AstroBox taking off

A former Seattleite now living in Denver has launched AstroBox, a service that will deliver a curated collection of cool space- and astronomy-themed products to space geeks once a quarter. Sorin Sorin got the idea for AstroBox while participating in outreach events with the Denver Astronomical Society. The group holds monthly open houses at the University of Denver’s Chamberlin Observatory, which boasts an 1894 20-inch Alvan Clark refracting telescope.

“It’s a really beautiful instrument for people to see and take a look through,” Sorin said.

AstroBox“A lot of the people who come out to these events have a casual interest in astronomy, space, and the night sky,” he added, but while they may enjoy a look through a telescope and the latest photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, they may not have the time or inclination to dive deeper into astronomy. Sorin said AstroBox is intended to provide a regular tickler about the night sky, with information about things to see and current space missions.

“The idea with it is including a set of products that are fun, entertaining, and a little educational too,” he said.

The first AstroBox went out earlier this summer under the theme “Exploring the Giants.” The box included a nine-inch plush Jupiter; the book The Interstellar Age (Dutton, 2015) by Jim Bell, who worked on the Voyager missions; a custom-designed Saturn t-shirt; a gallery-quality 8×10 print of “The Ancient Dance of Europa and Jupiter” by artist Lucy West; official mission patches of ISS Expedition 48 and SpaceX SPX-9; a set of five NASA Visions of the Future poster cards; a small meteorite as a preview of the fall box; and a copy of his Astronomy Unboxed newsletter with information about the Cassini and Juno missions and the Perseid meteor shower.

“I try to not only include a set of products, but a set of activities and information about what’s happening to make it an engaging experience,” Sorin said.

AstroBox goes out quarterly

Each AstroBox will be based on a theme, and will include a custom t-shirt, fine-art astronomy print, the newsletter, and other items.

The art print is a natural for Sorin, himself a talented astrophotographer and artist. You can see his work on The Soggy Astronomer and Sorin Space Art websites. He has connected with other artists through the International Association of Astronomical Artists.

“There are quite a number of accomplished astronomical artists out there,” Sorin said. “One of the things that I want to do with this box is always deliver a fine art print from one of these great artists.”

The theme for the fall box, for which Sorin is accepting orders through the end of August, is “Asteroids and Space Rocks.” In addition to the t-shirt, art, and newsletter it will include a piece of a meteorite and a board game that was designed by the lead of the OSIRIS-REx mission that launches next month with the aim of going to an asteroid and getting a rock sample to bring back to Earth.

“The lead for that mission actually designed a space-exploration board game as part of the way for that mission team to fund their own public outreach activites, and we’ll be including a copy of that game with our fall box,” Sorin said.

Order now

Visit the AstroBox website by August 31 to order your “Asteroids and Space Rocks” box. Friends of Seattle Astronomy can receive a $5 discount by using the code “SEATTLEASTRO” at checkout or by ordering through this link.

AstroBox is cool; check it out!

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Astro Biz: Neptune Music

Neptune Music CompanyMany 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 Neptune Music Company, a record store near the corner of NE 45th Street and Brooklyn Avenue NE in Seattle’s University District. It’s also right around the corner from the Neptune Theater, featured as an Astro Biz in October 2015. Oddly enough, the planet Mercury, in a citywide solar system mockup we wrote about in February, was located outside Neptune Music Company. While Uranus has vanished from Alki Beach, Mercury was still out there when we last went by in July. Neptune Music Company is renowned for its offerings in rare vinyl, used CDs, and even VHS tapes.

We chose Neptune Music as the Astro Biz this week because the planet Neptune will be at opposition on Friday.

More info:


A look at a nearby exoplanet tops the week’s calendar

We’re back from a couple of weeks of travel and find a busy calendar of events for the week ahead.


UW Prof. Rory Barnes at an Astronomy on Tap event in January. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

If you missed last week’s Astronomy on Tap Seattle event—as we did because we were out of town—then you missed getting some first-hand information from Rory Barnes, Professor of Astronomy and Astrobiology at the University of Washington, about the newly discovered exoplanet in orbit around our nearest stellar neighbor. Fear not: Barnes will give a lecture titled, “Opportunities and Obstacles for Life on Proxima Centauri B” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 31 at the PACCAR IMAX® Theater at the Pacific Science Center. Barnes will discuss how this Earth-sized planet was discovered, and how we’ll go about figuring out whether it’s habitable and inhabited. Tickets to the talk are $5 and are available online. It’s free for PacSci members.

Learn about telescopes

MOFTake a look through telescopes at the Free First Thursday event at the Museum of Flight from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. September 1. The evening will include family activities and exhibits about telescopes, and NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Tony Gondola will give a presentation titled “The History of Telescopes and How They Work” at 7 p.m. in the museum’s Fluke Challenger Learning Center.

While you’re out at the Museum of Flight check out the special exhibit Above and Beyond, which celebrates both the history and future of flight through a variety of immersive simulations, interactive design challenges, impactful stories of innovation, and more. Your opportunities are running out; the exhibit closes September 10.

Star Parties

As we turn the calendar to September star party season starts to wind down. There are several on the docket for this week.

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold a star party at the super-dark Brooks Memorial State Park near Goldendale from September 1-5. Closer to home, the club will hold a star party beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday, September 3 at the Rattlesnake Mountain Trailhead. Note that both of these events are for SAS members only; one of many good reasons to join now!

Olympic Astronomical Society will hold one of its Hurricane Ridge Star Parties Saturday, September 3. The event is free save for admission to Olympic National Park.

Oregon ObservatoryThe Brothers Star Party, a fundraiser for the Oregon Observatory at Sunriver, will be held August 31-September 5 near the town of Brothers, east of Bend, Oregon. Formerly held at Mount Bachelor, this star party has been at the new site near Brothers for several years, and the location gets high marks for dark skies. Find registration info, directions, and more details on the BSP Facebook page or website. Onsite registration is available.

Up in the sky

There’s a new Moon on Thursday, which means observing will be at its best, and Neptune reaches opposition on Friday; see if you can spot the most distant confirmed planet. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have more observing highlights for the week.


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!

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