Tag Archives: Alice’s Astro Info

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.

Futures file

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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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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Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of June 15

Summer arrives in the Northern Hemisphere this week, there will be an array of public astronomy events, and we celebrate a couple of anniversaries of women in space.

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 17 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. As of this writing, the guest speaker presentation was still listed as TBA; watch the SAS website for updates.

TJO

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

Later that evening, starting at 9 p.m., the University of Washington will host one of its bi-monthly open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. Rebecca Kemmerer, a senior in physics and astronomy, will give a talk titled, “Stars and Their Place in the Milky Way.” Kemmerer’s presentation will include a discussion of the different types of stars in our galaxy and the ways that their masses influence how they are born, live, and die. It’s free, but reservations are strongly encouraged for the talk; the classroom is small and fills up quickly! Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand to give tours of the observatory and, if weather permits—and we’re optimistic it will!—will offer a look through the facility’s vintage telescope.

Women in space

Two anniversaries of women in space come up this week. Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union became the first woman in space when she flew on Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963. That flight is still the only solo space flight by a woman. Twenty years and two days later, on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman to fly in space when she launched on the crew of the Challenger and STS-7. Ride has been on our pages a lot of late. Her birthday was May 26, and we also enjoyed Lynn Sherr‘s recent biography of the astronaut, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space (Simon and Schuster, 2014). Sherr was in Seattle last year and spoke about Ride.

Busy Saturday of astro events

There will be a lot to choose from for astronomy enthusiasts on Saturday, June 20. The day’s festivities kick off with a talk by Rob Manning, the chief engineer for the Mars rover Curiosity. Manning will talk about his book, Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity’s Chief Engineer (Smithsonian Books, 2014). The talk will be at 2 p.m. at the Museum of Flight. For our money the landing of Curiosity on Mars was one of our greatest engineering achievements. Here’s a chance to get the inside story. Pick up the book in advance. Manning will sign copies after his presentation.

Summer begins Sunday at the solstice, which happens at 9:38 a.m. Pacific time. Saturday evening Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info will host a solstice sunset watch at Solstice Park in West Seattle, with the gathering beginning about 8:45 p.m. for the sunset, which will be at about 9 p.m. Enevoldsen is a NASA Solar System Ambassador, and this will be her 25th seasonal sunset watch at the park. They’re fun and informative!

The Seattle Astronomical Society will host two public star parties June 20, at Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Both will begin at 9 p.m., weather permitting. The Tacoma Astronomical Society also plans a public night Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. Presenter Chuck Jacobsen will talk about the Sun, and, weather permitting, members will be on hand with telescopes for a look at what’s up in the sky.

Happy Father’s Day

In case it slipped your mind, Father’s Day is June 21, and we think dear old dad would love a telescope, eyepiece, or astronomy book as a present! There’s a lovely selection of such things in the Seattle Astronomy Store!

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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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Weather angst and the Venus transit

Venus will transit across the face of the Sun Tuesday afternoon. This rare celestial event won’t happen again until the year 2117, and Northwest astronomy hobbyists, for good reason a highly pessimistic bunch when it comes to matters of cloud cover, have been warily watching the long-range forecasts since June 5 started to show up on the weather radar.

It is not looking pretty.

2004 Venus transit

The 2004 Venus transit was captured from Germany in this image by Jan Herold. Creative Commons, GNU free documentation license.

As of this writing, Saturday, June 2 at 4 p.m., the Seattle forecast for Tuesday afternoon was for clouds and a 30 percent chance of rain. The prediction for much of the Northwest looks similar. Our best bet as of the moment looks like Goldendale, with a forecast of merely partly cloudy and just a 10 percent chance of rain. (Really, we don’t care so much if it rains as long as it’s not cloudy!) Yesterday Moses Lake and Wenatchee looked promising, but those forecasts have flipped. We’d also been eyeballing the “rain shadow” of Sequim, but even that Olympic Peninsula town now has a wet forecast for Tuesday. The closest “sunny” forecast I am able to find is for Red Bluff, California. Do you roll the dice on an 11- or 12-hour drive, or hope for the best somewhere a little closer?

Many of us will likely be watching the weather forecasts up until Monday evening or Tuesday morning, making some last-minute decisions about where our chances look best for transit viewing, and then high-tailing it to those spots.

Of course, it’s possible, maybe even likely, that we’ll out-think ourselves on this decision. The lore of celestial event chasing is full of accounts of people who have made extreme travel efforts to get to places certain to be clear, only to find those locations socked in while the sky above their own backyards was crystal clear.

Why are we making such a big deal of this? Due to the peculiar geometry of the orbits of Earth and Venus around the Sun, we can only see a Venus transit occasionally. They come in pairs separated by eight years, and either 105.5 or 121.5 years go by before the next pair comes along. Tuesday’s transit is the second of a close pair. Unfortunately, the 2004 event wasn’t visible from the West Coast, and only the end of the transit was visible from the Eastern U.S. as the Sun rose that day. Europe, Asia, and Africa had the best views last time. So this is your last chance unless you make it to December of 2117.

There will be plenty of opportunities to enjoy the 2012 transit from Seattle if the weather cooperates. Events actually begin the evening before, Monday, June 4, at the University of Washington. Astronomy Professors Woody Sullivan and Victoria Meadows will give lectures about the significance and history of Venus transits. The talks begin at 7 p.m. in room 120 of Kane Hall on the UW’s Seattle campus. It’s free, but registration is required.

The UW will have several locations for viewing the transit when it begins at about 3 p.m. June 5. Viewing will also take place at the Pacific Science Center, Solstice Park in West Seattle hosted by Alice’s Astro Info, Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island hosted by the Battle Point Astronomical Association, and others listed here by the Seattle Science Festival. Many of these sites will at least have online feeds, so participants can watch the transit as viewed from less weather-challenged areas. Other astronomy clubs are likely to be holding formal or informal transit viewings. Check their websites; links to them are at the right.

Seattle Astronomy will likely be at the Solstice Park event, unless we’re beating it to Goldendale.

Remember, don’t look at the Sun without proper protection. You’ll zap your eyeballs. Standard sunglasses are not good enough. This NASA website has some good pointers about transit viewing, eye protection, and pinhole projectors, as does transitofvenus.org.

Let’s hope we don’t miss our chance to see an astronomical rarity!

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