Happy birthday to Astronomy on Tap Seattle

Astronomy on Tap Seattle has spent the last year confirming that astronomy and beer together make a great combination. We will celebrate AoT’s first year in operation with a gala event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 23 at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. The free astronomy talks have drawn good crowds from the beginning, and the most recent events have seen attendees packed shoulder-to-shoulder into Bad Jimmy’s.

AOT Seattle March 23“It’s been a wild ride growing from our initially small size to something that we almost can’t handle,” said Brett Morris, an astronomy graduate student at the University of Washington who is the emcee and one of the co-founders of Astronomy on Tap Seattle. “We’re going to try our best to keep up with it as it grows through our second year.”

Morris said they had a hunch before they started that the audience was out there. Astronomy on Tap started in New York and has spread to a total of eight cities, and events elsewhere have drawn big crowds. Austin, Texas, for example, regularly attracts 400 people to its events in an outdoor beer garden.

“We knew that there was a big drive for this kind of event, especially in nerdy cities like Seattle, so we knew that the availability of participants was good,” Morris said, “but we didn’t really know if we’d be able to scale up the way we wanted or to reach the number of people that we needed to.”

They set out in hopes of being able to attract 50 people who would attend regularly to hear astronomy talks and enjoy a brew. They’ve accomplished that without any sort of paid advertising.

Brett Morris

UW grad student Brett Morris talked about the history of Pluto and the first photos from New Horizons at Astronomy on Tap Seattle July 15. He’ll give a Pluto update at the March 23 event. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“It seems that word of mouth among nerds is really effective. The social networks have been all that we needed to get the word out,” Morris said. “The enthusiasm that we’ve had from the audience has been unbelieveable and unrelenting, and the beer is quite delicious.”

There will be a special treat at the March 23 event. Astronomy on Tap Seattle participants named one of Bad Jimmy’s beers, a Scotch ale that popular vote dubbed “The Big Sipper.” Several months ago the brewers stowed some of that ale in old rum casks.

“We’re going to tap those barrels for the one-year anniversary and serve this barrel-aged imperial Scotch ale in special commemorative glasses, that you can also purchase, that have astronomy on Tap logos on them,” Morris said.

There will be a series of short talks at the anniversary with updates on astronomy discoveries made in the last year, including the latest photos from Pluto and the possibility of the existence of Planet 9. Morris said that one of the great things about being an astronomer is that when an idea such as Planet 9 comes out, there probably is an expert close by who can lead the discussion about how plausible it is. Astronomy on Tap is essentially an effort to take that discussion public.

“As an astronomer you get to meet a lot of people, daily, who think that astronomy is great and would love to talk to you about space, and would love to talk to you about life in the universe,” Morris said, “but it’s rare that you really encounter people who spend their free time trying to learn more about astronomy and physics, and that really is the core audience of Astronomy on Tap.”

“I am consistently surprised by how many people are passionately interested in learning astronomy and physics at a level deeper than you might find in an astronomy magazine,” he added.

It has been a boon for people who write about astronomy for fun. It’s great to have a monthly topic, and the discussions and trivia contests that are a part of Astronomy on Tap are fun and informative.

The March 23 event begins at 7 p.m. at Bad Jimmy’s in Ballard. You might want to arrive earlier than that to get a good seat! It’s free, but bring beer money.