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.