Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of March 23

This week we celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of Saturn’s moon Titan and the birthday of a couple of titans of space science, we observe Dwarf Planet Pride Day, and take a look at some stars and movies.

Christiaan Huygens discovered Titan on March 25, 1655. The Dutch astronomer and mathematician had been doing an extensive study of Saturn’s rings. As a nod to his work the ESA named its Titan lander after him. The Huygens probe rode along with the Cassini mission and landed on Titan in January 2005. Ten years later its work is long finished, while Cassini still works the rings. Not to feel too sorry for Huygens, though, as he also has an asteroid, a crater on Mars, and a mountain on the Moon named after him.

von Braun

Wernher von Braun. Photo: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center.

Look up rocket science in the dictionary and you just might see a photo of Wernher von Braun there. It might even be this one! Von Braun was born March 23, 1912 and is generally considered one of the fathers of rocket science.

Pierre-Simon Laplace shares a birthdate with von Braun. The great scientist sometimes called “The Newton of France” was born March 23, 1749. We expect that, in Paris, Newton was known as “The Laplace of England.” In any event, Laplace was one of the first to postulate the idea of black holes, and is known for advancing the hypothesis that the solar system formed out of a nebula of dust and gas.

The Eastside Astronomical Society meets at 7 p.m. March 24 at the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue. They’ll watch the movie Gravity, including the special features, and discuss the science of the flick afterward.

Celebrate Dwarf Planet Pride Day March 28 in Greenwood, with the fun starting at 1:30 at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company. They’ve landed some cool guests, including Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the Pluto-bound New Horizons mission, Pluto expert Dr. Sarah Ballard of the UW, and Alan Boyle, science editor at NBC News and author of A Case for Pluto. The whole thing is a project of the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a nonprofit writing center for young people.

There are several chances for observing this weekend. Weather permitting, the Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly free public star parties Saturday evening at Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Tacoma Astronomical Society has its public night that same evening at Pierce College in Steilacoom, with a program about aurorae. Check the websites for times, directions, and schedule updates.

The cool observing event of the week comes on Tuesday evening, when the Moon crosses the Hyades star cluster. La Luna will pass very close to the star Aldebaran about midnight on the 24th, Pacific time, and if you can get to Alaska or northwestern Canada you could see the Moon actually occult the brightest star in the constellation Taurus. Find other observing highlights from Astronomy magazine’s The Sky This Week.

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