Category Archives: lectures

Lectures and a concert celebrate UW astronomy’s 50th anniversary

The University of Washington Astronomy Department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall with a number of special events of interest to astronomy buffs and more.

The celebration had something of an informal kickoff back in May when cosmologist Jim Peebles gave a talk celebrating the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the cosmic microwave background. Several of the upcoming celebratory events were mentioned at that lecture, and now details are firmed up for most.

originsposterThe centerpiece of the celebration is an audiovisual concert called Origins: Life and the Universe that will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, November 7 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. Eight Seattle composers have created original orchestral music that showcases the complexity and beauty of our universe. The symphonic concert will be accompanied by projected high-resolution movies created using some of the most spectacular imagery, videos and conceptual art from the Hubble Space Telescope and a variety of other sources. The live concert will feature Grammy-award winning conductor David Sabee and the renowned Northwest Sinfonia orchestra.

Origins will be a benefit for the scholarship program at the University of Washington Astrobiology Program in the Department of Astronomy. It will be presented by Burmer Music, The Composition Lab, University of Washington’s Astrobiology Program, and Department of Astronomy. The eight featured composers are Nan Avant, Barry Dowsett, Eric Goetz, Stan LePard, Howard Mostrom, Glenna Burmer, Tim Huling, and Kohl Hebert, a 12-year-old musical prodigy making his orchestral premiere.

Tickets are $32, $22 for students, and are available through the Seattle Symphony website. The organizers will be offering discount pricing for members of local astronomy clubs.

Supporting lectures

Three free public lectures have been planned to highlight the science featured in Origins and to preview some of the music written for the concert.

Origins of Nebulae and Stars
Thursday, Oct. 1, 6 p.m. at the Museum of Flight
Professor Bruce Balick of the UW Department of Astronomy will discuss the origin and development of nebulae and star nurseries. Composer Avant’s piece “Bijoux” showcases some of the more spectacular nebulae ever discovered. The talk is free, as part of the museum’s free first Thursday program.

Origin of the Universe and Everything in It
Saturday, Oct. 17, 2 p.m. at the Museum of Flight
Professor Matt McQuinn of the UW Department of Astronomy will take a close look at how our universe was formed and how small fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background grow into galaxies with stars and planets. Burmer, who composed a piece entitled “The Big Bang,” discusses her musical and visual interpretation of the 13.8-billion-year history of our universe, exploring the process that composers and filmmakers use to bridge science and art. Free with museum admission.

Oceans, Volcanoes and the Origin of Life
Tuesday, Oct. 20, 7 p.m. at the Pacific Science Center
Professor John Delaney of the UW Department of Oceanography, one of the world’s foremost experts on deep-sea volcanoes, will explore the hydrothermal activity that may have produced life on primordial Earth. He is joined by composer Dowsett, whose composition, “The Evolution of Carbon and Stardust,” is part of the Origins concert. Admission to this event is $5 for the general public; members of the Pacific Science Center, UW students and alumni with ID, and members of the Seattle Astronomical Society will be admitted free.

The Big Bang and beyond

bigbangAlso in connection with the Astronomy Department’s anniversary, the UW Alumni Association is sponsoring a series of four lectures titled The Big Bang and Beyond: Four Excursions to the Edges of Time and Space. The talks feature three UW faculty members and a prominent alumnus, and each will be held in room 120 of Kane Hall on the UW campus in Seattle. Here is the schedule for the Wednesday evening lectures:

Andy-Connolly_210Unravelling our own cosmic history
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m.
UW professor Andy Connolly will take us on a tour of how, using the latest technologies, astronomical surveys like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Large Synoptic Sky Survey Review produce some of the deepest optical images ever obtained. These images allow us to look for flashes from the most energetic events in the distant universe and dramatically extend our cosmic reach.

Miguel_Morales_210The end of the beginning
Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m.
Inflation, particle production, huge sound waves and gravity waves—the early universe was a strange place. This phase of the universe culminated with the release of the oldest light we can ever hope to see: the cosmic microwave background. In this lecture, UW professor Miguel Morales will focus on how scientists read the subtle patterns in the cosmic microwave background to infer what happened in the first few moments of our universe’s history.

Julianne-Dalcanton_2101Building the universe, piece by piece
Wednesday, Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m.
UW professor Julianne Dalcanton will highlight the unique role that the Hubble Space Telescope has played in shaping our understanding of galaxies and stars as she illuminates the complex forces that have shaped the universe we see around us. She will also talk about the future of space exploration and how it will shape future discoveries about the universe.

adamfrankBefore time, beyond the universe
Wednesday, Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Adam Frank, UW alum, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, and well known science communicator will take us on a journey to “the wild west of physics”—the speculative realm of how time began, how many universes are out there and whether or not we need to rethink our fundamental approach to cosmic questions. Beginning with questions that informed philosophy for centuries, Frank will show how physicists and astronomers are working to create bold new ways of seeing reality, much in the same fashion as Leonardo, Copernicus, Bacon, Newton and their contemporaries reframed the human perspective in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Talks in the Big Bang and Beyond lecture series are free, but preregistration is required.

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Two big conferences mean lots of talks on this week’s astro calendar

With two sizable astronomical conferences in town this week the Seattle Astronomy calendar is packed with interesting events.

LSST Project and Community Workshop

lsstlogoMore than 200 scientists from around the world who are working on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will gather this week in Bremerton for the LSST Project and Community Workshop. While the formal conference runs from Aug. 17–22, the program also includes public events starting Sunday, Aug. 16 and running nightly.

lssttalksThe free talks, sponsored by Olympic College, will be held at the SEEFilm Bremerton Cinema starting at 7 p.m. each evening.

Aug. 16: LSST in the Solar System
“Finding Icy Worlds Beyond Neptune, Never-Before-Seen Comets, and Killer Asteroids”
Dr. Lynne Jones, University of Washington

Aug.17: LSST and the Milky Way
“Mapping the Milky Way, Our Cosmic Backyard”
Dr. Beth Willman, LSST / University of Arizona

Aug. 18: Astronomia de LSST (en español)
“Mapas celestes desde el Sur del mundo”
Dr. Knut Olsen, NOAO

Aug. 19: LSST and Cosmology
“Measuring and Modeling the Universe’s Dark Stuff”
Dr. Jim Bosch, Princeton University

Aug. 20: LSST in the Time Domain
“Explosions in the Sky! Observing our Changeable Universe with LSST”
Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, Adler Planetarium

The theater is just a half-mile walk from the Bremerton ferry terminal.

In addition to these talks, there will be an “astronomy slam” at five different Bremerton locations on the evening of Aug. 18. The slam will include brief talks by five different astronomers at each site. Check the Olympic College calendar for places and times.

Space Elevators

isec logoThe other big event in the area this week is the annual Space Elevator Conference put together by the International Space Elevator Consortium. The conference, running from Aug. 21-23 at the Museum of Flight, will engage an international audience of scientists, engineers, educators, entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and students in discussions of space elevator development.

There is a public component to this event as well. It includes a family science fest from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22. This family-focused, STEM-centric event will feature lots of hands-on activities, demos, and exhibits. It’s free with museum admission. More details.

The last generation of lonely astronomers

Ada’s Technical Books and Café on Capitol Hill in Seattle will host a conversation about exoplanets at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20. Journalist Glenn Fleishman will interview Dr. Sarah Ballard, NASA Carl Sagan Fellow of the University of Washington, about worlds like our own and exotic potentials. They’ll talk about why planets in solar systems are either mostly in a plane or completely cattywampus, the limits of what we can learn without venturing out, and what distant worlds teach us about our own neighborhood. Free.

Sibling rivalry in massive stars

saslogoThe Seattle Astronomical Society holds its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. UW astronomy graduate and lecturer Breanna Binder will provide an overview of single star stellar evolution, and discuss how massive stars in binary systems evolve differently from single stars. Free and open to the public.

TJO open house

Theodor Jacobsen Observatory

The Theodor Jacobsen Observatory is the second oldest building on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. Twice-monthly open houses at the observatory resume March 2. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Wednesday is also open house day at the UW’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory, starting at 9 p.m. Engineering student Kyle Musselwhite will give a talk titled, “Hey, What’s That Sound? The Universe!” Musselwhite will outline relationships between the history of science and musical thinking, followed by discussion of why music is a useful tool for conceptualizing certain properties of the universe (especially time and distance). The talk is free but reservations are strongly recommended; the classroom typically fills up quickly.

Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society give tours of the observatory dome and, weather permitting, offer looks through its vintage telescope.

Star parties

The Seattle and Tacoma astronomical societies have public events scheduled this Saturday, Aug. 22. SAS holds its monthly free public star parties at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Both begin at 8 p.m., weather permitting. The Tacoma club meets at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College for a public night beginning at 9 p.m. Aug. 22. A panel will do a presentation on women in astronomy, and volunteers will be on hand with telescopes for observing, weather permitting.

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Exoplanets, killer stars, and beer

Astronomers are busy trying to figure out if and when an enormous flare from the Sun might fry us—or at least zap our mobile phones—and also are looking for planets like Earth in orbit around other stars. Those were the subjects of the talks at Astronomy on Tap Seattle last week at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. The Kepler Space Telescope figured in both talks.

DSC_0008

Rodrigo Luger spoke about the hunt for other Earths in a presentation at Astronomy on Tap 5 last week. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

University of Washington astronomy graduate student Rodrigo Luger led off the evening’s festivities with a talk titled, “Syzygies in Silhouette: The Search for Alien Earths.” A syzygy is simply an alignment of three astronomical bodies, and when that happens we can detect a planet orbiting a distant star; the planet essentially casts its shadow on Earth, and we can measure the slight drop in brightness of the star.

Luger called Kepler “by far the most successful planet-detection mission.”

“We currently know of more than five thousand potential planetary objects around other stars, which is amazing,” Luger said, noting that, twenty years ago, we knew of maybe a couple. “It’s a fascinating time for exoplanet science.”

Luger pointed out that the number of discoveries is especially incredible when you consider that Kepler is staring at such a tiny patch of the sky.

“If there are thousands of planets (in that field), imagine how many there are in the entire Milky Way,” he marveled.

Where is Earth 2.0?

One frustration is that Kepler has yet to find an exoplanet that is a close match for Earth. Luger said planets our size are a bit tougher to tease out of the background noise that Kepler collects. That may change, he said, when NASA launches the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in 2017.

“TESS is different; rather than looking at a tiny patch of the sky, it’s going to look at the entire sky,” Luger said.

“It’s going to focus primarily on smaller stars,” he added, noting that looking at these makes it “much easier when you want to detect Earth-like planets.”

By coincidence, the day after Luger’s talk the Kepler team announced the discovery of planet Kepler 452b, the closest match yet to Earth.

The Sun takes aim

James Davenport makes a point during his talk about solar activity. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

James Davenport makes a point during his talk about solar activity. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

James Davenport, who just earned his Ph.D. in astronomy at the UW, uses Kepler in his work as well. His main purpose is to better understand our own nearby star, the Sun, and figure out when it might aim a solar flare or coronal mass ejection at us.

Davenport’s talk, “How Stars Keep Active as They Age,” started with a history lesson. Back in 1859 English astronomer Richard Carrington was making daily sketches of his observations of the Sun. He was tracking a huge sunspot and, as he watched it, a couple of enormous bright patches appeared. It turns out that this was the first observation of a solar flare. About twelve hours later, people on Earth saw the most stunning aurorae in centuries.

“The sky lit up red and green, and you could see it as far south as Cuba,” Davenport said. “It was this magnificent, incredible event.” The penny dropped and scientists recognized that the solar flare was the cause of the aurora. The flare created such an electric surge that some telegraph operators suffered burns.

Don’t mess with that

“If a giant solar flare like the one that Carrington observed impacted the Earth today, it would cause trillions if not hundreds of trillions of dollars of damage,” Davenport observed, noting that TV, the Internet, and your mobile phone could get fried. “It could ruin the global economy. It would be a disaster of untold proportions, and there’s noting we can do about it. The sun is just going to hurtle these flares at us whenever it decides to.”

Davenport noted that this isn’t just an academic discussion; a flare of that magnitude barely missed Earth in July 2012.

“If it had been launched a few days earlier and it hit the Earth, we’d still be recovering,” he said.

The Sun is pretty unpredictable, Davenport said. Huge sunspots turn up about every 25 years, but there aren’t always giant flares that go with them. The good news is we’re learning more about the Sun all the time. Data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory is like an HD movie of the Sun that plays 24/7. There is always someone watching. Astronomers also are doing computer models of the Sun to try to figure out more about its processes. Kepler comes in to play by helping us look at thousands of stars of all ages. The younger ones tend to be more active, while older stars like the Sun are relatively serene. It wasn’t always that way for old Sol.

“The young Sun had bigger flares and more of them, and probably dumped out a hundred times more x-rays with every single flare,” Davenport said. “You don’t want to stand in the way of that.”

Cupcakes and beer

Mmmm. Cupcakes.

Mmmm. Cupcakes.

A lifetime of soaking up astronomical minutiae finally paid off for Seattle Astronomy at Astronomy on Tap 5 as our team, the Wild Guessers, took home top honors in both Pluto trivia contests of the evening. The prize: treats from Trophy Cupcakes decorated with images of the highly active Sun. We learned that Bad Jimmy’s strawberry mango hefeweizen goes well with cupcakes. Just watch out for the CMEs: cupcake mass ejections.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle hosts events at Bad Jimmy’s monthly. The next one is scheduled for August 26.

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Astronomy on Tap and more this week

Happy Moon landing day! July 20 marks the 46th anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong took that giant leap for mankind and became the first human being to walk on the Moon!

For those interested in a little history, we’ve read a couple of good books about the race to the Moon lately. Space policy maven John Logsdon penned John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon (Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology, 2013). It’s an interesting account of the race that really wasn’t, and the pitfalls that nearly derailed the Apollo program before it got going. Logsdon has spoken in Seattle twice this year; check out our accounts of his address to the American Astronomical Society in January and of a talk last month at the Museum of Flight.

The second Moon book is of particular interest to public relations and marketing professionals. Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program (MIT Press, 2014) by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek was one of our favorite books of last year. It’s loaded with great stories and lots of images of some of the marketing materials that helped sell the Apollo program. Check out our review here. The books are available by clicking the handy links above. They and more are also featured in the Seattle Astronomy Store.

Astronomy and beer

aot5posterHey, didn’t we just have Astronomy on Tap Seattle last week? Yes, we did; it was a special Pluto and New Horizons edition. Read our recap of the event. This Wednesday, July 22 at 7 p.m. AoT will be back at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. There will be brief talks by UW grad students in astronomy, and there’s always plenty of time for Q&A. This week Rodrigo Luger, exoplaneteer extraordinaire, will speak about “Syzygies in Silhouette: The Search For Alien Earths,” and James “JRAD” Davenport, connoisseur of small stars and big flares, will discuss “How Stars Keep Active as They Age.” There also will be trivia games and prizes. Hot tip: the prizes often are in the form of treats from Trophy Cupcakes, decorated in relevant astronomical ways, though past history is not necessarily an indicator of future performance. In any event, astronomy is great with a nice cold brew. Astronomy on Tap is free, but please RSVP.

Star parties

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its free monthly public star parties at Green Lake in Seattle and at Paramount Park in Shoreline this Saturday, July 25. The star parties get under way at 9 p.m., presuming the weather is good. And when was the last time you saw a cloud? Go take a peek!

What’s up in the sky?

Saturn will appear just two degrees south of the Moon on Sunday night, July 26. Check Sky & Telescope magazine’s This Week’s Sky at a Glance for other observing highlights.

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Astronomy on Tap takes a look at the first Pluto pics from New Horizons

Back in the olden days of 1979 I took an undergraduate course in astronomy at the University of Washington. The Voyager spacecraft had just visited Jupiter and the astronomy faculty were positively giddy about the new photos, data, and knowledge coming in from the largest planet in our solar system. The excitement is perhaps even greater as we digest the first images from New Horizons, which buzzed Pluto earlier this week and got our first really close look at what used to be the ninth planet.

“It’s discovering a new planet that we already knew existed,” said Brett Morris, a UW graduate student in astronomy, at a special Pluto-palooza version of Astronomy on Tap Seattle Wednesday evening at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard.

The icy mountains of Pluto. Photo: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI.

The icy mountains of Pluto. Photo: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI.

Morris said the biggest discovery in the first batch of close-ups of Pluto is that, in a section of the dwarf planet’s “heart,” now named “Tombaugh Regio” after its discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh, there are no craters.

“This suggests that the surface is less than 100 million years old,” Morris said. While that may seem like a long time, it’s a mere blink of an eye astronomically and geologically.

“This is really young, and that was a huge surprise,” Morris said. “This is the biggest surprise of the day. The surface must be active.” He added that we have no idea yet how this could be happening, and that scientists didn’t expect to find such a thing.

Another interesting finding were tall mountains in that photo.

Brett Morris

UW grad student Brett Morris talked about the history of Pluto and the first photos from New Horizons at Astronomy on Tap Seattle July 15. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“We believe that these mountains are water-ice mountains eleven thousand feet tall,” Morris said, explaining that ice of methane or carbon monoxide would crumble at that height, but that water ice, in a place as cold as Pluto, would be as hard as rock.

“Imagine an ice cube the size of Mt. Rainier,” Morris said. “That’s what we’re looking at.”

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, has material at its north pole that is darker than the rest of its surface which, like Pluto’s, also appears to be active. They’ve also spotted a large canyon on Charon.

“That canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, it stretches across a significant chunk of Charon,” Morris explained. “It’s either a really big crater or a valley carved out by something.”

The small moon Hydra appears to be made entirely of ice.

“This is a 30-mile hunk of ice sitting out there orbiting Pluto,” Morris said.

This animation combines various observations of Pluto over the course of several decades. The first frame is a digital zoom-in on Pluto as it appeared upon its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 (image courtesy Lowell Observatory Archives). The other images show various views of Pluto as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope beginning in the 1990s and NASA's New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. The final sequence zooms in to a close-up frame of Pluto released on July 15, 2015.

Click to view this animation, which combines various observations of Pluto over the course of several decades. The first frame is a digital zoom-in on Pluto as it appeared upon its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 (image courtesy Lowell Observatory Archives). The other images show various views of Pluto as seen by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope beginning in the 1990s and NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. The final sequence zooms in to a close-up frame of Pluto released on July 15, 2015.

The photos returned by New Horizons are far better than any images of Pluto captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

“The Hubble Space Telescope tried really hard to give us good images of Pluto, but that’s really difficult because it’s so far away,” Morris said. The telescope was able to see bright and dark regions on Pluto, but that was about it. Hubble also was used to search the Pluto system for rings, moons, and other objects that could be a hazard to the speeding spacecraft.

“At 15 kilometers a second, if there’s a piece of rice in your way it will destroy your spacecraft,” Morris noted. Four of Pluto’s five known moons were discovered by Hubble during this process.

Morris noted that it’s going to take a while for New Horizons to send us all the data it has collected during its flyby of Pluto. The spacecraft is equipped with what he says is essentially a 200-megabyte modem that only contacts Earth every once in a while.

“This is worse than AOL!” he quipped. We should keep receiving photos and data from New Horizons through November of 2016, so we have a lot of cool new discoveries to look forward to. May we be fortunate enough to enjoy a cold brew with each one of them!

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Pluto-paloozas and other events

With New Horizons whizzing past Pluto today after a nine-year journey, there’s plenty of excitement around the new learning about the former planet and its system. Thus many of this week’s events have a Pluto focus.

Pluto

New Horizons close-up of Pluto. Photo: NASA.

Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info is hosting a Pluto-palooza at 5 p.m. this afternoon at the High Point Library in West Seattle. Enevoldsen, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, will talk about the mission and new information coming in today.

By coincidence, Enevoldsen is the former director of the Willard Smith Planetarium at the Pacific Science Center. The PacSci folks have developed a special Pluto program for the planetarium: “The Outer Limits: Pluto and Beyond” includes images from New Horizons and more information about the dwarf planet that is more than three billion miles away. The program runs daily at 12:30 p.m., and they’ve added extra showings to the schedule for today and for Saturday, July 18. Check the planetarium schedule for a rundown of all show times. Admission to the planetarium is $3, but free for PacSci members. Tickets can be purchased online.

Pluto on Tap

plutopalOur friends at Astronomy on Tap Seattle have cooked up a Pluto-palooza program that will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 15 at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. AOT events are hosted by University of Washington graduate students in astronomy, and they’ll talk about Pluto history, have a Q&A, and share brand-new photos of Pluto. It’s free, but please RSVP, and enjoy a brew or three in toast of New Horizons at Bad Jimmy’s.

Speakers at Museum of Flight

The Museum of Flight will dedicate its Sunday to all things Pluto. There will be activities for kids, family workshops, and special exhibits all day. At 1:30 p.m. July 19 Alan Boyle, author of The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference (Wiley, 2010), and Ron Hobbs, NASA Solar System Ambassador, will talk about New Horizons and its discoveries about the Pluto system. You can grab a copy of Boyle’s book by clicking the link above or the photo at left; he’ll sign books after the talk. Also check out our previous Pluto coverage, including our review of three different Pluto books. The authors voted 2-1 against planethood.

All of the events are free with museum admission.

Sundial celebration

sundialThe Battle Point Astronomical Association had its equatorial bowstring sundial project on the drawing board for many years. A fundraising push in August and September of 2013 finally gave them the funds they needed to make the sundial a reality. It has been installed near their Edwin Ritchey Observatory in Bainbridge Island’s Battle Point Park; the photo at left was snapped during the installation back in May. BPAA will hold a celebration to dedicate the sundial at 1 p.m. Sunday July 19 in the park. Refreshments will be served, the observatory will be open for tours, and the club will have solar telescopes on hand for looking at the sun.

SAS looks at asteroid mining

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 15 in room A-102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. Engineer Krunal Desai of Planetary Resources will talk about their first spacecraft and its mission, due for deployment from the International Space Station next week.

TJO and the shape of the universe

Wednesday is open house night at the UW’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. The event gets under way at 9 p.m. Unfortunately, the talk by students Riley Harris (engineering) and Rachel Morton (physics and astronomy) about the Shape of the Universe and Possible Implications of the Theories is already filled and the waiting list is closed, but other visitors can still get a tour of the observatory and a look through its vintage telescope.

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Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of June 22

Is it live, or is it Memorex? Two of the top local astronomy events of the week are on tape with real-time discussion, while we can look up in the sky any night and watch the two brightest planets draw ever closer to each other.

Science on Screen

Hillary Stephens

Hillary Stephens of the Pierce College Science Dome.

Though we had not heard of this series before, Science on Screen returns to the Grand Cinema in Tacoma at 6:45 this evening, June 22. The evening will include a viewing of the 2011 science fiction film Another Earth, in which a duplicate of our planet is discovered within the solar system, and a discussion titled, “Is Anyone Out There?” The discussion leader will be Hillary Stephens, director of the Pierce College Science Dome planetarium.

The concept of Science on Screen was started by the Coolidge Corner Theater in Boston. The program creatively pairs films with lively introduction lessons by scientists. It returns to Tacoma and Pierce County for a second year thanks to a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation.

Astronomy on Tap

cosmosontapAstronomy on Tap Seattle returns to Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 24. This time the topic will be Cosmos on tap, as attendees will view episode number one of the original Cosmos series featuring Carl Sagan. Graduate students in astronomy at the University of Washington are the presenters of Astronomy on Tap. This will be their fourth event since launching this spring, and it’s always fun and informative.

A guest speaker will be on hand Wednesday to introduce the show, lead a Q&A, and discuss what has changed since Sagan created this groundbreaking series. Also promised: Cosmos trivia, Cosmos bingo, prizes, and fun. Astronomy and beer; you can’t beat it! It’s free, but please RSVP so they know how many to expect.

Venus and Jupiter draw closer

The two beacons of the twilight sky, Jupiter and Venus, continue to draw closer and closer together in the west each day as dusk settles in. The Moon joined the dance the last several nights, but now it’s just the two brightest planets doing their little dance. They’ll appear barely over two degrees apart by Friday, and they’ll be at their closest next Tuesday, June 30, when they’ll be just a third of a degree apart and will easily fit into the low-power field of view of a telescope.

Check Sky & Telescope‘s “This Week’s Sky” feature for more observing highlights, and bookmark the Seattle Astronomy calendar to keep up on local astro events.

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