Astronaut visit a hot ticket this week

An astronaut visit to Seattle is the highlight of this week’s area astronomy calendar, but if you don’t have a ticket already you may be out of luck.

Spaceman: An Evening With Astronaut Mike Massimino will be happening at 5:30 p.m. Friday, October 14 at the Museum of Flight, but as of this writing the event is sold out. The evening’s events include a reception, lecture, and signing of Massimino’s new book Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe (Crown Archetype, 2016). Massimino is a veteran of two space shuttle missions, including the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. If you’d like to go to Friday’s event, you might watch the museum’s website in case additional tickets become available or a waiting list is established. You can pick up the book, at least, at the link above or by clicking the photo at left.

The Boeing Employees’ Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting Thursday, October 13, with social time starting at 6:30 p.m. and the evening program beginning at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Boeing “Oxbow” Recreation Center, Building 9-150, Room 201. Non-Boeing attendees are welcome but will need an escort; visit the website for details.

haunted-night-skyIt’s Spook-tober at the Pierce College Science Dome, which will be presenting a kids’ show called “Haunted Night Sky” on Saturdays through Halloween. Participants will be able to find creatures in the night sky, build a Frankenstein satellite, and take a tour of the Sea of Serpents on the Moon, the Witch’s Head Nebula, and other spooky places in the universe. Best for kids ages 3-12. Shows are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. each Saturday. Cost is $3.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include:

Up in the sky

Eagle-eyed early birds can spot Mercury and Jupiter together in the east just before dawn on October 11. 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: Swimming Stars Plaza

dsc_0081Many 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 “Swimming Stars Plaza” art installation by Lezlie Jane in West Seattle’s Whale Tail Playground. “Swimming Stars” depicts the constellation Cetus, often called the sea monster or the whale; thus Whale Tail Playground (which is actually at the north end of Alki Playground near the intersection of SW Lander Street and Marine Avenue SW) is a fitting spot. Glass stars in the concrete mark the shape of the constellation, and other marine critters linger about as mosaics or imprints as well, and there’s a big octopus on the scene. Click the photo above to get a bigger version!

Cetus is the vehicle in a great story of mythology, sent by Poseidon in revenge for an insult when Cassiopeia, wife of King Cepheus of Ethiopia, claimed to be more beautiful than the Nereids. An oracle told Cepheus that he could stop the sea monster from ravaging his coast by offering up his daughter Andromeda as a sacrifice. Fortunately for her, the hero Perseus happened by and saved Andromeda in the nick of time!

The constellation Cetus is visible in the sky from the site of the “Swimming Stars” installation just four months out of the year, starting in October when you can see it in the south at around 10 p.m. Show up about an hour earlier each month through January to spot it.

This is the third work of art by Lezlie Jane to be featured on Seattle Astronomy. The others are Constellation Park and Luna Girls.

More info:


Four star parties, three astro club meetings this week

It’s a busy week for local astronomy clubs, which have meetings and star parties galore on the docket as we roll into October.

Astronomy clubs

Olympic Astronomical SocietyOlympic Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, October 3 in room Art 103 at Olympic College in Bremerton. Presentations will include a look back at the New Horizons mission and a recap of the club’s recent Camp Delaney Star Party.

Tacoma Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 4 in room 175 on the campus of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Discussion topics had not been posted as of this writing.

The Spokane Astronomical Society will meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 7 in the Planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. Guest speaker Sukanta Bose, a member of the physics and astronomy faculty at Washington State University, will discuss the first direct detection of gravitational waves, and how the discovery is changing astronomy.

Astronomy night at MOF

MOFThe Museum of Flight will celebrate Astronomy Night as part of its free first Thursday event beginning at 5 p.m. October 6. The evening’s activities will include programs and family activities that tour the galaxies. Local science and astronomy clubs will be on hand to share their knowledge of the heavens and views through their telescopes. Celestial wonders will shine in the museum’s portable planetarium, and NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador Tony Gondola will give a special presentation at 7 pm.

Star parties

There are three star parties on the calendar for this week. The Covington Community Park Star Party is set for Friday, October 7. It’s a cooperative venture between the Boeing Employees Astronomical Society, Seattle Astronomical Society, and Tacoma Astronomical Society. We note a little confusion about the start time, as the SAS website has it at 8 p.m. and BEAS lists 7 p.m.

Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its free public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, October 8 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor program will be the movie Cosmic Collisions. If the weather cooperates club members will have telescopes out for observing.

The Seattle Astronomical Society’s free public star parties are set for 7 p.m. Saturday, October 8 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Bad weather cancels these events so watch the club’s website or social media for updates.

Up in the sky

Watch for the Moon near Venus during twilight on Monday and near Saturn on Wednesday evening. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have more observing highlights for the week.


Gorge night sky symposium sparks good lighting conversations

A diverse group of night-sky enthusiasts, business people, lighting designers, and government officials gathered last month in Goldendale, Washington and The Dalles, Oregon for a two-day symposium for discussion of measures that might be taken to protect the supremely dark night skies in the Columbia River Gorge. While Seattle Astronomy was unable to attend because of travel, we did speak recently with symposium organizer Jonathan Lewis, who said the event was a big success because it got some great conversations started.

LEDs can be good

Goldendale Observatory

The Goldendale Observatory was one of the sites for a two-day symposium about dark skies in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Notably, Lewis said that author Paul Bogard portrayed LED lighting as the enemy during his keynote talk to open the symposium, but participants were able to change some minds.

“By the end of it we realized that the LED technology has a lot of potential to make the dark skies much better if it’s done properly,” Lewis said. “That was really the goal, to get that message out.”

Lewis gave several examples of talks that were learning experiences for symposium attendees. Gary Chittim of a lighting company called PlanLED discussed human-centric lighting that takes into account our circadian rhythms and other factors. LED lighting can be turned down low in the evening and much hotter during the day to mimic the Sun.

“Our relationship with lighting can, with LEDs, mimic a more natural environment, not only at night but also during the day,” Lewis noted.

Another speaker, Rob Leonard of Echelon, demonstrated interesting possibilities for the control of LEDs to provide as much light as needed when it is needed. LEDs can be set to dim at certain hours, and to get brighter only when people move near them. There’s even an app with an emergency button that can allow a person to turn up the lights if they’re concerned they’re being stalked at night.

“Amazing sci-fi stuff that they have available right now,” Lewis said, adding that Echelon is helping to put in controlled lights in Goldendale.

Lighting the ballfield

Sports teams have been among the loudest objectors when strong lighting ordinances are suggested, but Leonard also talked about arena lighting, and said that sports stadia can now be lit more evenly with minimal glare or light trespass.

“All of those things are greatly improved with the newer LED technology that’s available, so a lot of the arguments that sports groups might have against lighting ordinances maybe will go away because of the new technology,” Lewis said.

Building political support

Most of the “right people” attended the symposium, according to Lewis, including officials from Wasco County in Oregon, city commissioners from Hood River, and representatives from Columbia Gorge Scenic Area groups. State Rep. Gina McCabe (R-Goldendale) attended and stated that the attraction of the dark skies is important for tourism in the area.

“She’s definitely a leader in the business community, and having the businesses hear what she had to say and to have that be an important part of her agenda was really important,” Lewis said. He’s hoping McCabe can help engage on some statewide issues. For example, sometimes lighting ordinances aren’t enforced adequately in smaller communities because they don’t have their own electrical inspectors and rely instead on state inspectors through the Department of Labor and Industries. State legislation could allow L&I inspectors to enforce or urge compliance with local ordinances even though they serve different jurisdictions.

“Some conversations like that were able to get started,” Lewis said.

The conversations are continuing, Lewis said. There’s some talk about creating a Gorge-wide dark sky area project, which he called, “a very exciting possibility.” There’s also a movement afoot to start collecting data about light levels in the Gorge. Lewis noted that people who wish to follow these efforts can sign up for newsletters from the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District and the Friends of the Goldendale Observatory.

If you missed the symposium as we did, you’ll find videos of the various presentations below following our podcast of our interview with Lewis.

Podcast of our interview with Jonathan Lewis about the symposium:

Videos of presentations from the dark-sky symposium:


Total solar eclipse 2017: Salem, Oregon

This is the tenth article and podcast Seattle Astronomy has done to preview possible places from which to view the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States next August 21. We’ve talked with folks from Madras, Oregon to Columbia, South Carolina and points in between. It’s time to look at the closest viewpoint for Seattle eclipse chasers: The Salem Fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon are just 219 miles from Seattle Astronomy world headquarters, and will be the site of an eclipse viewing party headed by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI.)

Good viewing in Oregon

“Oregon is really advertised as the best place to view the eclipse, and we’re expecting ten million visitors to come down to Oregon for that one-day event,” said Jim Todd, director of space science education at OMSI. “Oregon needs to be ready.”

se2017That latter is something of an understatement. Todd says they expect about ten thousand people to attend the OMSI-sponsored party at the fairgrounds, an event that has support from Rose City Astronomers in Portland, the Oregon Observatory, and NASA, among others. The party will feature science lectures, astronomy-related community groups, and entertainment, including a performance by the Portland Taiko drum ensemble.

Salem is a bit north of the center line of totality, which crosses I-5 about halfway between Oregon’s capitol city and Albany. But the total eclipse will last nearly two minutes at the fairgrounds, and Todd said there will be numerous other viewing points in and near the city, including at Willamette University and Volcano Stadium in Keiser, where the Salem-Keiser Volcanoes baseball team, a class-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, are planning a Monday morning baseball game for next August 21 that may feature the first “eclipse delay” in the history of organized ball.

“It goes without saying: we can’t do this alone,” Todd said. “We just have to educate the public and make sure they understand what’s involved with the eclipse.”

Oregon West

Western Oregon eclipse map courtesy GreatAmerican

They’re doing that through planetarium shows, workshops, and social media to get the word out, especially about about safe viewing of the eclipse during its partial phase. They’ve also been in touch with government officials from the Oregon governor’s office on down to make sure they’re thinking ahead for eclipse day. With huge crowds expected, things could get chaotic, espeically if there are clouds around and people have to scramble to find a clear sky for the moment of the eclipse.

“It will likely be hot, it will likely be crazy as far as traffic jams. Airports, hotels, you name it,” Todd warns. “It’s going to be a crazy day. It’s going to be one of those days people are going to remember where they were on that very day when they were looking for the eclipse.”

Rural options

Todd also serves as a co-director of the annual Oregon Star Party, which has set its 2017 event for the days before, of, and after the eclipse.

“We plan to do viewing from Indian Trail Spring in the Ochoco Mountains,” he noted. The site is somewhat south of the center line of the path of totality, and will enjoy about a minute and 27 seconds of total solar eclipse.

One concern about eclipse day is that many people will simply head for similar remote areas and gridlock roads there.

Jim Todd

Jim Todd. Photo: LinkedIn.

Todd has seen one other total solar eclipse, that back in 1979. He was a senior in high school and had to wrangle his way around official authority to do it.

“My science teacher was going to keep the class inside,” he recalls with a laugh. He got permission to head to Goldendale, Washington with another family, where they escaped cloudy Portland skies—it was February—and saw the eclipse. Next year may be a bit easier.

“Fortunately for us [the eclipse is] going to be in August, when we have a great chance of clear skies,” Todd noted.

The job fits

Todd is a true space nut. Like many of us, his interest was cemented when he watched Apollo 11 land on the Moon. He taught himself space science and astronomy, then took an internship at OMSI. He never left; he’s been there 33 years.

“It’s been my way of getting close to NASA by getting close to all of the astronomical events,” he said. “It’s one of the very few jobs where the hobby has actually become the job. I was able to combine my passion with astronomy and space science with the teaching and computers and so on. It was a perfect fit.”

Portland is an astronomy city. Rose City Astronomers is one of the biggest clubs in the country. Proximity to pretty good dark, transparent skies may be one reason for that.

“Portland has a science-minded audience and they love these kind of events,” Todd said. “We like to think, too, that OMSI had a role in that.”

Tickets to the eclipse party at Salem Fairgrounds are $8 and are available now through the OMSI website.

Podcast of our interview with Jim Todd:


Astro Biz: Sunday Afternoons

Sunday AfternoonsMany 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 Sunday Afternoons in Ashland, Oregon. The Ashland-based company sells hats, clothing, and accessories aimed at people headed out to enjoy their Sunday afternoons. The company’s flagship store is in downtown Ashland—we discovered it on a recent visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—but their products are also available online and in many stores across the country.

More info:


Equinox sunset watch, Tyson visit highlight week’s calendar

A visit from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the final Jacobsen Observatory open house of the year, and a seasonal sunset watch are the highlights of this week’s calendar of astro-events in the Seattle area.

Tyson, director of the Haden Planetarium in New York, narrator of the recent Cosmos television series, author, and host of the StarTalk radio show and podcast, will speak at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre on two nights this week, Wednesday, September 21 and Thursday, September 22, both at 7:30 p.m. Some tickets are still available for both appearances.

Ring in autumn

AlicesAstroInfo-145Join Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info at Solstice Park in West Seattle at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, September 22 to enjoy the first sunset of autumn. The equinox sunset watch will be Enevoldsen’s thirtieth such event, part of her NASA Solar System Ambassador service. The event is free, low-key, and always informative.

TJO wraps its season

Theodor Jacobsen ObservatoryThe final open house of the year is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 21 at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. The talk for the evening, reservations for which are already all spoken for, will be by student Anya Raj, who has been interning with NRAO-NM over the summer and who has built a dual-dipole radio telescope. Raj will talk about amateur radio astronomy and making your own radio telescope. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand in the observatory dome to conduct tours and, if the sky is clear, offer looks through its vintage telescope.

The popular open house series will be on hiatus for the fall and winter and will resume in April.

Club events

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 21 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Guest speaker Ethan Kruse, a graduate student in astronomy at the UW, will talk about Proxima Centauri b, the exoplanet recently found orbiting our nearest stellar neighbor. Kruse will discuss how much we know about the planet right now, and what we might learn in the coming years.

By way of preview, check our articles about a talk by Kruse at an Astronomy on Tap Seattle event from earlier this year, and about a presentation by Prof. Rory Barnes at Pacific Science Center last month exploring the potential habitability of the planet.

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for 9 p.m. Saturday, September 24 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor presentation will be about the reasons for the seasons as we shift into fall. Weather permitting, club members will have telescopes out for looking at the sky.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include:

  • World Space Week events October 4–7 at the UW Planetarium
  • The BP Astro Kids November 12 look at the craters of the Moon

Up in the sky

The ice giants Uranus and Neptune are well-placed for observing this week. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope offer additional observing highlights for the week.