Tag Archives: Ron Hobbs

Beyond Pluto with New Horizons

Ron Hobbs has been a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador almost since that program started just over 20 years ago. What began as an effort to recruit volunteers to help keep people informed about the Galileo mission to Jupiter soon expanded to include most other JPL missions.

“Education and public outreach is very important to NASA,” Hobbs explained. “They’re spending Americans’ money to go out and explore the universe, and they want to make sure that they get the information out to everyone who’s interested in it.”

New Horizons

There’s a lot of interest. Hobbs and I talked recently about New Horizons, which did a historic fly-by of Pluto in 2016 and is now napping while whizzing through space for a New Year’s date with the romantically named 2014 MU69. This object, discovered in 2014 using the Hubble Space Telescope specifically to find a potential place for New Horizons to visit after Pluto, is in a relatively undisturbed part of the Kuiper Belt. Observatoins made of MU69 suggest that it is either oblong or a binary object, perhaps a contact binary. Recent research has suggested that most early planetesimals were binaries.

“It is very likely that it is one of these primordial planetesimals,” Hobbs said. “So in some senses the exploration of MU69 may be more important than the exploration of Pluto. And that’s saying a lot.”

Hobbs shared a couple of favorite bits of information about New Horizons. For one, the spacecraft is carrying human remains.

“Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, will become the first human being to have their remains interred in interstellar space,” Hobbs noted.

Phair and Stern

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern presents a plaque to Venetia Burney Phair in December 2006, commemorating the name “Venetia” for the New Horizons Student Dust Counter. Phair passed away in 2009. Photo: NASA

One of the instruments aboard New Horizons is the The Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter, named after the English schoolgirl who suggested the name for Pluto way back in 1930. The instrument was built and managed by students at the University of Colorado.

“It is the first student built instrument on a major NASA probe, ever,” Hobbs said. It’s just one example about how the mission is becoming a world-wide effort. Hobbs marvels that we are all space explorers.

Scientists are searching for another possible target for New Horizons after it does its flyby of MU69. Hobbs said the craft has limited fuel, so it’s unclear how much more it can maneuver.

Listen to the podcast to learn more about New Horizons and how ordinary citizens are participating in science.

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Hobbs also recommends a recent NASA “Gravity Assist” podcast featuring New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.

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Calendar: SAS banquet and Astronomy on Tap Seattle this week

The annual Seattle Astronomical Society banquet and Astronomy on Tap Seattle are the highlight events for the coming week. The Museum of Flight kicks off Astronaut Remembrance Week, and regional planetarium shows cap the calendar.

SAS Banquet

Robert Reeves

Robert Reeves

The Seattle Astronomical Society banquet always draws an excellent guest speaker, and this year is no exception: renowned photographer Robert Reeves will keynote the annual banquet, and talk in particular about observing and imaging the Moon. The banquet gets under way at 4 p.m. Sunday, January 28 at the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue North in Seattle. Reservations are $65 for the general public, $55 for SAS members. Don’t wait; there were only 18 spots left as of this writing. Reservations are available online.

Reeves will do a special master class on lunar photography for the SAS Astrophotography Special Interest Group. The class is open to the public and will be held at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, January 27 in the Red Barn Classroom at the Museum of Flight.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle

AOT Seattle January 2018The topic will be exploring alien moons when Astronomy on Tap Seattle holds its first event of the new year at 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 24 in the beer garden at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. Second-year UW graduate student in astronomy and astrobiology Tyler Gordon will speak about his research on the search for exoplanetary satellites using current and future telescopes. UW Ph.D. student in oceanography Max Showalter will discuss looking for life when the trail goes cold, an update on his work using movement as a sign of life in icy places.

Showalter did a talk at Town Hall Seattle almost two years ago. Check our recap of that talk and learn how SHAMU is helping hunt for ET.

Planetarium shows

The Washington State University Planetarium in Pullman has a new show this week titled, “Millions of Miles to Mars.” The show explores the whats, hows, and whens of Mars visits. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Friday, Jan 26, and 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan 28. Tickets at the door are $5 cash or check; they don’t accept credit cards. Kids under six get in free.

The Willard Smith Planetarium at the Pacific Science Center has a variety of shows for all ages every day. Check their website for the complete calendar.

Astronaut remembrance

America’s three great spacefaring tragedies all occurred at this time of year. To honor the sacrifices of the fallen astronauts, the Museum of Flight holds an annual astronaut remembrance week. The event runs from Friday, January 26 through Sunday, February 4 and features displays and exhibits about the fallen astronauts and their accomplishments. Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs will give a presentation about the tragic missions, and about the risks and successes of space travel, at 2 p.m. Saturday, January 27. It’s free with museum admission.

Future file

A total eclipse of the Moon will be visible in the early morning hours of Wednesday, January 31. The event begins just after 3 a.m. PDT, the partial eclipse starts around 3:45, and it will be total from just before 5 a.m. until a little after 6:00. All you really need to do is go outside and look up, but if you want to watch with others, the Seattle Astronomical Society plans a group viewing event at Solstice Park in West Seattle.

You can always scout out future events on our calendar.

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Lawrence Krause talk, other events this week

An appearance by award-winning theoretical physicist and best-selling author Lawrence Krauss is the highlight of this week’s busy area astronomy events calendar.

Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek (Basic Books, 2007) and A Universe From Nothing (Atria Books, 2012), will speak at Town Hall Seattle at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12. He’ll talk about his new book, The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far: Why Are We Here? (Atria Books, 2017). The book explores the furthest reaches of space and time and the natural forces that govern our existence. Krauss challenges us to re-envision ourselves and our place within the universe.

Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Yuri’s afternoon

Wednesday is the 56th anniversary of the date cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in orbit around the Earth. April 12 has since become known as “Yuri’s Night,” though many celebrations are sprinkled around the month. The Museum of Flight will observe Yuri’s Night on Saturday afternoon, April 15, at two o’clock. Professor Linda Dawson, author of the newly released The Politics and Perils of Space Exploration: Who Will Compete, Who Will Dominate? (Springer Praxis Books, 2017), will discuss her book about the “New Space” race and sign copies afterward.

Dawson, who served as Aerodynamics Officer for the Mission Control Center Ascent and Entry Flight Control Teams during the first space shuttle mission, is a senior lecturer in physical science and statistics at the University of Washington, Tacoma, and serves on a couple of Museum of flight committees.

Club events

The Boeing Employees Astronomical Society will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 13 at the Boeing “Oxbow” recreation center. The program will feature NASA Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs, who will discuss the final months of the Cassini mission at Saturn. If you don’t mind a few spoilers, check out our recap of Hobbs’s talk on the subject given to the Seattle Astronomical Society in February. Non-Boeing employees are welcome, but must RSVP. Follow the link above for details.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for 9 p.m. Saturday, April 15 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The all-weather presentation will be about space rocks, asteroids, and comets. If the sky is clear, they’ll bring out the telescopes and see what’s up.

Planetaria

The Bellevue College planetarium will run a show about stars at 6 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 15. The shows are free, but reservations are strongly recommended as seating is limited. Visit the college website for reservation info and other details.

The Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center offers a variety of shows every day. Their full schedule is on our calendar page. A new show about the skies of ancient China and another, geared to kids, about Chinese astronomy have been created in conjunction with the science center’s recently opened Terracotta Warriors exhibit. We hope to do a feature post about the shows in the coming weeks.

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Threading the needle with Cassini at Saturn

The hugely successful Cassini mission to Saturn will come to a fiery end in September, and you can hardly blame NASA for going a little Star Trek on us.

Ron Hobbs

Ron Hobbs. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“We’re going somewhere where no spacecraft has ever gone before, into this region between the glorious rings of Saturn and the cloud tops of the planet,” said Ron Hobbs, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, at this month’s meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society. After 22 orbits through the eye of that needle—a 2,500-kilometer-wide gap—they’ll splat Cassini into the planet and burn it up.

“Now that we’ve discovered that there’s at least one moon, and maybe several, that could have the conditions for life, it’s very important to not leave a derelict spacecraft orbiting around Saturn,” Hobbs noted. “One of the important things at the end of the solstice mission will be to dispose of the spacecraft.”

The second extended mission of Cassini was named solstice because it is almost the beginning of summer in Saturn’s northern hemisphere.

Let’s do science

Before they crash Cassini, they figured there was some time to do some great science in that place where no spacecraft has ever gone. Most importantly, they will get a better picture of the internal structure of Saturn and examine its ionosphere, inner radiation belts, and auroral region.

“This would have been worth sending a spacecraft to Saturn for just that measurement,” Hobbs said, noting that it is essentially what Juno is doing at Jupiter. They’ll also check out the particles of Saturn’s D ring at close range, and be able to better gauge the mass of the ring system, which will help pin down its age.

“I can’t wait for the pictures,” Hobbs added. “The pictures that come out of this mission are just going to be spectacular.”

Shooting the gap

Hobbs said NASA has been using interactions between Cassini and Saturn’s moon Titan to nudge the spacecraft’s orbit to where they want it to be.

“Titan is really the only object in Saturn orbit that has enough mass to allow it to do gravitational assists and re-direct its orbit,” he said. “That allows [Cassini] to change its orbit and change the plane of its orbit.”

Cassini orbits

This graphic shows the closest approaches, or periapses, of Cassini’s final two orbital phases.The ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray; grand finale orbits are shown in blue. The orange line shows the spacecraft’s final plunge into Saturn. Credit: NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory – Caltech

In late November a brush with Titan dropped Cassini’s perichron—the point closest to Saturn in its orbit around the planet—down to just outside the F ring. In April, another Titan flyby will drop that perichron down to between the D ring and Saturn’s cloud tops.

“That’s when it’s going to get really exciting,” Hobbs said. Cassini will do 22 “grand finale” orbits through the eye of this needle, each lasting six days, collecting science data until one final encounter with Titan puts the spacecraft on a trajectory to splat into the planet on September 15.

It’s amazing how much planning and politics went into all of this. Hobbs said the actual trajectories of the orbits for this grand finale were determined a little over three years ago. Ever since then there’s been a spirited discussion between scientists, engineers, and mission leaders about what science to do to get as much data as possible out of the final mission. That determination was just completed last month.

“The spacecraft drivers are now writing the code for these orbits,” Hobbs said. That will tell Cassini where to go and where to point its instruments to make the observations as planned.

A good ride

Hobbs noted that Cassini was launched in October 1997, and so will end its mission just shy of twenty years in space.

“Without a doubt it has been one of the most successful and audacious missions NASA and the international community have operated,” he said. “This is going to be one of the highlights of space exploration in the last couple of decades.”

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Valentine’s week astro events

Astronomy buffs will have to make a tough call Wednesday as two interesting but very different events will be held across town.

CassiniThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 15 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Guest speaker Ron Hobbs, a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, will give a talk titled, “Cassini’s Grand Finale: Overview and Challenges.” Hobbs will cover the daring moves the orbiter will make in its final days at Saturn before the mission ends and the craft is crashed into the planet in September.

Women in ScienceMeanwhile at Seattle University the Infinity Box Theatre Project will present its eighth annual Galileo Dialogues at 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 15—Galileo’s birthday!—in the Seattle University Student Union Building, Room 160. The evening is presented in collaboration with the Seattle University Physics Department and the Association for Women in Science, and features a reading by Catherine Kettrick of “Celebrating Women in Science”—things you don’t know about several centuries of women who have made major contributions to several areas of science—mostly in their own words. It’s free, though donations are appreciated. You can reserve a seat online.

Nerds in space

The Science and Math Institute and Multicultural Services at Bellevue College will hold a lunchtime Science Café at 12:30 p.m. Friday, February 17 in room C130 of the student center. Guest speaker Tim Lloyd, a rocket scientist with Blue Origin, will share his experiences working for the local space flight company in a talk titled, “One Nerd’s Journey to Space.”

Planetarium shows

Catch a free planetarium show about New Horizons at the Willard Geer Planetarium at Bellevue College at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. Saturday, February 18. The shows are sponsored by the college’s Astronomy Department and the Science and Math Institute. There’s no charge, but you can make reservations online to assure yourself a seat.

The Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center has programs daily. Find their full schedule on our calendar page.

The Washington State University Planetarium in Pullman offers a show about the Moon on Monday, February 13 and a special Valentine’s show on Tuesday, February 14. Both programs begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.

Up in the sky

Have you been enjoying views of Venus lately? The planet reaches “greatest illuminated extent” this week, which means it’s at its very brightest. 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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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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Talk about Proxima b highlights week’s calendar

Thanksgiving week is a little light on astronomy events, but there are several club meetings and an interesting talk on the calendar.

Habitability at Proxima b

Victoria Meadows

Victoria Meadows. Photo: UW.

There has been a great deal of talk about exoplanet Proxima b since its discovery in orbit around our nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, was announced this summer. The planet’s orbit is within the habitable zone of the star, but there’s still a great deal of question about how habitable planets can actually be when they orbit are close to M dwarf stars such as Proxima Centauri. Victoria Meadows, a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington and principal investigator for the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory, will talk about how they’re modeling the Proxima system and prospects for observing this interesting exoplanet at 3 p.m. this Tuesday, November 22 during an astrobiology colloquium in Physics/Astronomy Auditorium 118 on the UW campus in Seattle.

If you can’t be there in person you can view the presentation via live stream.

Club events

Rose City AstronomersThe Rose City Astronomers will hold their monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 21 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. The guest speaker will be Troy Carpenter, administrator of the Goldendale Observatory State Park in Washington, who will talk about the limitations of human vision, how those limitations hinder our ability to observe the universe, and the technological solutions of the past century that allow us to transcend these challenges. Carpenter will also talk about the Goldendale Observatory upgrade project.

The Island County Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, November 21 at the Oak Harbor Library. No information about guest speakers or programming had been published as of this writing.

Ron Hobbs

Ron Hobbs. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The Eastside Astronomical Society will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 22 at the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue. Guest speaker Ron Hobbs, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, will talk about how amateur astronomers and other citizen scientists are contributing to space exploration by helping to process the deluge of imagery that comes down daily from space probes.

Futures file

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

Up in the sky

Jupiter will appear very close to the Moon on Thanksgiving day. 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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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