Tag Archives: Ana Larson

TJO events return in a busy week

The return of the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory open houses and no less than five astronomy-club events highlight a jam-packed astro calendar for the coming week.

Theodor Jacobsen ObservatoryA welcome sign of spring is the return of the open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Astronomy talks and observing through the observatory’s vintage 6-inch Brashear telescope on a Warner & Swasey equatorial mount will happen on the first and third Wednesdays of the month from April through September. The first of the year will be this Wednesday, April 5, beginning at 8 p.m.

Observatory director Dr. Ana Larson will talk about the cause of the phases of the Moon as well as eclipses of the Moon and Sun, with an emphasis on this year’s total eclipse of the Sun to be seen as its shadow sweeps a path across the U.S. on August 21. Future talks will be given by UW undergraduates. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society staff the observatory dome and, if weather permits, pop the roof for a little stargazing.

While these events are free reservations are strongly recommended for the talks, which typically fill the small classroom in the observatory. In fact, reservations are already completely booked for the April 19 open house. A schedule for future talk topics will be posted soon on the observatory website.

Club events

The Olympic Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for Monday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. in room Engineering 117 at Olympic College in Bremerton. Topics will include the solar eclipse, black holes, and a movie from the club’s Camp Delaney Star Party.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus in Tacoma. Guest speaker Stephanie Anderson, co-owner of Cloud Break Optics in Ballard, will talk about astrophotography from the city. The society will also hold one of its public nights at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor presentation will be about space exploration. If the weather cooperates they’ll bring out the telescopes for some observing.

The Spokane Astronomical Society’s monthly meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7 at the planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. The topic will be all about telescopes: different types, how they work, and reasons to choose one design over another.

The Battle Point Astronomical Association plans a full evening of events for Saturday, April 8, with their BP Astro Kids program about the lives of stars running at 4 p.m. and again at 5 o’clock. Their planetarium show at 7:30 p.m. will look at when galaxies collide. It all happens at their observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island.

Astronomy Night at Shorecrest

Shorecrest High School will host an astronomy night at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 4. Events for all weather are planned with something for the entire family.

Science and beer

We’ll find out if beer and dark matter mix at an OMSI Science Pub on Thursday, April 6 at McMenamins Mission Theater and Pub in Portland. Astrophysicist Alison Crocker from Reed College will highlight the most convincing observations astronomers have made of dark matter. The doors open at 5 p.m. and the program begins at 7 o’clock. There’s a $5 suggested donation.

Take your space medicine

NASA Flight Surgeon David Reyes will give a lecture titled, “Space Medicine: Past, Present, and Future” at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at the Museum of Flight. Reyes will discuss the evolution of space medical capabilities over the years, and how NASA and commercial spaceflight companies might address future medical needs on a human mission to Mars. The talk is free with museum admission.

Planetarium shows galore

In addition to the Battle Point shows noted above, there are several other planetarium programs on the docket for the week. The WSU Planetarium in Pullman has a new show about sky moms that will run at 7 p.m. Friday, April 7, and repeat at 11 a.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. The program is about motherhood myths associated with the constellations.

The Pierce College Science Dome is running a show about rockets in which kids can build their own! It runs on Saturdays through May at 12:30 p.m. and again at 2 p.m. Tickets are $6 and are available online.

The Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center has a variety of shows daily. Their complete schedule is on our calendar page.

Futures file

You can scout ahead for future events on our calendar page. We’ve recently added a number of items, including:

  • A talk by Planet 9 proposer Konstantin Batygin of Caltech, a UW astronomy colloquium April 20
  • A talk by Dr. George Rieke of the James Webb Space Telescope May 18 at UW
  • Seattle Symphony performances to a screening of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey June 30 and July 1
  • A panel discussion about nearby exoplanet Proxima b May 3 at the UW

Up in the sky

It’s the best time of this year to observe Jupiter, which reaches opposition on Friday. 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.

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.

Preserving history at UW observatory

The semimonthly open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the University of Washington are over for the year. When they resume again in the spring the observatory may include a little more local history. The UW Astronomy Department has recently regained jurisdiction over the one-time office of the late professor after whom the facility is named, and is looking to spruce up the room with historical artifacts and interactive exhibits.

Jacobsen's office

The long-time UW astronomy professor’s name is still on the door of his former office in the namesake Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. Efforts are under way to make the office a historical exhibit. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

While Jacobsen’s name remains painted on the door of the office, it had for a number of years been used as a check-in space for custodians university-wide. Occasional efforts over the years to return the office to historical astronomical uses came to naught, according to Dr. Ana Larson, UW lecturer and Jacobsen Observatory director who heads up the public outreach program at the observatory. Recently, Larson said, custodians scored space in the new Paccar Hall nearby and observatory buffs swooped in to return the Jacobsen office to astronomical uses.

With the space in hand, the big stumbling block for turning it into an historical exhibit is cash. Larson figures the budget for the project is at about -$200; she recently purchased an old oak desk for $70 out-of-pocket and installed it in the office. It is certainly not Jacobsen’s desk, but fits with the period. A mini-exhibit is already up in the office, including an old briefcase of Jacobsen’s, a star-atlas notebook, and an armillary on the desk.

TJO desk

A small exhibit with a few artifacts of Theodor Jacobsen is already up in the late professor’s former office. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

It seems most fitting to set up a tribute to Jacobsen. For nearly four decades he was the only professor in the UW astronomy department, which he served from 1928 until his retirement in 1971. Retirement didn’t mean that Jacobsen quit working. He published his final book just a few years before his death in 2003 at age 102.

The observatory already is listed on the state register of historical buildings. It is the second oldest structure on the UW campus, and was built in 1895 with sandstone blocks left over from the construction of Denny Hall. The observatory’s six-inch Warner and Swasey telescope with Brashear objective, built around 1892, is still functional, having been restored in the late 1990s by members of the Seattle Astronomical Society, volunteers from which still operate the scope on open house nights. Light pollution and the large trees that have grown up around the observatory limit the scope’s use somewhat, but it is an effective outreach tool; the open houses at the observatory, featuring observing when weather permits and talks by astronomy students, have proven to be popular.

The office project has a modest price tag. Larson figures as little as $1,500 would get them going with some decent display cases, other furniture, posters, and interactive exhibits. She plans to pitch the university for funds, but budgets are tight. She may also consider some sort of crowdfunding effort. If you would like to donate to help with the project, visit the Jacobsen Observatory website to find out how.