are encouraging school districts to extend the school day so that teachers will be able to assist with all the viewing.”

South Carolina is that last state the total eclipse will touch before moving out east into the Atlantic Ocean. It could be a great choice, especially for folks on the east coast.

Podcast of our interview with Tom Falvey:

Brief SCSM video about the Clark telescope:


Astro Biz: Planet Java

Planet JavaMany 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 Planet Java diner in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. Described as “a classic American diner,” Planet Java has the ’50s diner look nailed, right down to the black-and-white checkerboard floor. We also found eateries named Planet Java in Fort Langley, B.C., Fresno, California, and Woodstock, Illinois. There’s also a coffee roaster named Java Planet in Tampa, Florida. There’s also a Planet Java web app development company based in San Diego.

More info:


Here come the Perseids

With everyone resting up after last week’s major star parties, this week’s astronomy calendar is on the light side. It does, however, include one of each year’s most anticipated events: the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.

Perseid outburst


Viewing the Perseids. Image: NASA.

There’s a misconception that the Perseid meteor shower is a one-day event, but that’s not exactly the case. We start seeing Perseid meteors in mid-July, but far more of them are visible on the peak days, and this year’s peak has the potential to be better than most.

“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of August 11–12,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”

Be mindful that you’re not going to see nearly that many meteors if you stay in the city; light pollution will wash out all but the brightest of them. For best results, get to a spot away from direct lights—big parks work well for this—and look to the northeast after midnight. Better yet, get to a really dark place, somewhere in eastern Washington or on the peninsula or coast, away from big-city lights.

We’ll have a more detailed article about Perseid viewing later this week.

Jazz Under the Stars

Jazz Under the StarsThe final concert of the year in Pacific Lutheran University’s annual Jazz Under the Stars series is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, August 11. Internationally renowned vocalist Greta Matassa will be the guest artist for the evening. The concert will move indoors if the weather is bad, but if the skies are clear afterward the Tacoma Astronomical Society and PLU physics department will host stargazing at the university’s W.M. Keck Observatory. It’s free!

Astronomy fair

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will host one of its free public days Saturday, August 13 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. This time it’s a special double event, billed as Astronomy Fair XIV. They’ll have activities and information from noon until 5 p.m., then open up again at 9 p.m., weather permitting, for observing through club members’ telescopes.

Up in the sky

The Perseids are the big highlight, but there are lots of objects to see in the night sky. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have other observing suggestions for the week.