Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of April 6

A salute to the Mercury Seven, plus a planetarium show and Yuri’s Night highlight the Seattle Astronomy calendar for this week.

Mercury Seven

The Mercury Seven. Front row L-R: Schirra, Slayton, Glenn, and Carpenter. Back row: Shepard, Grissom, Cooper. Photo: NASA.

It was 56 years ago April 9, in 1959, that NASA announced which men had been selected as the Mercury Seven, the first group of U.S. Astronauts. The seven were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. The death of Carpenter in 2013 left Glenn as the only living member of the original astronaut corps.

Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff is a fascinating telling of the story of the astronauts, and the 1983 movie version of the book, directed by Philip Kaufman, is fantastic as well. I still chuckle at the cast names: Ed Harris played John Glenn, Scott Glenn portrayed Alan Shepard, and Sam Shepard was cast as Chuck Yeager. There’s also a local note on the film; Seattle actress Pamela Reed portrayed Trudy Cooper, Gordo’s wife. Reed recently had a recurring role in the TV series Parks and Recreation, and was on the Seattle stage as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Seattle Rep last year.

Yuri’s Night

LogoYurisNight_WHITEring_TRANSPARENTbackground250x250Sunday, April 12, marks the 54th anniversary of human spaceflight. On that date in 1961 Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person launched into space. Worldwide on and around this date there are many observances of Yuri’s Night to commemorate the feat.

Only two area events are registered on the Yuri’s Night website. The Seattle Chapter of the National Space Society will meet at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 12 at the Museum of Flight, and a Yuri’s Night observance will be held next Saturday, April 18 at 5 p.m. at the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, Washington.

Club events

At lot of eyes were on the sky on April 11, 1986 when Halley’s Comet made its closest approach to Earth during its most recent visit to the inner solar system. Area clubs will be looking skyward this Saturday to mark the date.

The Everett Astronomical Society holds its monthly meeting at 3 p.m. April 11 at the main downtown branch of the Everett Public Library. Program details had not been announced as of this writing.

That evening beginning at 7:30 the Battle Point Astronomical Association hosts a planetarium program and evening of observing at its Edwin Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. The program topic is telescopes: the great ones of history, new ones on the drawing boards, and which one is right for you. Club members will be on hand with scopes for observing if weather permits.


Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of March 30

This week includes a total lunar eclipse, the beginning of Global Astronomy Month, and the return of popular open houses at the University of Washington’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory.

Lunar eclipse

The shortest lunar eclipse of the century—just five minutes long!—will be an event for extreme night owls or early birds in the wee small hours of Saturday morning. Here in Pacific Daylight Time the partial umbral eclipse will begin at 3:16 a.m. April 4, totality lasts from 4:58 a.m. until 5:03, and the partial umbral eclipse will end at 6:45 in the morning.

The eclipse is so short because the Moon skims through out on the very edge of the Earth’s umbra—the shadow it casts when it passes between the Sun and the Moon.

Read all you need to know about the eclipse at Earth Sky Science.

TJO open houses resume

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 April 1. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Bimonthly open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the University of Washington resume this week. The open houses are held the first and third Wednesdays of each month from April through October. Each event includes a free lecture and, if weather permits, viewing through the observatory’s telescope, operated by volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society.

The year’s first session will be held at the observatory beginning at 8 p.m. April 1. Dr. Ana Larson will give a kid-oriented presentation called Toys in Space; they’ll play with toys, testing and experimenting with them, and then predict how the same toys would work in space. Adults must be accompanied by someone 16 years or younger, for the first talk, though they’ll repeat it at 9 p.m. for adults.

Reservations are strongly recommended; the classroom is relatively small and can fill up fast.

Global Astronomy Month

awblogoApril is Global Astronomy Month, an annual effort by Astronomers Without Borders to bring astronomy enthusiasts from around the globe together to celebrate the organization’s motto: One People, One Sky.

The month’s activities culminate in a global star party on Astronomy Day, April 25. Check the website for events near you.


Astro Biz: Atomic Boys Shop-O-Rama

IMG_0646Many businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring them regularly on Seattle Astronomy.

Today’s Astro Biz is Atomic Boys Shop-O-Rama, just a short hop and a skip from Seattle Astronomy World Headquarters in West Seattle. When we originally cooked up the idea for the Astro Biz series we thought it would be mostly about the names. But Atomic Boys is so, well, spacey that they definitely count. Their shop sign has space and astronomy symbols on it, their “open” sign includes a ringed planet and a star, and their stock of retro toys includes some cool rockets and robots.

This week marks a nice milestone for Atomic Boys, which has now been open for business for seven years, and they’re throwing a party this Saturday, March 28. Drop by the shop for discounts, drawings, and a chance to win a giant gumball machine. There’s also a rumor that the robot from Lost in Space will be there. Warning, Will Robinson! The fun will be from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Atomic Boys is at 4311 SW Admiral Way, just east of the Admiral Junction.

More info:

Do you have a favorite Astro Biz? Send us a photo and a brief description, and you may be featured in a future Astro Biz!


Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of March 23

This week we celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of Saturn’s moon Titan and the birthday of a couple of titans of space science, we observe Dwarf Planet Pride Day, and take a look at some stars and movies.

Christiaan Huygens discovered Titan on March 25, 1655. The Dutch astronomer and mathematician had been doing an extensive study of Saturn’s rings. As a nod to his work the ESA named its Titan lander after him. The Huygens probe rode along with the Cassini mission and landed on Titan in January 2005. Ten years later its work is long finished, while Cassini still works the rings. Not to feel too sorry for Huygens, though, as he also has an asteroid, a crater on Mars, and a mountain on the Moon named after him.

von Braun

Wernher von Braun. Photo: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center.

Look up rocket science in the dictionary and you just might see a photo of Wernher von Braun there. It might even be this one! Von Braun was born March 23, 1912 and is generally considered one of the fathers of rocket science.

Pierre-Simon Laplace shares a birthdate with von Braun. The great scientist sometimes called “The Newton of France” was born March 23, 1749. We expect that, in Paris, Newton was known as “The Laplace of England.” In any event, Laplace was one of the first to postulate the idea of black holes, and is known for advancing the hypothesis that the solar system formed out of a nebula of dust and gas.

The Eastside Astronomical Society meets at 7 p.m. March 24 at the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue. They’ll watch the movie Gravity, including the special features, and discuss the science of the flick afterward.

Celebrate Dwarf Planet Pride Day March 28 in Greenwood, with the fun starting at 1:30 at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company. They’ve landed some cool guests, including Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the Pluto-bound New Horizons mission, Pluto expert Dr. Sarah Ballard of the UW, and Alan Boyle, science editor at NBC News and author of A Case for Pluto. The whole thing is a project of the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a nonprofit writing center for young people.

There are several chances for observing this weekend. Weather permitting, the Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly free public star parties Saturday evening at Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Tacoma Astronomical Society has its public night that same evening at Pierce College in Steilacoom, with a program about aurorae. Check the websites for times, directions, and schedule updates.

The cool observing event of the week comes on Tuesday evening, when the Moon crosses the Hyades star cluster. La Luna will pass very close to the star Aldebaran about midnight on the 24th, Pacific time, and if you can get to Alaska or northwestern Canada you could see the Moon actually occult the brightest star in the constellation Taurus. Find other observing highlights from Astronomy magazine’s The Sky This Week.


General relativity explained

Cool news from the Seattle Astronomical Society, which just announced that the program for its April meeting will be a talk by Dr. Jeffrey Bennett, author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter (Columbia University Press, 2014).

Bennett has spent much of the last 30 years at the University of Colorado, where he remains an adjunct research associate with the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy. These days he is mainly a writer and he has embarked on a “Relativity Tour” this year, celebrating the centennial of Einstein’s revolutionary ideas. Bennett’s basic premise is that general relativity is not all that difficult to grasp, and his goal is to bring relativity out of the realm of obscure science and help us understand it and the impact it has on our lives.

Oddly enough, it appears that my cats understand relativity. Followers of the Seattle Astronomy Facebook page recently saw the photo below of their demonstration. People trying to help others understand general relativity often ask them to imagine a bowling ball on a bed sheet. In this case Archie and Theodolinda used themselves as the massive objects, and the down comforter represents space-time. The green object in the background may be Neptune.

relativitycatsBennett’s explanation may not be simple enough for cats to understand, but it is advertised as suitable for anyone from middle school on up. Bennett has taught young kids, and in addition to scholarly textbooks and science tomes for adults, he has written a series of children’s books featuring the outer space adventures of Max the dog. To gear up in advance of the talk pick up What Is Relativity? by clicking this link or the photo above. Links to Bennett’s other books are below.

The Seattle Astronomical Society talk will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 15 in room A102 in the Physics/Astronomy Building at the University of Washington in Seattle. In addition to SAS, the Relativity Tour is sponsored by Big Kid Science, Columbia University Press, Fiske Planetarium, and Story Time From Space.

More materials

Jeffrey Bennett website

Books by Bennett


Astro Biz: Solstice Park

Solstice Park, West SeattleMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring them regularly on Seattle Astronomy.

Solstice Park in West Seattle is a 7.1-acre park that includes an astronomical feature. There’s a viewpoint at the high end of the park with stonework that marks where the Sun sets at the equinoxes and solstices. Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info has adopted the park as the site of her equinox and solstice sunset watches; and hey, there’s one set for this Friday!

Oddly, the official website for the park only makes passing mention the astronomy feature. It does note the tennis courts, walking trails, community garden, and p-patch.

Solstice Park is off the east side of Fauntleroy Way near the north end of Lincoln Park.

More info:

Do you have a favorite Astro Biz? Send us a photo and a brief description, and you may be featured in a future Astro Biz!

Astro Biz index


Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of March 16

Spring arrives this week, the Moon will be new on Friday, the Seattle Astronomical Society holds its monthly meeting, and we celebrate an astronomy birthday and an anniversary in the next seven days.

The Seattle Astronomical Society meets Wednesday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m. in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. As of this writing the guest speaker or program for the night was still listed as TBA. Watch the SAS website for updates.

SAS also will hold a members-only star party—weather permitting—on Saturday, March 21. Not yet a member? There’s still time to join!

Spring springs

Spring arrives for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere at 3:45 p.m. PDT on Friday, March 20. By coincidence, there’s also a new Moon that day, at 5:36 a.m. There will be a total solar eclipse on Friday as well, but you’ll have to be in the North Atlantic to see it.

Birthdays and anniversaries

caption here

Portrait of Caroline Herschel by M. F. Tielemanm – From Agnes Clerke’s The Herschels and Modern Astronomy (1895). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

March 16, 1750 is the birthdate of Caroline Herschel, sister of Sir William Herschel and an astronomer in her own right. Caroline is thought to be the first woman to actually get paid for her astronomical work. She’s perhaps best known for discovering several comets.

Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s also the fourth anniversary of the MESSENGER spacecraft going into orbit around Mercury. MESSENGER, which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, has made almost 4,000 orbits of Mercury and has sent back more than a quarter million photos of the innermost planet. The mission has completely mapped the surface of Mercury, measured the planet’s magnetic field, and confirmed the presence of water ice at its north pole.

MESSENGER is nearly out of fuel for course adjustments, and the mission is expected to end later this year. The craft’s orbit will decay and it will eventually crash into Mercury.

Look! Up in the sky

WEBvic15_Mar22evThe week’s most interesting celestial view will come Saturday, when Mars will appear just one degree north of the young crescent Moon in the evening twilight. The next evening, March 22, the Moon will appear just three degrees south of Venus. The image at left is from Sky & Telescope magazine; read its in-depth coverage of things to see in the sky this week.

Jupiter is also well placed for viewing this week. It’s the big, bright beacon high in the southeast as evening twilight hits.

For night owls and early birds, Saturn rises a little after 1 a.m. each day this week, and is at its highest in the south just before 6 a.m.

Keep track of Northwest astronomy events by following our calendar.