Tag Archives: Town Hall Seattle

Get the scoop on SpaceShipOne

A lesson on how to make a spaceship and several astronomy club events highlight the local calendar for the coming week.

Road to SpaceShipOne

Meet the principals in XPRIZE-winning SpaceShipOne project at 5:30 p.m. Monday, October 17 at the Museum of Flight. Author Julian Guthrie will discuss her book about the XPRIZE competition, How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016). Three of the renegades will join her as Geekwire science correspondent Alan Boyle moderates a panel discussion including XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis, co-founder Erik Lindbergh, and Dave Moore, project manager for Paul Allen on the XPRIZE-winning SpaceShipOne.

The evening will include a meet-and-greet reception from 5:30 until 6:30, Guthrie’s presentation at 6:30, the panel discussion at 6:45, and a question-and-answer session and book signing from 7:30 until 8:30. Cost is $10 and tickets are available online.

You can pick up a copy of the book at the link above or by clicking the image of the book cover.

Astro club events

Michael BarrattThe Rose City Astronomers will hold their monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, October 17 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. The guest speaker will be astronaut Michael Barratt, who spent 199 days in space as flight engineer for International Space Station expeditions 19 and 20 in 2009 and also flew on STS-133, the final flight of the shuttle Discovery, in 2011. Barratt is a native of the Portland area.

The Eastside Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 18 in the Willard Geer Planetarium at Bellevue College. Patti Terhune-Inverso, an astronomy instructor at the college and a member of Eastside Astronomical Society, will present the introduction to the constellations that she uses for her classes at the beginning of each quarter.

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 19 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. The program had not been published as of this writing.

Astronomy in Pierce County Saturday

Pierce College will host a couple of events at its Fort Steilacoom campus on Saturday, October 22.

haunted-night-skySpook-tober continues at the Pierce College Science Dome, which will be presenting a kids’ show called “Haunted Night Sky” on Saturdays through Halloween. 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. each Saturday. Cost is $3.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for Saturday evening at 7:30. The indoor program will be a Halloween special. They’ll break out the telescopes for observing if the weather cooperates.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include a talk by astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan at Town Hall Seattle November 14. Natarajan will talk about her new book, Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos (Yale University Press, 2016). Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Up in the sky

The Orionid meteor shower peaks this Friday and Saturday. Learn about the showers and other observing highlights for the week by visiting This Week’s Sky at a Glance by Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week by Astronomy.

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Sending SHAMU to look for alien life

Researchers want to send SHAMU into space to search for alien life. SHAMU in this case is not an orca, but a Submersible Holographic Astrobiology Microscope with Ultraresolution. Caltech and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab are leading the development of the device, with collaboration from the University of Washington on microbiology and oceanography aspects of the project. Max Showalter, a UW graduate student in oceanography and astrobiology, gave an interesting talk about SHAMU Monday at Town Hall Seattle. The talk was titled, “Finding Life When the Trail Goes Cold.”

Max Showalter

Max Showalter.

The target for the hunt for alien life is Jupiter’s moon Europa, which has a global ocean.

“That’s really significant when we’re looking for life in our solar system and outer space in general, because everywhere that we’ve found water on Earth we’ve found life, usually in the microbial form,” Showalter explained. The big challenge is that Europa is, on average, about 390 million miles away.

“Since it’s so far from the Sun, it’s really cold on Europa, and it has this crust of frozen ocean on top of it, kind of like our own Arctic Ocean, for example, except it’s eight kilometers thick,” Showalter said. “The question is, when we get to Europa, how do we get through that ice, or can we find a sample of life in that ice?”

You may think that ice is inhospitable, but Showalter said that a lot of things live in arctic ice. Algae have been found in deep cores of ice; enough sunlight can get through to drive photosynthesis. Algae and bacteria can live in brine veins, pockets of salt water within the ice.

This is where SHAMU comes in. The microscope creates a hologram to look for bacteria swimming in an icy water sample. It uses a laser beam split into two parts. One part serves as the control or reference part, the other is able to track changes within the sample.

SHAMU in Greenland

SHAMU at work in Greenland. Photo: Caltech.

“You bring those together in the computer and you reconstruct the image and get this 3-D image of what’s going on in this microscope,” Showalter said. “You can think of it as this tiny little cube of liquid that we can now see bacteria swimming around in.”

Showalter pointed out that we can be fooled by fossils, so being able to track something in motion is a key to detecting life.

“That’s an unambiguous biosignature,” he said, but added that multiple converging lines of evidence are needed in order to declare the detection of life. It’s good to see motion, but chemical experiments revealing organics would really be helpful, too.

They’ve tested SHAMU in the lab and found that they could track bacteria swimming around in water as cold as eight degrees fahrenheit; colder than that and the activity pretty much shuts down. Last spring Showalter was part of a team that did a field test of SHAMU in Nuuk, Greenland and they were successful there, too. Ultimately they’d like to take the microscope off planet, and Showalter said Europa would be a great target.

“What’s expecially unique about Europa is that in addition to this icy crust it has geysers on the surface, and these geysers are coming from local hot spots inside the ocean and thinner spots in this icy crust,” he said. This is a big advantage for designing a mission.

“Now we don’t have to worry about drilling through the ice; water is coming to us,” Showalter said. “If we can fly through that and take a sample of that plume, that’s ocean water right there in our hands.”

Europa is not the only place where SHAMU could come in handy. Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, is similar to Europa in that it, too, has an ice-crusted ocean with water geysers. Mars has been found to have some liquid water.

“There are lots of opportunities for us to use this microscope in outer space in addition to places on Earth,” Showalter said. “Hopefully the smallest organisms alive will help us be able to find the answer to one of the biggest questions of humankind: are we alone in the solar system?”

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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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Spooky action explained

Some eighty years ago Albert Einstein derided the notion of quantum entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.” Today, according to author and journalist George Musser, “We’re starting to see the hazy outlines of an answer,” to questions about the how particles in different locations appear to act on each other. He is quick to add that there are still scientists who don’t really believe that non-locality is a real thing.

Musser

Author George Musser explains separate particles magically acting on each other during his talk Nov. 3 at Town Hall Seattle. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Musser is the author of Spooky Action at a Distance: The Phenomenon That Reimagines Space and Time—and What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything (Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015). He spoke about the book and the science earlier this month at Town Hall Seattle.

Musser noted that Einstein was clearly bothered by some aspects of quantum mechanics, particularly the notion that randomness governs the universe. This led to his famous observation that God does not place dice.

“It was arguably Einstein’s number one concern,” Musser noted. “His deeper worry, actually the worry that led him to the worry about randomness, was the worry about non-locality. What is non-locality? How can this magic sorcery kind of thing be happening in the real world?”

That’s the quality that got Musser interested in writing about the subject.

“It’s the closest thing that we have in contemporary science to real, honest-to-god, Harry Potter magic,” he said. He noted that it turns up in many different sciences, and isn’t just a “freak show” over in quantum mechanics.

Space is constructed

Muster detailed the experimental evidence that has established that entanglement is a real phenomenon. String theory, loop quantum gravity, and other attempts to explain what’s happening have, at their cores, a similar idea, according to Musser. That idea is that space isn’t just empty and out there; it’s made of something.

“Anyone working on quantum gravity thinks that at some level space is constructed,” Musser explained. “That gives you the opening to deal with non-locality. No longer is that an insoluble puzzle that has been hanging in the air since Einstein’s days.”

Muster suggested thinking about water to illustrate the idea. A single molecule of H2O does not have the properties of water. It’s only when you get a whole bunch of that molecules together that water can flow or have surface tension.

“Likewise, if space consists of atoms, each individual atom is not spacial. Each individual atom lacks the properties we associate with spacial things,” Musser said. “Those spacial properties are derived collectively from the interactions among atoms.”

Given that idea, it’s possible that space can also change its state, just like water can boil and evaporate or freeze, and perhaps that’s part of what is driving our perception of different locations and entanglement.

“It seems that these things are in a predetermined location, but maybe that quality of being in a predetermined location is actively being generated all the time, below our level of consciousness, below the level even of our theories,” Musser said. “There’s some deeper machinery in the natural world.”

It’s a complicated concept to work into a 500-word blog post or a 45-minute lecture. You can listen to an audio recording of Musser’s talk on the Town Hall Seattle website. He is an engaging speaker, and Spooky Action at a Distance promises to be a good read.

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Dark matter may have killed the dinosaurs

Harvard particle physicist and author Lisa Randall has a new hypothesis about what killed the dinosaurs, and it’s a surprisingly simple one. The possible culprit: dark matter.

Lisa Randall

Physicist Lisa Randall spoke at Town Hall Seattle about her hypothesis that dark matter may have triggered the events that killed the dinosaurs. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Randall visited Town Hall Seattle last week to talk about her ideas, explained in her new book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe (Ecco, 2015).

Randall noted that ordinary matter forms into disks like our galaxy and solar system because it interacts with light, radiates photons, cools, and collapses. Dark matter, on the other hand, doesn’t interact with light and so stays diffuse. It is believed that the Milky Way Galaxy sits inside an essentially spherical halo of dark matter.

Here’s where Randall throws in a what-if. The model for dark matter presumes it consists of only one type of particle. But that’s not necessarily so.

“Maybe there’s a new type of dark matter in addition to the dark matter that people talk about,” Randall said.

“Suppose you had dark matter which could radiate,” she speculated. “Maybe dark matter interacts with its own light, which I’m going to call dark light.”

If that’s the case, this particle also could form structure, Randall said.

“Most of the dark matter is going to stay intact in a spherical halo, but this small fraction, maybe five percent of dark matter that interacts with dark light, can also collapse into a disk,” she said. This thin disk of dark matter would be embedded in the plane of the galaxy.

Here’s how that could have been the death blow for the dinosaurs, and a big chunk of the rest of the life on Earth, about 66 million years ago. Randall noted that, as our solar system rotates around the galaxy, it doesn’t follow a simple, flat course.

“As it goes around it actually bobs up and down through the plane of the Milky Way,” every 30 million years or so, she said.

“When it goes through that mid-plane, if there is a dark-matter disk there will be an enhanced gravitational force,” Randall explained. “So our hypothesis is that every time it goes through the mid-plane it can trigger comets getting dislodged from the Oort Cloud, and one of those could have been the comet that actually did in the dinosaurs.”

Randall stresses that this is all highly speculative, but she’s looking for evidence in her current research. She’s hoping to get data to further test the notion from the Gaia satellite, which will make precise measurements of the motions of about one billion stars. That will help us get a better handle on dark matter and where it is.

In the meantime Randall marvels at the interconnectedness of the universe. Galaxies could not have formed without dark matter, yet it may also have set into motion events that wiped out much of the life on our planet, also paving the way for large mammals, like us, to flourish.

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Astro happenings every night this week

There’s plenty to do in Seattle this week for those interested in astronomy, as there is at least one event every evening through Saturday.

Physics week at Town Hall

Town Hall Seattle will welcome two authors to the city this week. Harvard particle physicist Lisa Randall will speak at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, about her new book, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe (Ecco, 2015). Did dark matter kill the dinosaurs? Randall draws a connection between the Milky Way and the dislodged comet that smashed into Earth 66 million years ago. She’ll describe the ins and outs of this idea, explain what historical galactic events have to say about the present, and, perhaps most importantly, instill a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of the universe we live in. Tickets, $5, here.

Town Hall will feature more physics on Tuesday, Nov. 3, as journalist George Musser of Scientific American talks about his new book, Spooky Action at a Distance: The Phenomenon That Reimagines Space and Time—and What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015). The title is a nod to Einstein’s critique of quantum mechanics, and Musser will look at the universe, black holes, the Big Bang, wormholes, and other somewhat unknown areas of physics. In this month, which marks the centennial of the publication of Einstein’s theory of relativity, he will celebrate today’s best scientific thinking and help us understand it. Musser’s talk will begin at 7:30. Tickets are $5 here.

UW astro anniversary celebration continues

Morales

Morales

The University of Washington Alumni Association is helping to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the university’s Department of Astronomy with a series of four lectures titled The Big Bang and Beyond: Four Excursions to the Edges of Time and Space. The second in the series will be held Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in room 120 of Kane Hall on the UW campus in Seattle. UW professor Miguel Morales will give a talk titled “The End of the Beginning,” focusing on how scientists read the subtle patterns in the cosmic microwave background to infer what happened in the first few moments of our universe’s history.

All of the free tickets for this lecture, and for the others in the Big Bang and Beyond series, have been claimed. It may be possible to gain admission on a waiting list should there be no-shows. Check our previous post for a rundown of other anniversary events.

Spacefest comes to Museum of Flight

spacefestlogoThe Museum of Flight will host a three-day Spacefest beginning Thursday, Nov. 5 and running through Saturday the seventh. Highlights of the event include astronaut John Herrington leading a glider-building session during the museum’s free-admission evening on Thursday, discussions Friday about the rigors of human spaceflight, and a look Saturday at the challenges of a trip to Mars.

Visit the museum website for a full schedule of the three-day festival.

Origins

originsposterThe centerpiece of the UW astronomy anniversary celebration is a multimedia concert, Origins: Life and the Universe, at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7 at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. Eight Seattle composers have created original orchestral music that showcases the complexity and beauty of our universe. The symphonic concert will be accompanied by projected high-resolution movies created using some of the most spectacular imagery, videos and conceptual art from the Hubble Space Telescope and a variety of other sources. The live concert will feature Grammy-award winning conductor David Sabee and the renowned Northwest Sinfonia orchestra.

Check our previous previews of pieces of the concert, with composers Nan Avant and Glenna Burmer.

The concert is a benefit for scholarships in the UW Department of Astronomy and Astrobiology program. Tickets are $32, $22 for students, and are available through the Seattle Symphony website.

TAS and spectroscopy

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its public nights beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The night will feature a presentation about spectroscopy. In addition, club members will have telescopes on hand should weather conditions be favorable for observing the heavens.

Don’t forget to look up

Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and the Moon are holding a little dance during the mornings all week. Check them out high in the southeast before dawn. The Taurid meteor shower peaks on Nov. 5, but watch out for a few days before and after as well. EarthSky has a good article about watching the Taurids, and Astronomy magazine’s The Sky This Week has daily observing highlights.

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Dark matter killed the dinosaurs

Randall

Physics professor Lisa Randall is the Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University. Photo:
Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer.

The sudden death of the dinosaurs is one of the great whodunits of science. Harvard particle physicist Lisa Randall has a new theory, and will be at Town Hall Seattle Nov. 2 to talk about it. The title of Randall’s new book gives a hint to her theory; it is Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe (Ecco, 2015). The book is scheduled for release Oct. 27.

Randall draws a connection between the Milky Way and the dislodged comet that smashed into Earth 66 million years ago. She’ll describe the ins and outs of this idea, explain what historical galactic events have to say about the present, and, perhaps most importantly, instill a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of the universe we live in.

Randall’s talk will be in the Great Hall at Town Hall Seattle beginning at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2. Tickets are $5 and are on sale now. You can pre-order Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs and and order Randall’s other books by clicking the images below.

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