Author Archives: Greg Scheiderer

Calendar: Yuri’s Night, SETI, and club events on the horizon

It was 57 years ago this Thursday that Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Celebrate with a dance party this week, and check in on some interesting club meetings, too.

Yuri’s Night

While Yuri’s Night is officially April 12, many organizations celebrate at a more convenient time. The Museum of Flight will be throwing a 21+ dance party beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 14. The evening will feature live music from the band Noise Complaint, a costume contest, food trucks, a cash bar, and a mixed-reality experience. You’ll also get to mingle with a list of “aerospace guest stars, including Chris Lewicki of Planetary Resources; Erik Lindbergh, co-founder of XPRIZE; Scott Schoneman, chief engineer at Spaceflight; So-yeon Yi, the first South Korean and 49th woman to fly in space; and Marilyn Ferguson, a software engineer at Blue Origin.

Tickets to the event are $35, or $30 for museum members. They’re available online.

The museum’s weekly aerospace update on Saturday will feature a special tribute to Gagarin. That will be at 1 p.m.

Jill Tarter in Portland

Jill TarterThe Rose City Astronomers in Portland will have an outstanding guest speaker next week when Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute gives a talk at their monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 16. The meeting will occur at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. Tarter has long been involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and will explore what’s coming up in our effort to answer that fundamental question: Are we alone? Tarter’s work is the basis for the Jodie Foster character in the 1997 film Contact.

This is the sort of event Seattle Astronomy would like to be able to cover more often. Won’t you please consider a subscription through Patreon to help defer our costs? Even a dollar a month is a big help!

Club events

Several astronomy clubs have meetings this week:

Share

Astro Biz: Lake Champlain Five Star Bars

Lake Champlain ChocolatesMany 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 collection of Five Star Bars from Lake Champlain Chocolates based in Burlington, Vermont. We spotted these in our local supermarket the other day—one of those checkout-line tricks!—and, since they were an Astro Biz couldn’t resist picking up a couple.

They’re pretty good! The bars come in six flavors in all, and are just part of a varied line of products from the company.

More info:

Share

The search for Earth 2.0

Astronomers have to date discovered more than 3,700 exoplanets—planets in orbit around stars other than our Sun. With each discovery, someone wants to know if the newly discovered planet is like Earth.

Elizabeth Tasker

Elizabeth Tasker at Astronomy on Tap Seattle.

Elizabeth Tasker thinks that’s not a very good question. Tasker, associate professor at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science and author of The Planet Factory: Exoplanets and the Search for a Second Earth (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2017) gave a talk at the most recent edition of Astronomy on Tap Seattle. She said that some of the exoplanets confirmed so far have at least a little resemblance to Earth.

“Roughly one third of those are approximately Earth-sized, by which I mean their physical radius is less than twice ours,” Tasker said. News media often wish to leap from that to describing a planet as Earth-LIKE, but Tasker said we don’t have nearly enough information to make that sort of call. Our current methods of detecting an exoplanet can give us either its radius or its minimum mass, and a pretty good read of its distance from its host star.

“The problem is neither of those directly relates to what’s going on on the surface,” Tasker noted. Part of the challenge is what Tasker feels is the somewhat oversimplified notion of the “habitable zone” around a star, a band of distance in which liquid water—a key to life as we know it—could exist on a planet’s surface.

“Like all real-estate contracts, there is small print,” Tasker said. “Just because you’re inside the habitable zone doesn’t mean you’re an Earth-like planet. Indeed, of all the planets we’ve found in the habitable zone around their stars, there are five times as many planets that are very likely to be gas giants like Jupiter than have any kind of solid surface.”

Another misleading metric that has been used is something called the “Earth similarity index.” This method compared exoplanets to Earth on the basis of properties such as density, radius, escape velocity, and surface temperature.

“None of these four conditions actually measure surface conditions at all,” Tasker said, pointing out that the index didn’t take into account such features as plate tectonics, a planet’s seasons, it’s magnetic fields, greenhouse gases, or existence of water. We can’t observe any of those things about exoplanets yet. As an example of the flaws of the index, Venus came out at 0.9, pretty similar to Earth, which is at 1.0 on the zero-to-one scale. While Venus is about the size of Earth and is around the inner edge of the Sun’s habitable zone, its surface temperature could melt lead. Not very Earth-like, or habitable. It’s one of the reasons that the index is seldom used these days. So we don’t have much of a clue about conditions on any of the known exoplanets.

“Our next generation of telescopes is going to change that,” Tasker said. She noted that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch next year, the ESA’s Ariel in 2026, and the UK’s Twinkle in the next year or so.

“All of these are aiming at looking at atmospheres, and these may be able to tell us what is going on on the surface, and may even give us the first sniff of life on another planet,” Tasker said. “Maybe then we’ll be able to talk seriously about Earth 2.0.”

###

Please support Seattle Astronomy with a subscription through Patreon. Purchasing books and other items from links or ads on or page also helps us bring you interesting astronomy news. We thank you for your support!

Become a Patron!

Share

Astronomy on Tap and a blue moon this week

It’s a light calendar of astronomy events for Easter week, but you can celebrate Astronomy on Tap Seattle’s third birthday and enjoy our second blue moon of the year!

Happy three to AOT

AOT March 28It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since a group of graduate students in astronomy started up the Astronomy on Tap Seattle lecture series, but this week’s edition will mark the 36th consecutive month that they’ve offered interesting talks, astronomy trivia, fun prizes, and great beer. Head to Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 28 for updates on the astronomy AOT has covered in the last year, and a look at the exciting new science that has come out recently—neutron star mergers, new planets, and more!

It’s free, but buy some beer. Bring your own chair to create premium, front-row seating.

Blue moon

It turns out “once in a blue moon” isn’t all that rare! Saturday’s full moon will already be the second one this year, at least by the definition that a blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. We had a blue moon in January, too; see the video below of Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer talking on KING-TV’s New Day Northwest about the super blue blood moon.

The next blue moon after this week will be on Halloween in 2020.

Share

Museum of Flight launches podcast

Flight Deck PodcastThe Museum of Flight has launched a new podcast, titled Flight Deck.

Two of four episodes published so far have space or astronomy themes. One is a look at the mix tape that Pete Conrad listed to while on SkyLab; the tape is part of the Apollo exhibit opened at the museum last year. The other is an interview with astronaut Scott Parazynski.

There’s also an interesting look at The History of Legroom on airliners. It gives me cramps just thinking about it!

The museum plans to publish a new episode every other Tuesday. You can find episodes at this link, on SoundCloud, or you can subscribe using your favorite podcast app. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Seattle Astronomy Podcast while you’re at it!

###

Share

Calendar: Public star parties and club meetings galore this week

There are four area astronomy club meetings and five free public star parties on the docket for the coming week.

SAS welcomes BPAA

Steve Ruhl, president of the Battle Point Astronomical Association, will be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21 in the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Ruhl will talk about the association’s Edwin Ritchie Observatory, John Rudolph Planetarium, and the club’s array of events open to the public. That’s their 27.5-inch telescope in the observatory at left.

Other club events this week include:

Star parties

The Seattle Astronomical Society will host four free public star parties this week. The first is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, March 23 at Covington Community Park. The following three are slated for 8 p.m. Saturday, March 24 at Green Lake, Paramount School Park, and the Green River Natural Resources Area in Kent. All are subject to cancellation in cases of poor weather; keep an on on the SAS website for the latest.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The all-weather program will be about black holes. They’ll break out the telescopes for observing if weather permits.

Planetaria

There’s a new program this week at the WSU Planetarium in Pullman. The show, titled Strange Universe, takes a look at some of the quirky, oddball objects in the cosmos. The program runs at 7 p.m. Friday, March 23 and again at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 25. Admission is $5 at the door, cash or check; they don’t accept credit cards.

Check our calendar page to find links to other local planetaria and their schedules, and to scout out other astro-events in the coming weeks and months.

Share

Serious fun with astronomy, history, and literature

The University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences is presenting a monthly Serious Fun Lecture series, and the event next week includes Brett Morris, co-founder of Astronomy on Tap Seattle and a Ph.D. candidate in the dual-title Astronomy and Astrobiology Program. Morris will be one of three speakers to tackle the topic “Secrets and Mysteries.”

Brett Morris

Brett Morris

“We hope to evoke your curiosity, with mysteries and secrets across disciplines,” Morris said. “I’m honored to be speaking alongside two distinguished faculty who work in history and literature, and wade into mysteries just as much as astronomers do. I’ll tell the story of one of the most important astronomers you’ve never heard of, and the mystery she uncovered in our Universe—and how we might solve it.”

The other speakers will be Andrew Nestingen, Chair and associate professor in the Scandinavian Studies Department, and Laurie Sears, Walker Endowed Professor in History.

The lecture will be held at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, February 21, in the Brechemin Auditorium, which is on the east end of the School of Music’s main floor in the Music Building on the UW campus in Seattle. The lecture is free but registration is required.

A March lecture in the series will be about dragons, and in April they’ll take on time.

###

Please support Seattle Astronomy with a subscription through Patreon.

Become a Patron!

Share