Tag Archives: Amanda Hendrix

Gifts for the astronomy and eclipse buff on your list

Turkey day has come and gone, and we’ve started getting a few requests for gift ideas for astronomy enthusiasts. This year, in addition to the usual tips about books, gear, and gadgets, we’ll have a special section devoted to the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017.

Our advice doesn’t really change much from year to year. Check last year’s post Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast on your list, Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast from 2014, Picking a gift for the astronomy buff from 2013, and Choosing a gift telescope from 2012. Too busy to scrape around in the past? A few quick tips:

Visit the Seattle Astronomy Store. It’s packed with our favorite gear, books we’ve read from authors we’ve interviewed, cameras, gadgets, and accessories.

The best telescope

Smart-alecky astronomy types always say that the best telescope is the one that gets used. We tend to go with a Dobsonian reflector for outstanding bang for the telescope buck. Our personal model is the eight-inch Orion XT8 classic Dob. It’s nice on planets, super on deep-sky objects, but not so hot for photography, if that’s your thing. Dobsonians are pretty easy to set up and operate. For beginners, a good pair of astronomical binoculars can be a great tool for learning to find your way around the night sky. Get one that is at least 10×50—that’s ten times magnification and 50mm lenses. We have the Orion UltraView. Best yet, for great advice about how to choose the telescope that is right for your personal observing situation and interests, grab a copy of the classic The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide (Firefly Books, 2008) by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. It’s a great reference, offers fantastic advice, and makes a fine gift in and of itself. The guide helped me get started, many moons ago, and I still use it often.

Your local experts

Cloud Break OpticsCloud Break Optics set up shop in Ballard last year, and has a fantastic showroom full of astronomy gear. They have an online store, but why non pop in and do some hands-on shopping and take advantage of their expertise and advice. Check their website for some great holiday deals. Support your local small business!

Eclipse info and swag

Next summer’s total solar eclipse will be the first to touch the continental U.S. since 1979. It’s not too early to start getting ready. That means that eclipse-related items will be welcome for most everyone. Michael Zeiler’s website The Great American Eclipse has an outstanding store through which you can purchase his fantastic eclipse maps and posters, as well as shirts, caps, sun-oculars, and other eclipse items. Get a 10-percent discount through Monday, November 28 using the code SAVE10. (Check out our article and podcast with Zeiler from earlier this year.) Eclipse glasses or viewers would make the perfect stocking stuffer this year; find them at Zeiler’s site or at the Orbit Oregon store.

Orbit Oregon has just published a children’s book called The Big Eclipse, written and illustrated by Nancy Coffelt. It and an accompanying activity book are aimed at kids from ages five to 11. These would be perfect for getting the younger set interested in the eclipse, and in science in general. It’s the only such resource we’ve encountered geared toward kids. There are a number of other books out there. Zeiler penned See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017 (Great American Eclipse LLC, 2016). The book is packed with maps and information about the eclipse. We reviewed these two books earlier this month; watch for our upcoming article and podcast with Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler. In addition, Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, has a number of eclipse books out, including Get Eclipsed: The Complete Guide to the American Eclipse (American Paper Optics, 2015) and several others shown below.

Eclipse posterAuthor, astronomer, artist, and night sky ambassador Tyler Nordgren has designed some fantastic travel posters about the eclipse, from generic nationwide posters to ones specific to some of the interesting viewing sites along the path of totality. You may have seen Nordgren’s travel posters for astronomy in National Parks and for visiting other places in the solar system. The eclipse posters are in a similar style, they’re a steal at $20 each, and they’re suitable for framing. Get them here.

Nordgren is a professor of astronomy at the University of Redlands. He was the keynote speaker at the 2014 annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

AstroBox rocks

AstroBoxOur friend Sorin this year started a business called AstroBox; you can read the article we wrote about it in August. AstroBox is a quarterly subscription collection of cool and unique items based on a space theme. The theme for December is New Horizons: Discovering Pluto, and the box includes a cool Pluto t-shirt, a fine art print, an inflatable Pluto globe, mission patches, the AstroBox magazine filled with mission news and activities, and other goodies. Order here and use the coupon code PLUTOSA and you will get a nine-percent discount just for being a friend of Seattle Astronomy! (The coupon is good through November 30.) Plus, in the spirit of giving, for every subscription sold AstroBox will donate $1 to help restore the Pluto Discovery Telescope at Lowell Observatory. The winter AstroBox will ship in early December, so order soon!

More books

Here are a few of our other book picks for this year:

Tyler Nordgren’s new book Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets (Basic Books, 2016) is a delightful read. It is part travelog, part primer for the eclipse, but the best part is the history of eclipses and Nordgren’s thoughts about the development of scientific thinking. We’ve just finished it; watch for our full review soon. Nordgren will speak at Town Hall Seattle on January 14, 2017. Tickets are available online now.

Scientist Amanda Hendrix and writer Charles Wohlforth have surveyed the solar system in search of the best place for a human colony away from Earth. Their conclusion: Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is the place to go if we have to leave the home planet. Titan has an atmosphere, suitable shielding from radiation, near limitless, cheap energy, and Earth-like features that the authors say makes it the best bet for colonization. They explain their choice in their book Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016). It explores the economics and ethics of a move off-planet as well. The pair spoke about Beyond Earth at Town Hall recently; check our recap.

Another author paid a visit to Town Hall this year; astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke about his book The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), a volume aimed at children trying to overcome their fears. Hadfield himself was afraid off the dark as a little kid, which could have been detrimental to a career as an astronaut had he not overcome it. Hadfield is a most engaging and entertaining speaker. Our recap of Hadfield’s talk includes a link to a music video he created in support of the book.

Julian Guthrie penned How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016), a book about the SpaceShipOne project that won the XPRIZE competition. The tale is an interesting one about the renegades and entrepreneurs who dreamed of getting to space without the help of the government. The book includes a preface by Richard Branson and an afterword by Stephen Hawking. It’s a thrilling tale of adventure and new space.

Happy astro-shopping!


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Authors pick Titan as solar system’s best place for human colony

Mars is and has long been a popular choice for human colonization should we want or need to leave Earth. But Amanda Hendrix and Charles Wohlforth say that if we’re going to go live somewhere else in the solar system, then Saturn’s moon Titan is the best choice.

Hendrix, a planetary scientist who works for the Planetary Science Institute, and Wohlforth, an award-winning science writer, have just come out with a book, Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016). They talked about Titan and the book last week at Town Hall Seattle.

Why go?

“The topic really is not just getting to another planet, but living there and staying there self sufficiently forever,” Wohlforth said. The big question to answer, he noted, is why.

“We don’t, as human beings, normally do big expensive things for no reason at all,” Wohlforth said. “That led us to thinking about what would we want on another planet, or what we would be getting away from here on Earth, that would drive us to want to move to another planet.”

While humans have long had a case of wanderlust, Wohlforth said the reasons to colonize another planet go beyond that.

“Environment drives colonization; it has in the past, and we don’t always call it environment,” he said. “We call it overcrowding or we call it wealth seeking, but really in our society economics is how we talk about environment a lot of the time.”

A key to colonization, he said, is having the resources to do it and to keep it going.

“Making colonies requires technology and it also requires wealth and the ability to make money, and in our world that’s often meant that government gives private industry the money to get started,” Wohlforth said. “Colonies need a reason to exist environmentally or economically, they need major government investment to happen, and ultimately they need a way to support themselves without help from home.”

Why Titan

Hendrix said they developed five main criteria they considered when evaluating a place as a possible site for a human colony. It should have an atmosphere, a magnetosphere, manageable temperatures, a decent amount of gravity, and a hospitable landscape. Among those, she said the first two are most important, as the atmosphere and magnetosphere could shield colonists from harmful radiation.

Wohlforth and Hendrix

Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix talked about their new book “Beyond Earth” Nov. 18, 2016 at Town Hall Seattle. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

It was easy to winnow the list. Venus was rejected out of hand as a super hot hellhole with a poisonous atmosphere that may well be volcanically active.

“It’s really not the greatest environment for a human settlement,” Hendrix understated, “but what’s interesting about Venus is that in that thick atmosphere there is an altitude at which air that we like to breathe is stable. You could, in theory, have a floating city of balloons that are filled with air and where humans could live.”

On Mercury, Mars, or the Moon people would likely have to live underground to avoid radiation. That’s not very appealing, either.

“It’s not really what we’re going for,” Hendrix said. “We’d like to find a place in the solar system, if possible, where we can live on the ground and have a decent amount of radiation shielding.”

Jupiter has a lot of interesting moons, but the king of planets churns out huge doses of radiation and is not a very hospitable place. When you get out to Saturn, though, Titan catches the eye.

“One of the number-one reasons is that it has an Earth-like atmosphere,” Hendrix said. It’s mostly nitrogen with some methane, and is at about 1.5 times the pressure of our atmosphere on Earth. Titan has no magnetosphere of its own, but for much of its orbit it lies inside Saturn’s magnetosphere, so they can share.

“We think that for our key points of shielding from radiation by either an atmosphere or a magnetosphere, Titan is a very good place,” Hendrix said. “This really sets Titan apart from the other places that we looked at in the solar system for a long-term human colony.”

More positive features

We know a lot about Titan through data gathered on 124 fly-bys of this moon by the Cassini spacecraft. Titan has a lot of Earth-like features. It has clouds, rain, swamps, wind, and sand dunes. It has surface liquid—lakes and seas of methane and ethane. (Water would freeze.) It’s cold there, but Titan has pretty constant temperatures across seasons and latitudes.

There’s also a virtually limitless energy source on Titan. Reactions between its atmosphere, sunlight, and energy from Saturn create hydrocarbons that cover the moon’s surface. Colonists could drill down and get water from Titan’s liquid subsurface ocean, separate out the hydrogen and oxygen, giving them the chemistry needed to burn the hydrocarbons.

“You can imagine settlers on Titan having a power plant that takes in methane and water, and the output is energy and breathable oxygen,” Hendrix said. “So it could work out quite well for our colonists—plenty of energy.”

Don’t pack your bags yet

Setting up a colony on Titan would not exactly be a piece of cake, especially if you didn’t survive the trip. NASA has compiled a long list of potential health risks for astronauts, many of them related to radiation exposure, and concluded that space flights of more than a year are too risky for humans. It would take seven years to get to Titan with current technology.

“These are risks that, without some technology leaps,” Wohlforth cautioned, “we’re not going to Saturn. We simply can’t get there and have the astronauts be safe.”

The key to the trip is finding a way to go faster. Wohlforth said the commercial space sector is making some headway on this, and a NASA scientist named Sonny White is actually working on a propulsion system that uses quantum virtual particles and is also tinkering with a warp drive. That notion drew applause from the Trekkies at the talk, but Wohlforth noted that there’s a pretty good dose of skepticism out there. While warp drive may be “poppycock” as one headline writer opined, it’s not unreasonable to think that some smart engineer is out there cooking up a way to make space ships really zip.

Challenges aside, the urge to go and explore and colonize is strong. Hendrix and Wohlforth touched briefly on a lot of topics that are covered in more depth in the book—such considerations as how society might develop elsewhere, how reproduction might change in a Titan colony, and other challenges and opportunities.

“We really like Titan as a potential human colony location,” Hendrix concluded. “We think it has a lot to offer.”


You can purchase Beyond Earth by clicking the title link or book cover image above. Buying through Seattle Astronomy supports our efforts to bring you interesting space and astronomy stories, and we thank you.

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NEOWISE, Viking, and more on the calendar this week

The Seattle Astronomy calendar is packed with interesting events this week, with something going on just about every evening. Seattle gets two talks about NEOWISE, the Mars program premieres on the National Geographic Channel, and there are several other lectures of note.

NEOWISE

NEOWISEWill an asteroid or comet one day smack into Earth again? One of the sets of eyeballs looking for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) is the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Joe Masiero, a JPL scientist with NEOWISE, will give two talks about the project this week in Seattle. He’ll speak at the monthly meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 16 in the Physics/Astronomy Auditorium on the University of Washington campus. Masiero will return to the same room at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 17 for a presentation at the weekly UW astronomy colloquium. He will give an overview of the NEOWISE mission, and present some results from the latest dataset release.

Mapping the heavens

The cosmos, once viewed as stagnant, even ordinary, is now understood to be a fathomless universe, expanding at an accelerating pace, propelled by dark energy, and structured by dark matter. Theoretical astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos (Yale University Press, 2016), will give a talk about these ideas at 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 14 at Town Hall Seattle. Natarajan will explain the science behind some of the most puzzling cosmological topics of our time and discuss why there is so much disagreement within the science community about astronomical discoveries.

Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Preserving Viking

VMMEPPThe final of three Science Pub events about the Viking missions will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, November 14 at the Old World Deli in Corvallis, Oregon. Rachel Tillman, Founder and Executive Director of The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project, and others involved in the missions, will talk about Viking and its influence on technology and culture. The Science Pub is a program of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It’s free!

If you are not able to attend this event and missed the previous ones in Portland and Eugene, fear not; Seattle Astronomy is working on a feature article about The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project. Stay tuned!

Eugene Astro

The Eugene Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 17 at the Science Factory planetarium. The club’s mirror-grinding group will give a presentation about how reflecting telescopes’ primary mirrors are made, complete with demonstrations of the grinding process.

Cosmos on Tap

Astronomy on Tap Seattle, November 2016This month’s Astronomy on Tap Seattle event will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 16 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. They’ll view episode five of the original Carl Sagan Cosmos series, complete with Cosmos bingo, trivia contests, prizes, and beer. Astronomers will discuss what’s changed, and what science has held up, since the series first aired.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle is organized by graduate students in astronomy at the University of Washington.

A home in the stars

Want to live on Mars? Maybe a bad idea. Planetary scientist Amanda Hendrix and science writer Charles Wohlforth have looked into space colonization, and suggest that Saturn’s moon Titan might be a better place. The authors of Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016) will discuss their findings at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 18 at Town Hall Seattle. Why Titan? It has a nitrogen atmosphere, a weather cycle, and an inexhaustible supply of cheap energy. Get the full story from Hendrix and Wohlforth; grab the book in advance.

Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Mars

MARS showOK, some may want to give Mars a shot! The television mini-series Mars premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, November 14 on the National Geographic Channel (although an online stream of the opening episode has been available online for several weeks now.) Part feature film, part documentary, the series takes a look at what a Mars mission might look like in 2033, and talks with today’s experts about the development of technology and capabilities that could make such a mission a reality. Ron Howard is an executive producer of the series, which has been directed by Everardo Gout.

TAS

The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its free public nights for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 19 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The all-weather presentation will be about the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond. If the skies are clear club astronomers will break out the telescopes for some observing.

Up in the sky

There’s a “supermoon” on Monday and the Leonid 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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LIGO, LSST, AOT set for alphabet soup week

A talk by a founder of LIGO and a closer look at the LSST are the highlights of our astronomy calendar for the week.

Wave of the future

Rainer Weiss

Dr. Rainer Weiss. MIT photo: Bryce Vickmark.

Gravitational waves have been all the rave since they were first and finally detected last year. Dr. Rainer Weiss, one of the founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) will give a lecture titled, “Gravitational Wave Astronomy: A New Way to Explore the Universe” on Tuesday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m. in room 130 of Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Weiss began his work on gravitational waves with a classroom exercise in a general relativity course given at MIT way back in 1967. He will discuss the history of gravitational waves proposed by Einstein, go over the results of the LIGO project, and look into the future of gravitational wave astronomy.

All sign-ups for the free lecture have been taken, but you can watch a live stream of the talk on Tuesday. You can also sign up for the waiting list should seating become available. The talk is part of the Frontiers of Physics public lecture series from the UW College of Arts and Sciences.

AOT goes LSST

AOT LSSTTwo University of Washington scientists involved in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will talk about the project at a special Friday edition of Astronomy on Tap Seattle at 7 p.m. October 28 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. Doctors John Parejko and David Reiss will explain the LSST, currently under construction in Chile and targeted for being fully operational by 2023. The LSST will image and catalogue tens of billions of galaxies and stars and find more than three million exploding stars and six million asteroids and comets over the next decade, effectively creating a 10-year, multi-color, ultra high-resolution movie of the night sky. It will collect an astounding 20 terabytes of data every night. Parejko and Reiss will talk about the LSST telescope and camera design, the software challenges associated with processing such a huge data set, and the science to be gained from mining the sky in 4-D.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle is organized by graduate students in astronomy at the UW, this month in concert with TEDxSeattle and the LSST. It’s free. It’s always a good idea to bring a chair, as the combination of beer and astronomy is tremendously popular!

Star parties and planetarium shows

The Island County Astronomical Society will hold a free public star party on the evening of Friday, October 28 at Fort Nugent Park in Oak Harbor.

The Spokane Astronomical Society will hold a special Halloween star party beginning at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, October 29 at the club’s dark-sky observing site near Fishtrap Lake on Miller Ranch Road East near Sprague.

Haunted Night SkyIt’s Spook-tober at the Pierce College Science Dome, and this Saturday, October 29 will be the last day for its kids’ planetarium show called “Haunted Night Sky.” Participants will be able to find creatures in the night sky, build a Frankenstein satellite, and take a tour of the Sea of Serpents on the Moon, the Witch’s Head Nebula, and other spooky places in the universe. Best for kids ages 3-12. Shows are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Cost is $3.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include:

Up in the sky

Venus flirts with Saturn and Jupiter has an encounter with the Moon this week. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have more observing highlights for the week.

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