Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of May 4

Local organizations are hosting special space and astronomy events and other regular astro-club functions are on the docket for this week.

The Museum of Flight observes Space Day as part of its Free First Thursday May 7. Local astronomy clubs will be there with telescopes for viewing—Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are all great targets this week. In addition, NASA Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs will give a presentation about the Hubble Space Telescope. Space Day runs from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. The Hobbs talk will start at 7 p.m.

PacSci arches

The arches at the Pacific Science Center. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The Pacific Science Center observes Astronomy Day Saturday, May 9 starting at 10 a.m. and running all day. It will be a day of arts and crafts, planetarium shows, and other fun activities. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand with solar telescopes for safe viewing of the Sun, if the Sun is indeed out that day. Guest presenters include retired astronaut Dr. Nick Patrick, who will give a talk at 2 p.m., and Dr. Tom McCord from the NASA Dawn mission, who will speak at 3 p.m. Find the full schedule on the PacSci website.

Tacoma Astronomical Society

The Tacoma Astronomical Society holds its monthly meeting Tuesday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m. in room 175 of Thompson Hall at the University of Puget Sound. Then on Saturday, May 9, they’ll have a public observing night from 9 p.m until midnight at the Fort Stielacoom campus of Pierce College. Presenter John Finnan will talk about binocular astronomy—a rewarding and inexpensive way to get started in the hobby.

Back at TJO


The Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the University of Washington. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Wednesday night, May 6, is open house night at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. The event runs from 9–11 p.m. Two talks by UW undergraduates are scheduled. Riley Harris will give a talk at 9 p.m. titled, “The State of the Planet, The Future of Space Travel.” Harris will run down the history of space travel, take an honest look at the current state of Earth, and explore the possibilities for future space travel and colonization. At 9:30 p.m. Kyle Musselwhite will give a talk titled, “Hey, What’s That Sound? The Universe!” Musselwihite will outline relationships between the history of science and musical thinking, then discuss why music is a useful tool for conceptualizing certain properties of the universe (especially time and distance). Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand to give a peek through the observatory’s vintage telescope if weather permits. Reservations are strongly suggested for the talks.

Everett society meets

The Everett Astronomical Society holds its monthly meeting Saturday, May 9 beginning at 3 p.m. at the Evergreen Branch of the Everett Public Library.


Space policy dean, Curiosity engineer to speak in June at Museum of Flight

Our copy of Aloft, the member magazine of the Museum of Flight, arrived in the mail today bearing news of two interesting space talks planned for the museum in June.

John M. Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute and considered by many to be the dean of U.S. space policy, will discuss his new book, After Apollo?: Richard Nixon and the American Space Program. The book is part of the series of Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology. In it, Logsdon takes a look at how President Nixon and his administration impacted post-Apollo space policy. Logsdon gave something of a preview of his presentation here in Seattle at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January. You can read our coverage of that talk to learn that Logsdon doesn’t think very highly of Nixon’s approach. Logsdon is scheduled to speak at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 13, 2015 in the William M. Allen Theater at the museum.

The following weekend Rob Manning will be in town to tout his aptly titled book, Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity’s Chief Engineer (Smithsonian Books, 2014). Manning, who is indeed the chief engineer for the mission, will discuss the challenges of getting such a large and complicated robot safely to Mars to conduct science. Manning’s talk, also in the Allen Theater, will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 20.

You can pick up copies of the books by clicking the links or cover photos above, or by visiting the Seattle Astronomy Store. Keep track of any schedule changes by watching the Museum of Flight website. These events are so new that, as of this writing, they weren’t yet listed on the museum’s online calendar. We’re planning to cover both talks.


Astro Biz: Café Solstice

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

Café SolsticeToday’s Astro Biz is Café Solstice, a coffee shop with locations in Seattle’s University District and Capitol Hill. Seattle Astronomy often enjoys an Americano at the U-District shop before Seattle Astronomical Society meetings and other University of Washington events, or when in the district for meetings with clients for our consulting practice.

The U-District shop has ample comfortable seating and free wi-fi, essential for the roving astronomy writer. It can be busy when classes are in session at the university.

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 for the week of April 27

An extravaganza of planets and an important date for all Northwest astronomy buffs are the highlights on our calendar this week.

Four bright planets are on display in this week’s evening skies. Mercury zips toward its best evening apparition of the year over the next few weeks, shining brightly in the west after sunset. There will be an end of an era at Mercury this week when MESSENGER, which has been orbiting and studying the innermost planet since 2011, crashes into it. MESSENGER’s fuel ran out and mission controllers can no longer maintain its orbit. The crash will happen on Thursday.

Venus remains ablaze high in the west in evening twilight. Jupiter shines high in the south as night falls, and Saturn will be visible almost all night as it spins toward opposition May 22.

Check Astronomy magazine’s The Sky This Week for other observing highlights.

Astronomy in the cloud

Jan Oort

Jan Oort. Photo by Joop van Bilsen – Nationaal Archief NL Fotocollectie Anefo

April 28 is the birthdate of Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, considered a pioneer in the field of radio astronomy. Oort, born in 1900, contributed a lot to our understanding of how the Milky Way works. He demonstrated that the galaxy is spinning, that all of the stars move independently, and that the stars near the galaxy’s center are moving more quickly that those further out.

Oort is probably best known as the namesake of the Oort Cloud, the halo of comets far outside the orbits of the outermost planets.

He died in 1992 at age 92.

Mark your calendar for TMSP

TMSP logoRegistration opens Friday, May 1 for the 2015 Table Mountain Star Party. One of the premier astronomy events in the northwest each summer, TMSP is scheduled for August 11-15 at the Eden Valley Guest Ranch near Oroville, Washington. This will be the third year that the event will be held at the ranch since the star party’s namesake Table Mountain, near Ellensburg, was severely damaged by a forest fire in September 2012. TMSP directors say they they don’t expect a return to the Table Mountain site in the foreseeable future.


New documentary series takes a look at private space

Private space exploration is a relatively new and booming industry, and a small company out of Santa Monica, California is launching an ambitious effort to create a series of short documentary videos exploring the political, legal, and social implications of the industry.

Private Space has produced three episodes so far, and is hoping to raise at least $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign in order to produce nine more over the next year.

Tamir ElSahy

Tamir ElSahy is the writer and director for the documentary series Private Space.

Tamir ElSahy, the writer and director of the Private Space series, which is hosted on YouTube, says it started as a passion project and creative outlet for him. ElSahy is genuinely interested in the topic.

“The world has a lot of stories to tell and this just seemed like an interesting one,” he says. Beyond just telling a good story, ElSahy aims to provide useful information for an informed public. The series will orbit around three main topics: the entrepreneurs who propel the private space industry, the public officials who influence it, and the citizen scientists who are contributing in significant ways to the research and exploration of space.

“Our hope is to highlight a story in each episode from one of these themes to help us take a more holistic approach to breaking down what the developments are and how they’ll impact people’s lives,” ElSahy says.

“I don’t want to just rehash what happened,” he adds. “I want to make sure that we’re there to explain and break down what’s going on, the complicated issues, and simplify them for the online audience.”

Early episodes have featured California state senator Steve Knight, who authored the state’s Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act; Dr. Lee Valentine, chairman of the Space Studies Institute and an early investor in XCOR; and Adam Block, renowned astrophotographer whose work is frequently featured on the popular Astronomy Picture of the Day website. The shows are well done; check them out on the Private Space YouTube channel.

As of this writing the Kickstarter effort has raised more than $1,600 from 33 backers. ElSahy says the funds raised will help him and his crew, “go to New Mexico, to Texas, to Washington D.C., to Seattle, to all the places that have buzzing activity regarding the industry and get some insight wherever we can.”

Seattle Astronomy wishes Private Space and ElSahy best of luck with their efforts. You can view the trailer for their Kickstarter campaign below.

More information


The Lyrids are here! Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of April 20

Astronomy Day is this Saturday and several local astronomy groups are observing the event. Check out the Lyrid meteor shower and celebrate the 25th birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope, too.

adlogoAstronomy Day began in 1973 as an effort to bring astronomy to the people. Doug Berger, then president of the Astronomical Association of Northern California, decided that rather than try to entice people to travel long distances to visit observatory open houses, they would set up telescopes closer to where the people were, busy urban locations like street corners, shopping malls, and parks. Now a program of the Astronomical League and 13 other organizations, Astronomy Day features hundreds of events around the United States and the world.

Locally there are several events planned. The Everett Astronomical Society will celebrate Astronomy Day from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 25 at the main downtown branch of the Everett Public Library. They’ll have solar telescopes for views of the Sun, plus displays of meteors, telescopes, and other information. In addition, EAS will hold public star parties both Friday and Saturday evenings from dusk until around midnight at Harborview Park between Everett and Mukilteo.

Seattle Astronomical Society will hold public star parties Saturday evening at Green Lake in Seattle and at Paramount Park in Shoreline. Both get under way at about 8 p.m. The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its public night at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College, with a presentation about space exploration at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Happy birthday to Hubble

Hubble25th-1024x663The Hubble Space Telescope was deployed April 25, 1990. This weekend we celebrate a quarter century of Hubble’s amazing photos and innumerable scientific discoveries.

The Pierce College Science Dome will host a birthday party from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. Friday, April 24. The event will include a live stream of the National Air and Space Museum celebration, hands-on science projects, and a planetarium show about Hubble.

Watch for our own Hubble article later in the week.

Lyrid meteor shower

Watch on all clear nights this week for Lyrid meteors. The annual shower will peak on the evening of Wednesday, April 22 to the wee hours of the morning on the 23rd. Look toward the radiant in the northeast sky. This EarthSky page tells all you need to know about the Lyrids.

Talk, talk, talk

There are three promising astronomy talks scheduled for Wednesday evening, and the more dedicated listener might be able to catch at least parts of all three.

AOT2 posterThe Museum of Flight celebrates Earth Day all day April 22, capped by a talk at 4 p.m. by former astronaut Ed Lu. Dr. Lu, now CEO of the B612 Foundation, will give a talk titled “Defending Earth From Asteroids” about the foundation’s proposed Sentinel mission to watch for potential killers. Check our coverage from a news conference with Lu last year to learn more about Sentinel.

Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs will give a talk at 6:30 p.m. at Explorer West Middle School in West Seattle. Hobbs will discuss discuss comets, dwarf planets and the Mars Rover and how missions to these new frontiers will impact life on earth, now and far into the future.

The second Seattle iteration of Astronomy on Tap will be held Wednesday evening beginning at 7 p.m. at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. Topics of talks by University of Washington astronomy graduate students will include supermassive black holes, and the extreme seasons on the recently classified Game of Thrones planet. And there will be beer.


Astro Biz: Blue Moon Tavern

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

The Blue Moon

The iconic Blue Moon sign at the tavern on NE 45th Street in Seattle’s University District. Photo: Greg Scheiderer

Today’s Astro Biz is the famed—many online sources, including its own Twitter account, use the term infamous—Blue Moon tavern in Seattle’s University District. Opened shortly after the end of prohibition in 1934, the Blue Moon was said to be a hit with University of Washington students. Location is everything; the tavern was just over a mile away from the campus of the time, and state law then prohibited the sale of alcohol within a mile of the university.

The Blue Moon website notes that the tavern “welcomed an assortment of radicals, artists, writers, journalists, beatniks, hippies, and wannabees,” as well as universitiy students and faculty. The site tosses out such names as poets Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo, Carolyn Kizer, Stanley Kunitz, and David Wagoner among the clientele, along with famous visitors such as Dylan Thomas and Allen Ginsberg, and perhaps even Jack Kerouac. A Seattle Astronomy favorite, Tom Robbins, is also said to have hung out at the Blue Moon back in the day.

It turns out Blue Moon is not such a rare name. We’ve already featured Blue Moon Burgers on Astro Biz, and an internet search for “blue moon tavern” also turned up results in Everett, Portland, Baltimore, Newton, NC, Eben Junction, MI, Parkersburg, WV, Coos Bay, OR, and Buford, GA. The Eben Junction spot burned down a couple of times and was rebuilt as the New Moon. Blue Moons may turn up wherever the Merry Pranksters travel, or in places where occasional tipplers go for a brew once in a blue moon.

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