Tag Archives: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Equinox sunset watch, Tyson visit highlight week’s calendar

A visit from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the final Jacobsen Observatory open house of the year, and a seasonal sunset watch are the highlights of this week’s calendar of astro-events in the Seattle area.

Tyson, director of the Haden Planetarium in New York, narrator of the recent Cosmos television series, author, and host of the StarTalk radio show and podcast, will speak at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre on two nights this week, Wednesday, September 21 and Thursday, September 22, both at 7:30 p.m. Some tickets are still available for both appearances.

Ring in autumn

AlicesAstroInfo-145Join Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info at Solstice Park in West Seattle at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, September 22 to enjoy the first sunset of autumn. The equinox sunset watch will be Enevoldsen’s thirtieth such event, part of her NASA Solar System Ambassador service. The event is free, low-key, and always informative.

TJO wraps its season

Theodor Jacobsen ObservatoryThe final open house of the year is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 21 at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. The talk for the evening, reservations for which are already all spoken for, will be by student Anya Raj, who has been interning with NRAO-NM over the summer and who has built a dual-dipole radio telescope. Raj will talk about amateur radio astronomy and making your own radio telescope. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand in the observatory dome to conduct tours and, if the sky is clear, offer looks through its vintage telescope.

The popular open house series will be on hiatus for the fall and winter and will resume in April.

Club events

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 21 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Guest speaker Ethan Kruse, a graduate student in astronomy at the UW, will talk about Proxima Centauri b, the exoplanet recently found orbiting our nearest stellar neighbor. Kruse will discuss how much we know about the planet right now, and what we might learn in the coming years.

By way of preview, check our articles about a talk by Kruse at an Astronomy on Tap Seattle event from earlier this year, and about a presentation by Prof. Rory Barnes at Pacific Science Center last month exploring the potential habitability of the planet.

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for 9 p.m. Saturday, September 24 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor presentation will be about the reasons for the seasons as we shift into fall. Weather permitting, club members will have telescopes out for looking at the sky.

Futures file

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

  • World Space Week events October 4–7 at the UW Planetarium
  • The BP Astro Kids November 12 look at the craters of the Moon

Up in the sky

The ice giants Uranus and Neptune are well-placed for observing this week. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope offer additional observing highlights for the week.

Authors vote 2-1 against Pluto

Authors of what I call the “Pluto Trilogy” vote 2-1 against planethood for the distant icy world. I just completed reading three recent books about Pluto: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown, Caltech astronomer and discoverer of Eris; The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York; and The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference by Alan Boyle, science editor for MSNBC.com and author of Cosmic Log.

Research scientists sometimes turn out prose that isn’t accessible for the non-Ph.D. In How I Killed Pluto Brown, however, weaves an entertaining, witty, and sometimes poetic tale about the years of work that went into the discovery of Eris, a Kuiper Belt object thought to be just a little bigger than Pluto. One need not be an astronomer to appreciate the detailed account of the search for the “tenth planet”, nor a detective to appreciate Brown’s story of the controversy surrounding credit for the discovery of Haumea, now the fourth-largest known dwarf planet in our solar system. The interweaving of stories about Brown’s personal life during the hunt are endearing.

One could not have faulted Brown for holding out for full planet status for Pluto. That would have given him status as discoverer of the tenth planet. As a scientist, though, he believes Eris and Pluto have more in common with the thousands of Kuiper Belt objects than they do with the big eight, and is happy to have them thought of and categorized differently.

While Brown’s discoveries forced the hand of the International Astronomical Union on establishing its controversial definition of planet, it was Tyson and the Hayden Planetarium that inadvertently ignited the Pluto debate when Eris was not even yet a dim, slow-moving glint on Brown’s computer screen.

“I keep getting blamed for Pluto,” Tyson said at a speaking engagement in Seattle last month. “Eleven years ago we opened an exhibit in New York City where we grouped Pluto with other icy brethren in the outer solar system, and the nation’s population of elementary school children got pissed off.”

The Pluto Files is full of letters from those children and cartoons from various points of view in the debate. While the actual IAU debate and vote is almost an afterthought in Brown’s book, Tyson gives it fairly detailed treatment.

Tyson said that the planetarium didn’t set out to cause trouble, but simply considered, in the design of their exhibits, the recent discoveries of thousands of Kuiper Belt objects.

“Some of them have orbital properties that greatly resemble that of Pluto,” he said during his Seattle talk. “So Pluto has brethren out there. Pluto and they look more alike, than either they or Pluto look like any of the other eight planets, and we figured it was time for Pluto to own up to its actual identity.”

Oddly enough, the exhibit was up and running for almost a year without a peep before the New York Times finally took notice and ran a front-page article lamenting that Pluto wasn’t a planet, at least in New York. The mail barrage was on.

Boyle is the most sympathetic to Pluto. In my coverage of his talk here last year, I wrote, “Alan Boyle thinks Pluto should be considered a planet, but ultimately believes a lot of people are taking the question way too seriously.”

The Case for Pluto delves deepest into the IAU deliberations, and includes text of all of the various resolutions about the definition of planet. It’s a great read, full of humorous observations about the personalities involved and the gyrations people go to in order to come to grips with their Pluto issues.

All three books are engaging reads and highly recommended for those interested in Pluto and the solar system. They’re not likely to be the last words, either. Bloggers know that Pluto generates a lot of hits, and publishers are surely watching to see how many books the dwarf planet will sell.

Tyson talk highlights this week’s Seattle Astronomy calendar

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson will speak Thursday in Meany Hall at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, will speak at 6:30 p.m. this Thursday, May 12, in Meany Hall at the University of Washington in Seattle. The room has changed; the lecture was set for Kane Hall when originally announced.

Tyson’s talk will be titled “Adventures of an Astrophysicist.” He will discuss how he takes some of the flak for Pluto’s demotion from planethood. Tyson will also share anecdotes from his time as space policy advisor to NASA, to the Bush White House, and to school systems. Tyson will further reflect on the Obama space plan, Mars Rovers, the search for life, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, the Large Hadron Collider and progress on a theory of everything.

The talk is free, but all of the tickets are spoken for. You might have a shot to get in if you line up beforehand. Organizers will start giving away unclaimed tickets beginning at 6:15 on the evening of the event. UW Television also will stream the lecture live.

Big Bang Theory by Spencer Charles

Big Bang Theory by Spencer Charles will be one of the works on display at Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company this weekend during the Greenwood-Phinney Art Walk.

Science art in Greenwood Friday and Saturday
The Greenwood-Phinney Art Walk is happening this Friday, May 13 from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. and Saturday, May 14 from noon until 5 p.m. Our friends at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company will turn their store into a gallery where nine participants in 826 Seattle will display works illustrating scientific principles. They’ll have an opening reception going on during the art walk hours on Friday.

A look through the Keck Telescope
Tacoma Astronomical Society hosts a free public observing night beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday, May 14 at the W.M. Keck Observatory on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland. Good weather will mean a look through the main scope, as well as through others that TAS members bring. If it clouds up, talks and other events may occur. Watch the TAS website for details and for directions to the observatory.

Table Mountain Star Party registration open
Early registration for this year’s Table Mountain Star Party, scheduled for July 28-30, opened May 1. The fee this year is $60 for adults, $40 for additional adults arriving in the same vehicle, and $15 for students age 7 to 17. Kids six and under get in free. After May 31, the prices in the first three categories go up by $10. You can sign up online.

Zeilinger to talk entanglement at Town Hall Seattle

Dr. Anton Zeilinger

Dr. Anton Zeilinger, author of Dance of the Photons, will speak on Paradoxes of the Quantum Realm on Monday evening, March 28, at Town Hall Seattle.

Erwin Schrödinger first identified the phenomenon of entanglement back around 1935. It’s a fascinating concept: a suitably outfitted laser can produce peculiar pairs of photons that influence each other’s properties instantaneously, no matter how far apart from each other they travel. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.” We’re still puzzling over entanglement and the behavior of photons. Anton Zeilinger, physics professor at the University of Vienna and author of Dance of the Photons, will help us sort it all out Monday night. Zeilinger will be at Town Hall Seattle at 7:30 p.m. March 28 for a talk titled, “Paradoxes of the Quantum Realm.” Zeilinger will demonstrate the reality and characteristics of entanglement, and consider how its power might help create the first generation of quantum computers. The talk is part of Seattle Science Lectures, presented by Pacific Science Center and University Book Store. Tickets are $5 from Brown Paper Tickets.

Tyson registration opens Wednesday
Neil deGrasse Tyson is sure to be a hot ticket. Tyson will be in Seattle to speak at Kane Hall at the University of Washington on May 12. The lecture is free, but reservations are required. On-line registration opens up March 31. Dr. Tyson’s talk will be sponsored by the Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program of the Graduate School of the University of Washington, and by the UW Alumni Association.

TAS at PLU returns
After taking the winter off, Tacoma Astronomical Society returns Saturday to the W.M. Keck Observatory at Pacific Lutheran University for free monthly public observing nights. TAS volunteers will bring their telescopes, and participants will get a peek through the main observatory scope as well. A program of some sort may be available even if the weather is unfit for observing. The fun is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. April 2. Watch the TAS website for details and directions.