Tag Archives: Kelly Beatty

Pushing for IDA membership

Kelly Beatty thinks more amateur astronomers should be members of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), and he puts his money where his mouth is on the issue. Beatty, a senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine and a board member of the IDA, made an offer to waive his usual fee for speaking at the recent Seattle Astronomical Society banquet if the group could sign up at least ten new or renewing IDA members. At last word they’d added at least a couple of dozen.

IDA logoStill, Beatty noted at the January 28 banquet that while there are roughly a quarter of a million amateur astronomers in the United States, the IDA has only about 3,000 members.

“That means that roughly one in a hundred amateur astronomers across the U.S. are members of IDA,” Beatty pointed out. “Isn’t that pathetic?”

“What other group has more to gain or lose from the success of the IDA and our dark sky preservation efforts?” he asked.

Beatty

Beatty

Beatty noted that LED street lighting is a major issue, and one on which regular citizens can help. If your city or town hasn’t converted street lights to LED yet, it probably will soon. LED street lights can be cheaper in a couple of ways. They consume less energy than typical street lights (though this paradoxically can cause a municipality to just buy more light), and the fixtures have a longer expected life span. What is important is that cities use fixtures that are at a color temperature of 3,000 kelvins or less. This provides warmer light with less blue in the spectrum. Blue light brightens the night sky more than any other color of light, and exposure to blue light at night has also been shown to harm human health and endanger wildlife.

Beatty said that the city of Phoenix recently decided to install 2,700-kelvin streetlights, Montreal dropped plans to install lights at 4,000 kelvins, and the entire state of Georgia is going with 3,000-kelvin lights.

“You have the power to make a difference in this fight against light pollution, individually and collectively,” Beatty said. “It’s not that people are opposed to doing the right thing, they just don’t know. It’s an education. So if you inject yourself into the process you can and will make a difference.”

IDA’s page about outdoor lighting basics and its LED practical guide have lots of useful information. Oh, and you can sign-up online. There’s a $15 annual membership for students, and standard memberships start at just $35.

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Kelly Beatty’s history of Pluto

The history of Pluto goes way back before it became a tiny twinkle in Clyde Tombaugh’s blink comparator. Kelly Beatty, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine, told the story of Pluto in his keynote address Saturday at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

Scheiderer and Beatty

Kelly Beatty, right, with Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society January 28, 2017. Astronomy guys love their astronomy ties. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

In a way, according to Beatty, the hunt for Pluto dates back to the late 1700s. The Titius–Bode law (since repealed) of the distances to the planets from the Sun worked well, with one exception: according to the law, there should be a planet between Mars and Jupiter. Thus a group of astronomers calling themselves the “celestial police,” led by Franz Xaver von Zach, set out to find this elusive object. They did it; on New Year’s Day, 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres. It wasn’t long before Juno, Vesta, and Pallas we found. At first all four were labeled planets, but now they’re known as the four largest asteroids—and possibly the first celestial objects to be demoted in status.

Dumb, fool luck

Lowell blink comparator

Blink comparator used by Clyde Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory to discover Pluto. Photo: © User:Pretzelpaws / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Later, because of irregularities in the motion of Uranus, astronomers predicted another planet out beyond its orbit. But even after the discovery of Neptune in 1846, anomalies remained. Percival Lowell and William Pickering predicted there was yet another planet beyond Neptune. The hunt was on for Planet X, and Pluto was finally discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. We soon learned that Pluto was pretty small, which lent some irony to its discovery.

“Pluto didn’t have any effect on Uranus and Neptune at all,” Beatty said. “It turns out that the mathematics were incorrect, the positional accuracy of those early observations was bad. There was no basis to the prediction whatsoever, and by dumb, fool luck Clyde found the planet Pluto that he had been seeking within about six degrees of the predicted position. Freakingly by accident.”

We didn’t know a whole lot about Pluto for a long time. The best photos we could get were fuzzy Hubble Space Telescope shots. Astronomers found methane ice on Pluto in 1976, and its moon Charon was discovered in 1978. Pluto’s atmosphere was discovered in 1988 when it occulted a star.

Pluto on thin ice

“In 1998 the bottom fell out of the pro-Pluto movement,” Beatty said. The beginning of the end was the discovery of another distant object in what we now call the Kuiper Belt. Astronomers figured that there had to be more out there than just Pluto, and we now know of more than 1,800 of them. Many of these objects are locked in a 3:2 orbital resonance with Neptune, just like Pluto.

“Not only is Pluto not alone, it’s not even unique in its orbit,” Beatty said. “Things did not look good for Pluto and its planet status.”

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) started hearing chatter that Pluto should not be a planet, and in 1999 it passed a resolution declaring that it still was. Brian Marsden, who headed the minor planet center of IAU, really wanted to classify Pluto as an asteroid, according to Beatty.

Then, in 2005, Eris was discovered. At the time it appeared to be bigger than Pluto, though we now know it is slightly smaller. It was bureaucracy that finally knocked Pluto off the planet list. Different committees at the IAU name planets and asteroids, so to decide to which committee to refer the new discovery for naming, they had to decide what it was. This led to the new definition of planet, under which neither Eris nor Pluto fall. The IAU declared Pluto to be a dwarf planet in 2006.

Beatty is not fond of the IAU definition of planet: an object that orbits the Sun, has enough mass to be round, and has “cleared the neighborhood of its orbit.”

“It’s a really stupid definition,” Beatty said, mostly because it’s hard to know the mass of faraway objects, and so the definition is difficult to apply. Plus he finds it puzzling that a dwarf planet is not a planet.

“We have dwarf stars which are considered stars.” he pointed out. “We have dwarf galaxies that are considered galaxies. A chihuahua is still a dog.”

New Horizons

Pluto

New Horizons close-up of Pluto, one of the first and most iconic images from the mission. Photo: NASA.

Planet or not, the New Horizons flyby of Pluto in 2015 gave us a ton of new information about it and its moons. Beatty shared numerous photos of and findings about Pluto from the mission. It’s mostly made of rock, and might have liquid water below its surface. The surface features are mostly hard-frozen water ice, with a little frozen nitrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide mixed in.

Most fascinating is evidence of geology happening right now in the form of flowing nitrogen ice.

“Pluto’s surface, against all odds, out in the frozen corner of the solar system,” Beatty marveled, “has flowing glaciers on it.”

The last of the Pluto data from New Horizons arrived on Earth back in October, but the mission isn’t over. The probe is headed out for a look at the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, at which it will arrive on January 1, 2019.

Beatty said this great new data about Pluto was worth the wait.

“We finally know what this planet/dwarf planet/interesting world looks like,” he said. “It was a 30-year effort from the time the Pluto missions were first conceived until we finally got out there. Some of the people involved, like Alan Stern, were there every year of the way, and boy, what a rich reward they have for their efforts.”

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SAS banquet, AoT this week

One of the more anticipated astronomy events of the year will happen this week, and Astronomy on Tap Seattle will have a Friday gathering in Ballard.

SAS banquet

Kelly Beatty

Beatty

The Seattle Astronomical Society‘s annual banquet will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday, January 28 at the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue North in Seattle. In keeping with the society’s great track record of attracting excellent speakers each January, Kelly Beatty, a senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, will give the keynote talk about Pluto, from its discovery through the New Horizons mission. In addition to his post with the magazine, Beatty serves on the board of the International Dark-Sky Association and is a passionate advocate against light pollution.

Reservations for the banquet are available online and must be made by this Wednesday, January 25. The price is $45 for society members, $60 for non-members. The discount is a good reason to join today!

Astronomy on Tap

AOT Jan 2017Astronomy on Tap Seattle will turn the floor over to Blue Origin for its gathering at 7 p.m. Friday, January 27 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard.

Former NASA astronaut Nicholas Patrick, now the Human Integration Architect at Blue Origin, will talk about “The New Shepard Astronaut Experience” on the company’s crewed spaceflight vehicles; and Blue Origin staffers Sarah Knights and Dan Kuchan will give a talk titled, “Blue Origin: Earth, in All its Beauty, is Just Our Starting Place.”

It’s free, but do remember to buy some beer, as astronomy and a good brew go together! Winners of the evening’s trivia contests will be in line for some special Blue Origin prizes. A ride on a spacecraft, perhaps?

Astronaut remembrance

Apollo 1 crew

L-R: Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a cabin fire during a launchpad test of Apollo 1 on Jan. 27, 1967. Photo: NASA.

It’s a sad time of year in space exploration as astronauts of Apollo 1 and the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia perished during accidents in late January and early February. From January 27 through February 5 the Museum of Flight will host an exhibit and video paying tribute to the astronauts who were lost in the quest to explore outer space.

NASA JPL Solar System Ambassadors Ron Hobbs and Tony Gondola will give a special presentation about the astronauts at 2 p.m. Saturday, January 28 at the museum.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. We’ve recently added information about The Galileo Dialogues coming up February 15 from Infinity Box Theatre Project. The page also features a full schedule of planetarium and stage science shows at Pacific Science Center.

Up in the sky

Saturn and Mercury play tag with the Moon as it wanes toward new 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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Dava Sobel talk highlights week’s calendar

A talk by author Dava Sobel is the highlight of this week’s astronomy calendar. Sobel, whose new book is The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars (Viking, 2016) will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 15 at Town Hall Seattle.

The book is the story of the contributions of women at the observatory who made major advancements in the science, often without getting proper credit or recognition. From Williamina Fleming, originally hired as a maid, who identified ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars to Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, appointed as the first woman professor of astronomy at Harvard in 1956, this group of remarkable women disproved the notion that “the gentler sex” had little to contribute to human knowledge.

Tickets to Sobel’s talk are $5 and are available online.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle

December’s edition of Astronomoy on Tap Seattle will consist of three shows at the University of Washington Planetarium on Wednesday, December 14. The program will be a guided tour of the universe. Unfortunately, all of the seats for the three shows were snapped up quickly, but you might watch the AoT Facebook event page to see if any openings occur.

Public night in Pierce County

The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 17 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor program will be a viewing of a movie about the Christmas star. If the weather is clear they’ll break out the telescopes for some observing, too.

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. Recently added events include:

Up in the sky

The Geminid meteor shower peaks this week, but will have to compete with the full Moon. 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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Beatty tapped as keynoter for SAS annual banquet

Kelly Beatty, senior editor for Sky & Telescope magazine and a board member of the International Dark-Sky Association, will be the keynote speaker at the Seattle Astronomical Society‘s annual banquet. The event is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday, January 28, 2017 at the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue North in Seattle.

unnamed-2Beatty, who specializes in planetary science and space exploration, will give a talk titled, “Pluto’s Amazing Story.” He’ll cover the history of the former ninth planet from predictions of its existence and its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh to its “demotion” to dwarf-planet status and the amazing new data from the New Horizons mission.

Reservations for the event are available online now for members of the Seattle Astronomical Society, and will be made available to nonmembers beginning January 11. The member price is $45, and the nonmember price will be $60. There are two good reasons to join SAS right there: save a seat at the banquet now, and save $15. Annual dues are just $35, so you’d be almost halfway to paying it off!


(Disclaimer: While I’m a member of the Seattle Astronomical Society and often cover its events and activities, Seattle Astronomy is not formally affiliated with the society.)

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