Category Archives: lectures

AstronoMay kicks off at PacSci

Pacific Science CenterWhy settle for one astronomy day when you can have AstronoMay? Astronomy Day is May 14, but the Pacific Science Center has the whole month packed with astronomy activities. The first is coming up at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5 in the center’s Willard Smith Planetarium, which will hook up with the Adler Planetarium and others around the country for an interactive, networked lecture, “From The Big Bang To The Multiverse And Beyond.” The talk will be given by Dr. Michael Turner of the University of Chicago, a noted cosmologist credited with coining the term dark energy. Turner will delve into what we know and also tackle some of the mysteries and puzzles of cosmology today.

Other lectures planned for AstronoMay:

  • Elena Amador, a UW graduate student in Earth and Space Sciences, presents, “Search for Water on Mars” May 14 at 10 a.m.
  • Dr. Sandeep Singh, planetary scientist at the Bear Fight Institute, presents “Saturn’s Hazy Moon, Titan” May 14 at 2:30 p.m.
  • Dr. Will Grundy of Lowell Observatory presents “Pluto & Charon Up-Close” May 22 at 2:15 p.m.

The lectures are free with admission to the Pacific Science Center, but tickets are required and available online.

On Saturdays during May, and on Sunday, May 22, volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be set up on the courtyard of the center with solar telescopes for safe viewing of the Sun. All month long there will be exhibits and hands-on activities about space and astronomy, and planetarium presentations (our calendar has the schedule) and IMAX movies, including A Beautiful Planet 3D.

AstronoMay website and calendar.

Club news

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyArea astronomy clubs are busy this week. The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3 in room 175 of Thompson Hall at the University of Puget Sound. There will be a presentation by Michael Laine, president of the Liftport Group, which is drawing up plans for a lunar elevator. The club will hold one of its free public nights at 9 p.m. Saturday, May 7 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The TAS student group will make a presentation about the solar system. Observing will happen if weather permits.

Spokane Astronomical SocietyThe Spokane Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 6 at the planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. Stefanie Milam, a project scientist with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, will give a presentation on either the James Webb Space Telescope or recent discoveries of sugar and ethanol in comets. They note the latter represents all of the makings for a wild star party.

Olympic Astronomical Society will hold its 12th annual spring Camp Delaney Star Party May 4-8 out at Sun Lakes State Park near Coulee City in Eastern Washington. Club members already on site recommend industrial strength bug protection as the mosquitos are out in force. Note the preregistration was required for the event.

Supernova impostor

Brianna Binder

Breanna Binder. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Dr. Breanna Binder of the University of Washington will give an astronomy colloquium at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 5 in the Physics/Astronomy Auditorium on the UW campus in Seattle. Binder will talk about supernova 2010da, which is not really a supernova, but an interesting object with a high-luminosity, variable X-ray emission. The X-ray emission is consistent with accretion onto a neutron star, making SN 2010da both a supernova impostor and likely high mass X-ray binary. Binder gave a talk about x-ray binary systems last August at the Seattle Astronomical Society’s monthly meeting.

Space Day at Museum of Flight

moflogoThursday is not only Cinco de Mayo, it is Space Day at the Museum of Flight. It’s part of the Museum’s free first Thursday from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Local astronomy clubs will be on hand with information, and telescopes for observing if weather permits.

Open House at TJO

There will be an open house at the University of Washington’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 4. As of this writing the schedule for the events talks by undergraduate students had not been published online. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand to offer observatory tours, and perhaps a peek through its vintage six-inch 1892 Warner and Swasey telescope with Brashear objective.

Up in the sky

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks this week. Learn about the shower and other observing highlights for the week from This Week’s Sky at a Glance by Sky & Telescope magazine or The Sky This Week from Astronomy.

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Gravitational wave discovery ushers in new era in astronomy

“This is beginning a new era in astronomy,” said Ethan Siegel about the publication in February of a paper announcing that scientists had detected gravitational waves. Siegel has taught physics and astronomy at Lewis & Clark College and the University of Portland in Portland, Oregon. He is creator of the science blog Starts With a Bang, and is the author of Beyond the Galaxy: How Humanity Looked Beyond Our Milky Way and Discovered the Entire Universe (World Scientific, 2015). Siegel gave a talk at this month’s meeting of the Rose City Astronomers in Portland about what he calls the discovery of a lifetime.

Dr. Ethan Siegel, creator of the "Starts With a Bang" blog, gave a talk about the discovery of gravitational waves to the Rose City Astronomers April 18. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Dr. Ethan Siegel, creator of the “Starts With a Bang” blog, gave a talk about the discovery of gravitational waves to the Rose City Astronomers April 18. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“This was something, when it was first proposed, that was really taken to be a preposterous consequence of a theory and something that we never really thought we were going to be able to test,” Siegel said. “We have gone in 101 years from pure theory to concrete, direct detection of gravitational waves.”

Einstein’s theory of relativity states that mass and energy bend spacetime, and that’s why objects orbit each other. Relativity explained anomalies in the orbits of planets in our solar system, but Siegel said there is an “extra weird” effect because the orbits decay.

“Another consequence of Einstien’s relativity is that as things spiral in, and it takes a long time to do, but as they do they emit a special type of radiation; they emit radiation that goes through the fabric of space itself,” Siegel said. “This is gravitational radiation.”

It takes way too long for that to happen here in the solar system. For Earth’s orbit to decay completely and merge with the Sun would take 10150 years, according to Siegel. He said we’ll have to look elsewhere to see the effects happen on human-length time scales.

“You need to find heavy masses; heavier mass in relativity means a stronger effect,” Siegel said. “You need them to have small distances, where small distance is a few kilometers, not a few million miles. And you need them to orbit at fast speeds, where fast is kind of close to the speed of light.”

Luckily these conditions exist. Black holes, neutron stars, and pulsars can do the trick; the gravitational waves detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) last fall were generated by merging black holes. One of those black holes started out at 36 solar masses and the other at 29. After the merger they weighed in at 62 solar masses. That’s simple arithmetic: 36+29=65; what happened to the other three solar masses? Siegel said, oddly enough, this was a prediction by Einstein as well. It’s the flip side of e=mc2.

“When these two black holes merged, three solar masses, about five percent of the total mass, was converted into pure energy,” he said. “That energy is the gravitational radiation and is why we here on Earth were able to detect this huge event of two black holes merging from over a billion light years away.”

Siegel is amazed that we were able to figure the mass, spin rate, merging speed, mass loss and other characteristics of these distant objects.

“We learned all of this information from one 20-millisecond signal that moved two laser arms by less than 10-18 meters,” he marveled. “What I’d say we have now is a whole new way to discover our universe.”

Siegel, an entertaining and informative speaker, is scheduled to give another talk at the October 2016 meeting of Rose City Astronomers. He will discuss his book Beyond the Galaxy.

That way is improving rapidly. The LIGO detectors at Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, are being tweaked to even greater sensitivity. New detectors are planned for Italy, Japan, and India. Siegel said the ultimate would be to build three huge LIGO detectors in space, forming an equilateral triangle in Earth’s orbit and having detector arms hundreds of millions of kilometers long.

“If you do that, you can not only watch things merge with supermassive black holes, you can find mergers of ultramassive black holes,” Siegel said. We might even be able to spot gravitational waves from cosmic inflation within the light of the cosmic microwave background. Siegel said if that happens, it would prove that gravity is a quantum force.

“There’s no way to make these fluctuations unless gravity is inherently a quantum force,” he explained. “The process that makes these fluctuations is a quantum process.”

Siegel said it’s a thrilling time to be involved in astronomy.

“This is the first time we’ve seen something astronomical without using a telescope or light of any type,” he said. “This is the dawn of astronomy beyond light-gathering telescopes.”

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Astronomy on Tap Seattle debuts in new venue

One of our favorite local astronomy events moves to a new venue for the first time and is the highlight of our calendar this week.

AoT April 27, 2016At this month’s Astronomy on Tap Seattle the newest University of Washington professor of astronomy, Jessica Werk, will give a talk titled, “The History of You: The Rather Tumultuous Past of the Atoms in Your Body.” UW graduate student Ethan Kruse will give a talk titled, “To Infinity and Beyond: The Mind-boggling Scale of the Universe.” The event will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 at Hilliard’s Beer Taphouse in Ballard.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle is a free monthly event organized by graduate students in astronomy at the University of Washington. It spent its first year at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company but has outgrown that space, and is moving to the larger Hilliard’s just a hop and a skip up Leary Way.

Dawn in the asteroid belt

Ron HobbsThe Eastside Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 at the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue. NASA Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs will give a presentation about our modern understanding of the belt of minor planets between Mars and Jupiter. He will discuss the Juno mission that is on its way to Jupiter and what we might learn about the giant planet’s role in the creation of the feature we call the asteroid belt.

Closeup of Pluto

Grundy

Will Grundy. Photo: Lowell Observatory.

We won’t even have all of the data from Pluto back from New Horizons until late this year, but we’ve already learned a lot about the former ninth planet. Astronomer Will Grundy of Lowell Observatory will be at the University of Washington this week to talk about some of the scientific highlights and puzzles that the New Horizons science team is investigating. He will also briefly touch on plans for January 2019 when New Horizons will get the first up-close look at a small Kuiper belt object. The talk , part of the UW astronomy colloquia series, will be at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 28 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the UW campus in Seattle.

Up in the sky

You can catch transits of Jupiter’s moons Io and Europa on Friday evening. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have other observing highlights for the week.

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Martians celebrate Yuri’s Night

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel in space back on April 12, 1961, and the Yuri’s Night World Space Party marking the occasion is Tuesday. The night actually should be a week or so as various organizations mess with the calendar a little and observe Yuri’s Night when it’s most convenient locally.

The MartianIn Seattle we’re calling in the Martians to celebrate Yuri’s Night. Aditya Sood, one of the producers of the film The Martian, will speak at the Museum of Flight at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 16. Sood will discuss the making of the movie and talk about his favorite moments in the story. He’ll also attend a meet and greet reception after the talk.

The Yuri’s Night website lists scores of registered events. The only one in the state of Washington is at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 16 at Pearson Air Museum at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. The free, family-friendly activities will include the construction and launching of pressure bottle rockets and a talk about space exploration from the Oregon L5 Society. Dr. Cameron Smith will be present with his home-built high altitude pressure suit and his high altitude helium balloon, from which he intends to test his pressure suit later this year. Weather permitting, the evening will finish with an outdoor star gazing tour led by a national park ranger.

The Portland State Aerospace Society, a student aerospace group at Portland State University with decades of experience in high-powered amateur rocketry, will host a Yuri’s Night Party at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 12 in the engineering building of Portland State University. Planned events include a “space race” with challenges and games, technology displays from local rocketry and space groups, engineering labs open to visitors, and refreshments. They will also screen the film First Orbit, a reconstruction of what Yuri would have seen on his journey.

Explore Mars

Pacific PlanetariumThe third Friday planetarium shows at Pacific Planetarium in Bremerton will be held Friday, April 15 with shows at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 7 p.m. Explore Mars from above, below, and all around as they compare it to the other rocky planets. The folks at the planetarium just updated their website, and they’re still working some of the bugs out. For example, I’m not able to find the “buy tickets” link that they used to have. We expect you can get tickets at the door. For people coming from the east side of the sound, the planetarium is less than a mile from the Bremerton ferry dock; you could walk it and avoid the pricey ticket for your vehicle on the ferry!

Club events

saslogoThe Seattle Astronomical Society plans its free monthly public star parties for 8 p.m. Saturday, April 16 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Bad weather cancels the star parties; watch the SAS website or social media for updates.

taslogoThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will host one of its free public nights at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 16 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. There will be a presentation about space exploration, and observing if weather permits.

Up in the sky

The Moon will be near Jupiter next Sunday. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have other observing highlights for the week.

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AoT Seattle celebrates 1st birthday, announces move to larger venue

Astronomy on Tap Seattle last month celebrated its first year of of bringing the latest astronomical research and good beer to interested space geeks. The party was a little bittersweet, as they also announced that the series will be leaving Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company for the larger Hilliard’s Beer Taproom, another Ballard watering hole.

AOT at Bad Jimmy's

Astronomy on Tap Seattle packed in the crowds in its first year at Bad Jimmy’s. The series is moving to the larger Hilliard’s Taproom in Ballard. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The move does not come entirely as a surprise. The early Astronomy on Tap events last spring were well attended, and they’ve grown in popularity to the point where nearly 140 people were sardined into Bad Jimmy’s for the monthly gatherings. Brett Morris, an astronomy graduate student at the University of Washington who is the emcee and one of the co-founders of Astronomy on Tap Seattle, hinted at a move in an interview we posted before the birthday event.

“It’s been a wild ride growing from our initially small size to something that we almost can’t handle,” said Morris. “We’re going to try our best to keep up with it as it grows through our second year.”

Kristin Garofali, another co-founder of AoT Seattle, thanked Bad Jimmy’s for their support over the first year, noting that they even let participants vote to name their imperial Scotch ale (The Big Sipper) and at the birthday party served up a delicious version of it that was aged for several months in rum barrels.

“To see how this has grown has been super amazing,” Garofali said. She added that they hope to keep doing smaller events at Bad Jimmy’s.

We recently attended one of the Pacific Science Center’s PubSci events at Hilliard’s, which probably has four times the floor space of Bad Jimmy’s.

Supernova impostor

Breanna Binder gave an interesting talk at the March 23 birthday event, about a supernova impostor that turned out to be an x-ray binary system. An amateur astronomer spotted what looked like a supernova in 2010, but it kept churning out x-rays long after it faded visually. Binder said that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

“Supernova 2010da, not only is it not a true supernova, it may be the youngest possible x-ray binary,” Binder said, noting that it theoretically takes between four and five million years before an x-ray binary begins emissions. They’d seen none prior to 2010. “The 2010 eruption might have been the birth of a brand new x-ray binary, which is something that we had never witnessed before.”

The story was featured on the popular website IFLScience. Binder will give a talk about the supernova impostor at the UW Astronomy Colloquium at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 5 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the UW campus in Seattle.

Planet 9

One of the other more interesting mini-talks of the evening was made by Dave Fleming, who took a look at the possible Planet 9. Astronomers have recently speculated that there’s a ninth planet in our solar system, a so-called super-earth that is somewhere between Earth and Neptune in mass and about 700 astronomical units out. Fleming noted that a fair chunk of the exoplanets discovered so far are in that mass range.

“If there is one of these guys lurking in the solar system, if we could actually detect it with a telescope and send a probe to it, it would give us a huge insight into the planet-formation process,” Fleming said. “If this ninth planet does exist, maybe it’s some relic of the planet-formation process that got scattered out by Jupiter.”

Former planet 9, and more

Morris showed a large number of photos that New Horizons shot at Pluto. He had given a talk back in July, on the day of the mission’s fly-by, and shared the very first pictures it beamed back to Earth. Though it will continue transmitting data for quite some time, we already have a sizable collection of pics from the system. Among the most interesting discoveries from the new batch: a large canyon around the equator of Pluto’s moon Charon that may indicate an underground ocean.

Other talks at the birthday event covered supermassive black holes, fast gamma-ray bursts, how to find a Tatooine, and funky, planet-shaped megastructures.

The next Astronomy on Tap Seattle event is planned for April 27 at Hilliard’s. The program has not yet been published.

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U.S.-Japan Space Forum meets this week in Seattle

Leading space policy experts from the United States and Japan will meet in Seattle this week and their public symposium is the highlight of our calendar of events.

The U.S.-Japan Space Forum is a standing committee of experts from the two countries who examine critical developments and opportunities for bilateral and multilateral space-related activities. Reflecting the increasingly important role of the private sector in national space capabilities, the forum integrates the perspectives of a wide array of experts, including corporate, academic, and other non-government players.

As part of its meeting this week the forum will present a public symposium at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 16 at the Museum of Flight. The symposium will include a panel discussion about the threats and opportunities in the space industry, moderated by Prof. Saadia Pekkanen of the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Pekkanen is co-chair of the forum. The agenda is online.

The event is being sponsored by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, the Museum of Flight, the Japan-United States Friendship Commission, and the National Bureau of Asian Research.

Meeting and workshop from SAS

saslogoThe Seattle Astronomical Society has a couple of public events on tap for this week. The society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 16 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Local astrophotographer Mark de Regt will talk about how he moved from viewing in his yard to doing remote imaging with equipment located in the South Australia desert.

On Sunday the club will host a free public observing skills workshop, “Stargazing in the City,” aimed at helping new and intermediate observers learn and understand the sky. The session will be held at 2 p.m. March 20 at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the UW. Planned topics include how to identify stars and constellations, understanding astronomy lingo, use of binoculars and star charts, star hopping, and what to observe from light-polluted city skies.

Tacoma public night

taslogoThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its free public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19 on the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The topic for the evening will be ancient astronomy. If weather permits society members will be on hand with telescopes for observing as well.

Planetaria

Pacific PlanetariumPacific Planetarium in Bremerton will present its monthly third Friday astronomy talk March 18, with shows at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 7 p.m. As of this writing the topic had not been published. Admission at the door is $5. There’s a full slate of shows set for the weekend at the Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center. Check the Seattle Astronomy calendar for details.

Art on the Moon

NASA photo.

NASA photo.

The Giant Steps art exhibition and contest continues Saturday and Sunday at Seattle’s King Street Station, where it will be open from noon until 6 p.m. both days. The event challenged students, artists, engineers, architects, designers, and other space enthusiasts to imagine and propose art projects on the surface of the Moon. Their submissions will be on display at the station weekends through the end of March. Admission is $10.

Up in the sky

Venus will pass very close to Neptune on Sunday. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have other observing highlights for the week.

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Happy birthday to Astronomy on Tap Seattle

Astronomy on Tap Seattle has spent the last year confirming that astronomy and beer together make a great combination. We will celebrate AoT’s first year in operation with a gala event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 23 at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. The free astronomy talks have drawn good crowds from the beginning, and the most recent events have seen attendees packed shoulder-to-shoulder into Bad Jimmy’s.

AOT Seattle March 23“It’s been a wild ride growing from our initially small size to something that we almost can’t handle,” said Brett Morris, an astronomy graduate student at the University of Washington who is the emcee and one of the co-founders of Astronomy on Tap Seattle. “We’re going to try our best to keep up with it as it grows through our second year.”

Morris said they had a hunch before they started that the audience was out there. Astronomy on Tap started in New York and has spread to a total of eight cities, and events elsewhere have drawn big crowds. Austin, Texas, for example, regularly attracts 400 people to its events in an outdoor beer garden.

“We knew that there was a big drive for this kind of event, especially in nerdy cities like Seattle, so we knew that the availability of participants was good,” Morris said, “but we didn’t really know if we’d be able to scale up the way we wanted or to reach the number of people that we needed to.”

They set out in hopes of being able to attract 50 people who would attend regularly to hear astronomy talks and enjoy a brew. They’ve accomplished that without any sort of paid advertising.

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. He’ll give a Pluto update at the March 23 event. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“It seems that word of mouth among nerds is really effective. The social networks have been all that we needed to get the word out,” Morris said. “The enthusiasm that we’ve had from the audience has been unbelieveable and unrelenting, and the beer is quite delicious.”

There will be a special treat at the March 23 event. Astronomy on Tap Seattle participants named one of Bad Jimmy’s beers, a Scotch ale that popular vote dubbed “The Big Sipper.” Several months ago the brewers stowed some of that ale in old rum casks.

“We’re going to tap those barrels for the one-year anniversary and serve this barrel-aged imperial Scotch ale in special commemorative glasses, that you can also purchase, that have astronomy on Tap logos on them,” Morris said.

There will be a series of short talks at the anniversary with updates on astronomy discoveries made in the last year, including the latest photos from Pluto and the possibility of the existence of Planet 9. Morris said that one of the great things about being an astronomer is that when an idea such as Planet 9 comes out, there probably is an expert close by who can lead the discussion about how plausible it is. Astronomy on Tap is essentially an effort to take that discussion public.

“As an astronomer you get to meet a lot of people, daily, who think that astronomy is great and would love to talk to you about space, and would love to talk to you about life in the universe,” Morris said, “but it’s rare that you really encounter people who spend their free time trying to learn more about astronomy and physics, and that really is the core audience of Astronomy on Tap.”

“I am consistently surprised by how many people are passionately interested in learning astronomy and physics at a level deeper than you might find in an astronomy magazine,” he added.

It has been a boon for people who write about astronomy for fun. It’s great to have a monthly topic, and the discussions and trivia contests that are a part of Astronomy on Tap are fun and informative.

The March 23 event begins at 7 p.m. at Bad Jimmy’s in Ballard. You might want to arrive earlier than that to get a good seat! It’s free, but bring beer money.

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