Tag Archives: Battle Point Astronomical Association

Edible optics and fun science for BPAstro Kids

Astronomy club members are sometimes heard lamenting the graying of the hobby; young kids today are too interested in their electronic gizmos to look up at the night sky. Erica Saint Clair and the Battle Point Astronomical Association (BPAA) have embarked on a new effort to hook the kids while they’re young. The association has recently started BPAstro Kids, a program for younger children that precedes its monthly planetarium shows in the John Rudolph Planetarium at its Edwin Ritchie Observatory on Bainbridge Island.

Erica Saint Clair

Erica Saint Clair presents BPAstro Kids programs for the Battle Point Astronomical Association.

Though education and the planetarium have been part of the BPAA’s mission since its formation in 1993, the program for kids came about recently as something of an accident. Saint Clair took her youngest daughter to story time at the local library, and met another mom there whose husband makes regular presentations at the association’s events. She was recruited to do a talk about Mars rovers.

“I have no background in astronomy—zero,” Saint Clair said. “I have a Ph.D. in physics, which apparently qualified me.”

She did the talk, which took a lot of time to prepare and bored her five-year-old terribly. Saint Clair also has a two-year-old, and decided that she would prefer to make presentations for younger children.

“My passion is for teaching kids science, and making it fun, and making them want to do it and beg me to do it,” Saint Clair said. “It helps to have a five-year-old who is really into and really excited about everything we do in science.”

BPAstro-kidsThus BPAstro Kids was born, presented by “Dr. Erica,” who figured if she was already creating science activities for her own daughters, she might as well share with others. The sessions feature short talks followed by hands-on activities. The kids have built edible optics, Valentine’s “love bots,” and marble particle accelerators. This Saturday they’ll make real, working telescopes they can take home. They started with one session before the monthly planetarium show, but so many people brought their kids they’re doing two now.

“I feel like we’re snowballing, and that’s fantastic,” Saint Clair said. She’s working on turning her presentations into a science-education business. She’s founded Rosie Research, with the aim of engaging kids in new types of science labs. They may eventually make tools such as telescope-making kits available for purchase. In the meantime Saint Clair goes about the business of inspiring youngsters.

“My goal is to get kids interested in all types of science, and I think space science is kind of the go-to for kids,” she said. “Every kid wants to go to the Moon, every kid wants to see what Mars is going to be like.”

Saint Clair is encoraged by the interest in BPAstro Kids and said she feels we are beginning to value “smart” again.

“I think we are as a culture shifting towards ‘science is cool and it’s sexy and it’s fun,’” she said.

Kids can build telescopes at BPAstro Kids at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. this Saturday, April 9 at the Edwin Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. Suggested donation is $5 to help cover costs. A presentation about space telescopes will follow at 7:30. BPAstro Kids has received financial support from BPAA, the Awesome Foundation, and Rotary International of Bainbridge Island.

More info:

Podcast of our interview with Erica Saint Clair: 

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Jacobsen Observatory open houses resume

The blooming of the daffodils and the return of the robin may be time-honored signs of the beginning of spring, but our favorite harbinger is the resumption of semimonthly open houses at the University of Washington’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. The first one of the spring will be held beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 6 at the observatory.

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 April 6. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Each open house features astronomy talks by undergraduate students, tours of the observatory, and, if the weather permits, views through its vintage 1890s telescope operated by volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society.

The open houses have become one of Seattle’s hottest tickets. The classroom in which they’re held is small, and so advance reservations are a must for the free talks. Dr. Ana Larson, the observatory director, said that there’s often a lengthy waiting list.

Larson said the open houses started around 2002 and were staffed by students who volunteered to give talks. Now the speakers are students from Larson’s course ASTR 270—Public Outreach in Astronomy.

“We started this class a few years after that to actually give the undergraduates who were spending all of that volunteer time credit for doing it,” Larson said. About a third of the students in the course are science majors, but a wide range of different majors are involved. Students learn how to give effective scientific presentations, how to develop and present educational programs to school-age groups, and how to communicate knowledge of astronomy to others. They give talks at the observatory and at the university’s planetarium.

“We’re looking at a pretty good season,” Larson said, noting that she’s still piecing together the schedule for talks. The course is an elective, so students enrolled in it are enthusiastic about the opportunity.

“They’re doing something they enjoy and keeping with it,” Larson said. “That, as you know, is why astronomy is such a cool science; anybody can do it.”

“You don’t need to be Neil deGrasse Tyson,” she added, “but you need to be able to express [the science] in understandable terms.”

You can make reservations for Wednesday’s talk online. Student Lev Marcus will talk about Jupiter’s moons, with a focus on the Galilean moons and current research about them.

Club news

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 5 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the campus of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. They’ll be viewing a video about nucleosynthesis.

The Battle Point Astronomical Association will hold its monthly planetarium shows and observing this Saturday, April 9 at the John Rudolph Planetarium and Edwin Ritchie Observatory at Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. Kids can make their own telescopes at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. BPAstro Kids presentations, then at 7:30 p.m. the program will be “NASA’s Other Great Observatories.” Everyone knows about Hubble; this program will take a look at NASA’s other three great observatories: the Spitzer, the Chandra, and the Compton. Suggested donation $2, $5 for families, free for BPAA members.

Up in the sky

Jupiter is just past opposition and Mars is growing brighter by the day. Both are great observing targets. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope offer other observing highlights for the week.

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Lots of astronomy club activity this week

There’s a lot of activity on the calendar with area astronomy clubs this week, including five different events on Saturday.

The Boeing Employees Astronomical Society starts things off with its regular meeting Thursday. Social hour at the Boeing Oxbow fitness center will begin at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 11, with the meeting following at 7 p.m. The program will be a presentation about “Saturn’s Magnificent Moons and Rings.”

People who do not work at Boeing can attend, but should follow info here to RSVP and gain admission.

Busy Saturday

The Everett Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13 at the Evergreen Branch of the Everett Public Library. As of this writing the program topic had not been published.

saslogoThe Seattle Astronomical Society plans its free monthly public star parties for 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Bad weather cancels the star parties, so watch the society’s website for updates.

BPAAThe Battle Point Astronomical Association will run a Valentine’s-themed planetarium program at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at its Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. The program, “Star Stories: Twisted Tales of Love & Loss” will explore tales from ancient star lore. If the weather permits astronomers will be on hand with telescopes for some observing. A kids’ show and the building of “Love Bots” will precede the main show at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Free to BPAA members, suggested $2 donation for non-members, $5 for families.

taslogoThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its free public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. An all-weather presentation will look at “110 Celestial Objects.” It sounds like a review of the Messier catalog. Observing will follow, weather permitting.

Check our calendar for more planetarium events; we’ve recently added information about programs at the Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center and at the WSU Planetarium in Pullman.

Up in the sky

The Moon passes near both Neptune and Uranus this week. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have other observing highlights for the week.

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Kick off the new year with Open Mic Science and a meteor shower

A meteor shower and an astronomy talk at Open Mic Science highlight the first full week of the new year on the Seattle Astronomy calendar.

Dark matter

biopenmicOpen Mic Science on Bainbridge Island has been hosting events monthly, except during the summer, for about three years now, but this month’s talk will be the first in the series about astronomy. Steve Ruhl, who is president of the Battle Point Astronomical Association, will give a talk titled “Cosmology, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy” at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 at the Treehouse Café on Bainbridge.

Open Mic Science, A Bainbridge Science Café, is free. The series is based on the principles of Cafe Scientifique and is committed to the public understanding of science.

Quadrantid meteor shower

By EarthSky Communications, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons

The radiant point for the Quadrantid meteor shower. By EarthSky Communications, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons.

The Quadrantid meteor shower is the first of the year. The good news for meteor watchers in early 2016 is that the Moon will be a waning crescent, so it shouldn’t interfere much with the view. The bad news is that the peak for this particular shower is shorter than most. Look for Quadrantids any time after midnight and into the wee hours of Jan. 4 before dawn. This article from EarthSky has lots of information about viewing the Quadrantids.

Venus will have an exceptionally close encounter with Saturn on Friday, Jan. 8, and will also pass close to the Moon on Wednesday. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy run down other observing highlights for the week.

Club events

taslogoThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5 in room 175 of Thompson Hall at the University of Puget Sound. The program will be the second of three parts on nucleosynthesis of elements.

BPAAThe Battle Point Astronomical Association plans its monthly planetarium show for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9 at the Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. The program, “The Solar-Powered Battle Point Sundial,” will explore the history, art, and science of sundials and celebrate the new sundial the group built in the park last year. Telescopes will be available for observing, weather permitting, and sundial shows for kids will precede the main presentation at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Free for club members, $2 suggested donation for non-members.

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Occultation, meteor shower highlight week’s events

An occultation of Venus, a meteor shower, and a couple of talks about the nature of light are the highlights of this week’s Seattle Astronomy calendar.

Let there be light

The co-authors of the new book Coloring the Universe: An Insider’s Look at Making Spectacular Images of Space (University of Alaska Press, 2015) have three appearances set in the Seattle area over the next couple of weeks. In the book the authors describe how large, professional telescopes work, what scientists learn with them, and how the scopes are used to make color images. Coloring the Universe is filled with brilliant images of deep space as well as an insider’s perspective by the people who make them.

Megan Watzke, press officer for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, will give a talk titled “The Unseen Power of Light” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 8 at Town Hall Seattle. Watzke will explore the many, often surprising ways light interacts with us and shapes the universe we live in. She’ll also share images from another of her books, Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2015).

Travis Rector, professor of astrophysics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, will make a presentation about Coloring the Universe at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 10 at Ada’s Technical Books on Capitol Hill. Rector’s talk will focus on what professional astronomers do, and what they don’t do, when making spectacular images of the heavens.

Both Rector and Watzke will appear next Wednesday, December 16 at the monthly meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

Moon occults Venus

If we get a little break in the clouds this morning we’ll have a chance to watch the Moon occult Venus! Get out a little before 8 a.m. Monday, Dec. 7 and you’ll have a chance to watch the Moon move in front of Venus. You may need binoculars; Venus can be awfully tough to spot in the daylight. Universe Today has a good article about how to view this event.

The week’s other viewing highlight is the Geminid meteor shower, which will peak Sunday and Monday, December 13 and 14. This article from EarthSky.org has everything you want to know about this meteor shower.

This week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope includes other observing highlights for the week.

What’s next for humans in space?

Would you love to see humans walk on Mars? The Enterprise Forum Northwest will host a discussion about the challenges of going to Mars at the Impact Hub Seattle at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 9. A panel will discuss the technological hurdles, biomedical risks, competing priorities, cost, and other factors involved. The discussion will be moderated by Alan Boyle, aerospace and science editor for GeekWire, and panelists will include former astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Aerojet Rocketdyne executive Roger Myers, Chris Lewicki of Planetary Resources, and University of Hawaii professor Kim Binstead.

Tickets for the event are $39 and are available online.

The Seattle Futurist Society will host a discussion of our future in space beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12 at We Work at the Holyoke Building. Speakers include Kati Rissanen, an independent professional who comes from the academic world of futures studies, and Robert P. Hoyt, CEO & Chief Scientist at Tethers Unlimited Inc.

Tickets are $10 and are available onlne.

Astronomy club events

taslogoTacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 12 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. They will offer a presentation about the Christmas Star. On Bainbridge Island the Battle Point Astronomical Association will offer a planetarium show, Silly Star Wars Xmas Special, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Astronomer Dave Fong will take participants on a journey to places far, far away that could have inspired scenes in Star Wars. It’s free for BPAA members, $2 donation suggested for nonmembers. Both events will have telescopes available for observing if weather permits.

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Seattle Astronomy calendar, week of June 8

A visit from a space policy expert and a bunch of astronauts on the town highlight this week’s space and astronomy events in the Seattle area.

Dr. John M. Logsdon, the former director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University and a leading expert on and historian of space policy, will visit The Museum of Flight this week. Logsdon will talk about his book, After Apollo?: Richard Nixon and the American Space Program, in a lecture at the museum at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 13. The book is one in a series of Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology, which includes Logsdon’s 2010 tome John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon.

This will not be the first visit to Seattle for Logsdon this year; he spoke on a similar topic at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society held in town back in January. Read our coverage of that talk and pick up the book in advance. Logsdon will sign books after his talk.

Astronauts on the town

Astronaut

Astronaut cavorts at Kubota Garden on Earth Day in this Museum of Fight photo.

Museum of Flight fans are probably familiar with Astronaut, a character who has been a staple in the museum’s advertising and social media since he came on board in 2012. You’ll be seeing a lot of Astronaut around town this summer. As part of its 50th Anniversary celebration this year, the museum has created the public art project Astronauts on the Town. Artists have decorated 25 six-foot-tall fiberglass versions of Astronaut, and they will be on display at various public locations around town, with deployment beginning Friday.

No doubt many selfies will be taken with Astronaut during the course of the summer. All 25 statues will return to the museum in September for an anniversary event.

Planetarium show on Bainbridge Island

BPAAThe Battle Point Astronomical Association offers a planetarium show this Saturday, June 13 beginning at 8:30 p.m. The topic will be “Exploring our Solar System.” Dr. Erica Saint Clair will discuss six decades of exploration of the solar system with landers, rovers, and probes. It’s an especially timely topic as New Horizons speeds toward its July encounter with Pluto.

If the weather is good they’ll also open up the Edwin Ritchie Observatory and have other telescopes available for viewing the heavens. The event is free for association members, $2 donation suggested for nonmembers, $5 for families.

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Battle Point sundial project nearing completion

Seattle Astronomy was excited to get a note over the weekend announcing that the Battle Point Sundial Project is nearing completion. The Battle Point Astronomical Association (BPAA) reports that its spectacular, 12-foot-tall equatorial bowstring sundial should be installed near its Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island within the next few weeks, depending on the delivery schedule of the sundial’s fabricator.

Sundial foundation

The foundation is prepared for the Battle Point Astronomical Association equatorial bowstring sundial. From L-R: Dylan Sievertson (PHC Construction, built the foundation); Nels Johansen (BPAA Vice Pres); David Browning (Sundial Engineer); Bill Baran-Mickle (Sundial Artist/Designer). Once the foundation was aligned and leveled, more concrete was poured around it to lock it in place. The Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory is in the background. Photo: Malcolm Saunders.

The BPAA has had this project on the drawing board for a long time. After slowly collecting funds over the years at their planetarium shows and other events, they reached a critical mass two years ago. Committed volunteers started to drive the project, and in late summer of 2013 they launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $17,000 to bring their kitty up to the $30,000 they needed to build the sundial and install it in the park. The campaign drew some 75 donors, including Seattle Astronomy, and though it fell somewhat short of its goal, the attention the campaign attracted drew other outside funding, including a $1,000 grant from the North American Sundial Society, and BPAA amassed enough cash to move ahead with the project.

Their original goal was to have the sundial installed and dedicated by last spring, but they ran into some delays as sometimes happens with construction projects. They’re on track now with the foundation in place and ready for sundial delivery, and the sundial itself is fabricated and painted and ready to roll.

The sundial will be more than just a celestial timepiece. It will be a work of art and a conversation starter, and it will be a focal point for the BPAA’s facilities, which include the Ritchie Observatory, home of the 27.5-inch Ritchie Telescope and the John H. Rudolph Planetarium.

Other reading:

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