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.


Astro Biz: iLanga

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

ilangalogoToday’s Astro Biz is iLanga Software Development and Environmental Consulting based in Kirkland, Wash. What’s so Astro Biz about that? Founder Paul Rodman notes that the company was founded in the middle of winter. From the iLanga website:

Having not seen any sunshine for months we decided that “Sun” was an appropriate name for the company. However, it was already taken. We hauled out a multi-language dictionary and looked up “sun” in other languages. “iLanga” is the Zulu word for “The Sun”. It is common to prefix Zulu words with lower-case “i”. Since we created the company it has become common practice to prefix company names with “i” or “e” to denote the fact that they are Internet-related. We wish it known that we didn’t follow this trend in our naming.

As an added astro-bonus, iLanga makes and sells astronomical software, including the fantastic AstroPlanner that we at Seattle Astronomy often use to plot our observing sessions. It’s the first Astro Biz that’s actually in the astronomy business!

More info:

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UW’s Foucault pendulum out of action

DSC_0004We were sad to see on a recent visit to the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle that the university’s Foucault pendulum is out of commission. According to the sign on the railing around the pendulum:

I have been damaged possibly due to vandalism. My mounting support bracket and cable are both damaged and need to be replaced. I don’t know when this can happen yet.

I’m sorry I can’t swing gently for you at this time and I know people miss me.

Given the nature of the damage, we wonder if some dimwits tried swinging from the pendulum.

We hope the pendulum is repaired soon. If blog hits are any indication, people are interested in Foucault pendulums. A post we wrote 2011 about the world’s largest Foucault pendulum, in the convention center in Portland, Oregon, is consistently among the top ten viewed on Seattle Astronomy.


Astro Biz: Ursa Major stellar shave cream

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

IMG_0948Today’s Astro Biz is Ursa Major stellar shave cream which, for extra astro bonus points, includes sunflower among its ingredients.

We first saw Ursa Major shave cream at a shop called Prize in Ashland, Oregon. According to the Ursa Major website—the company is based in Burlington, Vermont—a couple of Seattle retailers carry the product: Hammer + Awl in Madrona and Freeman on Capitol Hill. You can also order online.

The company makes a variety of skin-care products with a focus on all-natural ingredients and a promise that its products are robust, healthy, and sublime.

More info:

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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.


Astro Biz: Polaris Electric Bicycles

IMG_1620Many businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring them regularly on Seattle Astronomy.

Today’s Astro Biz is Polaris Electric Bicycles. We often see a van from Polaris eBikes parked along Alki Avenue during our morning walks.

In truth, we aren’t sure if the van is down there because you can rent an ebike to ride on Alki, or if it’s just because someone who works for Polaris or a dealer lives down there. The Polaris website lists two dealers for the bikes in the Seattle area: Seattle eBikes on First Avenue South, and Pierre’s Polaris in Kenmore.

In either case, good work naming the company after the North Star!

More info:

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Perseids and more on this week’s astronomy calendar

It’s a big week for astronomical observing, as the Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight under optimum conditions, and a couple of the region’s biggest annual star parties are under way. Meanwhile a series of astronomy talks comes to Bremerton starting Sunday and running through next week.

The Perseids


Where to spot Perseid meteors. Image: NASA.

The biggest shooting star spectacle of the year peaks tonight and early tomorrow morning and it’s coming at nearly the perfect time of the month. The Moon will be new on Friday, so its slim, waning crescent won’t mess with our view of the Perseid meteor shower. Now, the weather—that’s another story. As I write this it’s cloudy and thundering at Seattle Astronomy world headquarters in West Seattle, though it hasn’t rained just yet. The hour-to-hour forecast for the day it is for about a 40 percent chance of rain through the evening, then clearing after about midnight or 1 a.m. If that clearing comes through, it will be perfect for Perseid watching.

I’m often asked where to go to watch stuff in the Seattle area, and was going to write up a post about it, but Alan Boyle did a piece for Geekwire that does the job nicely. I would add Hurricane Ridge to the list if you’re interested in traveling to the peninsula. I’ve also had luck finding skies that are a bit darker down at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. And if the weather looks better on the east side of the mountains, head out toward Cle Elum, or even further east and south; skies are especially dark in the Goldendale area at Goldendale Observatory State Park—the observatory is staying open late for the Perseids—and at Brooks Memorial State Park.

Boyle’s Geekwire article mentions a star party tonight hosted by the Seattle Astronomical Society and other area clubs at the Sunrise Visitor Center at Mount Rainier. If you’re interested in a little less formal experience, Sunrise Point, about three miles east of the visitor center at the last, sharp switchback in the road before the top, has spectacular views and is a popular stargazing destination. It’s dark up there, and the National Park System is making a point to have more astronomy-related programming in the evenings.

The Washington Trails Association offers this list of suggested viewing spots in its Dark Places Digest.

EarthSky has a good article with all you need to know about the Perseids.

Star parties

Three of the region’s biggest annual star parties are under way. The Table Mountain Star Party runs through Saturday at Eden Valley Ranch near Oroville, having moved there when a forest fire in 2012 rendered the namesake Table Mountain site near Ellensburg unusable. The Oregon Star Party at Indian Trail Spring in eastern Oregon, and the Mt. Kobau Star Party, held north of Osoyoos, B.C., run through Sunday.

LSST and astro talks in Bremerton

lssttalksA group of about 300 astronomers working on the Large Synoptic Space Telescope (LSST) project will be gathering for their annual workshop, which this year is being held in Bremerton beginning Sunday at the Kitsap Conference Center. A side benefit of the meeting is a nightly series of talks given by conference participants. Check this list of the presentations, which run nightly from August 16-20. There also will be an “astronomy slam” night on Tuesday, with mini-talks at a variety of different locations around Bremerton.

In the video below Dr. Bob Abel, physics professor at Olympic College and a member of the LSST team, discusses the project and the workshop with Bremerton BKAT Cable Access Television.