Tag Archives: Alice Enevoldsen

Welcome, spring, and AoT Seattle this week

It’s a busy week ahead on the area astronomy calendar as four club events, a seasonal observance, and a monthly get-together are on the docket.

AOT Seattle March 24Astronomy on Tap Seattle observes its second birthday this month, and will celebrate with a rare Friday gathering at 7 p.m. March 24 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. The evening’s talks will be a retrospective of the last year and updates of what’s happened in a variety of areas. Topics include gravitational waves, keeping stars weird, exoplanet discoveries galore, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, when a star is not really a star, and more! There will be a trivia contest and cool prizes as always. It’s free, but buy a beer or three.

Club events

GottliebThe Rose City Astronomers plan their monthly meeting for 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 20 at the OMSI auditorium in Portland. Guest speaker Steve Gottlieb has a fascinating story to tell. Gottlieb recently completed observing the entire New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars (NGC for short.) That project took him more than 35 years to finish—the NGC lists 7,840 deep-sky objects!

The NGC was compiled by astronomer John Dreyer in the late 19th century, but there were various errors on between 15 and 20 percent of the objects. Gottlieb will discuss the NGC/IC Project, a joint amateur-professional effort to re-examine the 100 to 200 year-old source material used by Dreyer.

The Eastside Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 21 at the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue. EAS member Tom Hager will continue his look at Burnham’s Celestial Handbook. He’ll focus on the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor, and the dim constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn) that lies between them. Emphasis of the talk will be on what we’ve learned in the 40 years since Robert Burnham published this classic astronomy reference collection.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor, all-weather presentation will be about ancient astronomy. If the sky is clear they’ll break out the telescopes for some observing.

The Island County Astronomical Society plans a star party at dusk Friday, March 24 at Fort Nugent Park in Oak Harbor.

Welcome, Spring!

Join Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info to watch the first sunset of spring from Solstice Park in West Seattle. Gather at the park at 6:45 p.m. Monday, March 20 for Enevoldsen’s 32nd seasonal sunset watch. The official charts put sunset at 7:23 p.m., but Enevoldsen has found it’s typically about 10 minutes earlier at that location.

Wrapping Mars Madness

The fourth and final presentation of Mars Madness will be given at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 25 at the Museum of Flight. Guest speaker Dr. Sanlyn Buxner, an education specialist and research scientist from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, will give a lecture titled, “Mars 201: Mission Accomplished.” Buxner will highlight the outstanding achievements and magnificent failures of more than 40 years of Mars mission science and engineering.

Planetaria

The Washington State University Planetarium in Pullman will run a show titled, “Other Earths” this weekend. The presentation highlights the ongoing search for planets in the Milky Way. How many planets are there? How many could support life? Is there life out there? How much we know might surprise you. Shows are scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, March 24, and 5 p.m. Sunday, March 26. Tickets are $5 at the door, cash or check—no credit cards.

The Willard Smith Planetarium at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle offers a variety of shows each day. Their complete schedule is featured on our calendar page.

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Plan your astronomy fun by keeping an eye on our calendar. Recently added items include:

  • Astronomy night at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline April 4
  • Table Mountain Star Party registration opens April 1
  • Battle Point Astronomical Association’s next planetarium shows April 8
  • Astronomy Day at the Museum of Flight May 4

You can also learn of events from our postings on Facebook and Twitter.

Up in the sky

Saturn slides up close to the Moon in the predawn hours on Monday. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope offer more observing highlights for the week.

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Solstice sunset watch and LIGO info on our calendar this week

The calendar year is winding down, and astronomy clubs are hustling to get a last few events in before we plunge into 2017.

Rose City AstronomersThe Rose City Astronomers eschew their usual formal meeting for their annual holiday potluck at 6:30 p.m. Monday, December 19 at the OMSI auditorium in Portland. Leftovers from the event have traditionally been donated to a homeless shelter, and this year the astronomers are also collecting warm clothing for donations, figuring that astronomy folk may have a supply of such to bring comfort to those late-night sessions at the eyepiece.

The Eastside Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, December 20 at the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue. NASA Solar System Ambassador John McLaren will give a talk about the history of scientific exploration of the Sun, and look ahead to future efforts to learn even more about our nearest star.

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 21 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Joey Key, a professor at the University of Washington-Bothell, will talk about the next LIGO run searching for gravitational waves, which will also involve astronomical collaboration is search of an elusive “multimessenger source,” a signal that could be detected both in gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation. Interesting stuff!

Vikings

VMMEPPThe Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project plans an informal information session for 4 p.m. Tuesday, December 20 at the Hillsdale Library in Portland. This family-friendly event will feature artifacts from the Viking mission, activities for kids, and lots of information about Viking history. Check out our recent article and podcast about the project. The year end is a good time to lend a little financial support to this great history project, too!

Solstice sunset watch

Join Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info and watch the first sunset of winter at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, December 20 at Solstice Park in West Seattle. The solstice is at 2:44 a.m. PST on Wednesday. Sunset that evening is officially listed as 4:20 p.m., but Enevoldsen says they’ve noted that it’s typically about ten minutes early because of the horizon at that spot. She gives a fun and informative presentation about the mechanics of the seasons, and is persistent about it—this will be her thirty-first seasonal sunset watch. That’s a lot of solstices and equinoxes! Come by even if it’s cloudy, because the Sun sometimes sneaks through anyway, but driving rain makes it a no-go.

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You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. The page also features a full schedule of planetarium and stage science shows at Pacific Science Center.

Up in the sky

The Ursid meteor shower peaks this week. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy offer more observing highlights for the week.

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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.

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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.

Perseids

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.

Maps

Here are some maps to selected stargazing sites. Have a suggestion? Email us and we’ll check it out!

More reading:

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Happy solstice and happy birthdays

Happy solstice! Winter arrives officially in the Northern Hemisphere at 8:48 p.m. Pacific Standard Time today.

AlicesAstroInfo-145Celebrate the solstice a little early this evening and watch the final sunset of autumn with Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info at the aptly named Solstice Park in West Seattle. The festivities get under way at about 3:45 p.m. on Monday, December 21. The official time for sunset today in Seattle is about 4:20 p.m., but Enevoldsen, who has done 26 of these seasonal sunset watches, notes that it’s usually about 10 minutes earlier than listed for this site because of the altitude of the horizon.

Enevoldsen is a NASA Solar System Ambassador and gives a good talk about how the solstice works and other celestial topics. Warning: heavy rain will scrub the event.

Ursid meteor shower

Speaking of heavy rain, the forecast is not looking promising for viewing of the annual Ursid meteor shower, which will peak on Tuesday and Wednesday, December 22-23, with the best viewing expected before dawn on Wednesday. The shower is so named because its radiant appears around the bowl of the Litter Dipper–Ursa Minor.

An article from EarthSky explains all you need to know about viewing the Ursids. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope and The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine suggest other observing highlights for the week, including the chance to see comet Catalina in the early morning hours.

December birthdays

GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689

Newton

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Kepler

We like to celebrate birthdays at this time of year, and there are two big ones in astronomy this week. We remember Isaac Newton, who was born December 25, 1642, and Johannes Kepler, born December 27, 1571. What would we know about planetary motion without these two?

Keep current on area astronomy events by bookmarking the Seattle Astronomy calendar.

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Touchdown confirmed! Curiosity lands safely on Mars!

In what is arguably the nation’s greatest engineering achievement in space, NASA‘s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity landed safely on Mars a little after 10:15 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time Sunday. Because of the distance from Earth to Mars and the time it takes communication to travel between the two, we didn’t know until 14 minutes after it happened that a complicated landing plan worked.

Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, hosted a gathering at the Kenney in West Seattle to watch NASA TV coverage of the landing. “This has already happened,” Enevoldsen said of the time delay. “It’s just like the NBC Olympics!” she quipped.

More than 50 people attended the event, and the tension was palpable in the viewing room. Here’s Seattle Astronomy video from the landing:

“Shake hands with the person next to you,” Enevoldsen said after the landing was confirmed. “That crazy landing maneuver worked!”

The Curiosity landing has at least one big Washington state connection. Rob Manning, flight system chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, attended high school in Burlington and is a 1980 graduate of Whitman College in Walla Walla. Coincidentally, Enevoldsen also is a Whitman alum.

Maps and rovers

Mars fans gather after the successful landing of "Curiosity" to check out model rovers and Mars maps to learn more about the science mission. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

It’s interesting and encouraging that the landing drew such a crowd late on a warm summer Sunday evening. While a number of those who attended are residents of the Kenney, a retirement community in West Seattle, local media such as the West Seattle Blog and Seattle Astronomy spread the word, and many visitors attended as well. After the excitement of the landing many of the attendees gathered around a table set up with model rovers—including some made from Lego blocks—and looked at maps of Mars with the various spacecraft landing sites marked. Enevoldsen fielded questions from many of those in attendance.

We understand there was a good crowd at the Mars Fest at the Museum of Flight as well.

It’s encouraging to see the interest in the mission and the excitement about the successful landing. NASA administrator Charlie Bolden was clearly both relieved and elated with the successful landing. The mission is a pricey one, at $2.5 billion, and a crash landing would have been demoralizing to say the least. Afterwards Bolden, speaking to the NASA TV audience, called it “a huge day for the American people.” National pride aside, it has to be good for NASA to pull off a big success in these days of shrinking budgets. Energizing the public and impressing the folks with the purse strings can only help.

Getting to Mars was the hard part; now Curiosity and its arsenal of scientific instruments can go about the business of poking around Mars for evidence that our neighbor planet has supported or could support life.

We’re curious to see what it finds.

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See it happen: Curiosity arrives at Mars Sunday

Curiosity

The Museum of Flight had a full-size model of the Mars Science Lab Curiosity on exhibit back in 2010. The real one is set to land on Mars next Sunday. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The search for life on Mars will get a lot more serious next Sunday when the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” lands on the Red Planet. At least, we hope it’s a successful landing. “The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA robotic mission ever attempted,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator. “This is risky business.”

At least two public gatherings are planned in Seattle for watching the historic landing attempt. Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, will host a viewing event at The Kenney, 7125 Fauntleroy Way SW in West Seattle, beginning at 10 p.m. August 5.

At the Museum of Flight they’ll celebrate MarsFest 2012 beginning at 6:30 p.m. that evening. Events will include Mars-related family activities and games, Mars exploration and spaceflight engineer speakers, and a live link-up with The Planetary Society’s Planetfest 2012 in Pasadena, starring Bill Nye.

The actual landing is scheduled for about 10:30 p.m. Pacific Time August 5; if you don’t want to be out late that evening you can watch the coverage of the landing on NASA TV. That coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. Pacific.

NASA engineer Kobie Boykins, who worked on the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, gave a talk in Seattle back in May of 2010 about the challenges of making a successful landing on Mars, calling the time of radio silence between safe landing, or crash, “six minutes of terror.” NASA has pushed that up to seven minutes for Curiosity, which is a much more challenging landing because the rover is much bigger, and cannot land with the inflatable bouncing balls used with the previous smaller rovers.

If you’re not up to speed on the Curiosity mission, the video of the NASA news conference below, published July 16, includes a lot of information about the mission and landing day.

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