Tag Archives: SAS

SAS banquet Saturday, Leavitt play opens this week

An appearance by “Mr. Eclipse” and the opening of a play about noted astronomer Henrietta Leavitt highlight the events on this week’s Seattle Astronomy calendar.

SAS banquet

EspenakThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its annual banquet on Saturday, Jan. 30 at the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue in Seattle. The keynote speaker for the event will be Fred Espenak, known as “Mr. Eclipse” for his long career tracking, viewing, and writing histories of eclipses. Espenak will speak about preparing to view the Great American Solar Eclipse, the total solar eclipse coming up in August 2017 that will be the first visible from the lower-48 since 1979.

Tickets for the banquet are sold out. Check our preview of the event from earlier this month.

Silent Sky opens at Taproot

FB_Silent_Sky_banner_lowline_700x259Silent Sky, the true story of the work of American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, will have its Northwest premiere when it opens Wednesday at Taproot Theatre in Greenwood.

The play, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Karen Lund, will run through Feb. 27. Leavitt discovered the relationship between the luminosity and the period of Cepheid variable stars. Her work at Harvard College Observatory received little attention during her lifetime, which spanned 1868–1921, but her discovery was the key to our ability to accurately determine the distances to faraway galaxies.

Remembering fallen astronauts

It’s hard to believe that Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger that killed seven astronauts. Oddly enough, all three U.S. space disasters happened about this time of year. This Apollo I fire killed three astronauts on Jan. 27, 1967, and the shuttle Columbia was destroyed on re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Museum of Flight pays tribute to the fallen fliers with its annual astronaut remembrance weekend this Saturday, Jan. 30.

The museum plans displays and video looking back at the events. NASA JPL solar system ambassador Ron Hobbs and Museum of Flight Challenger Learning Center coordinator Tony Gondola will give a presentation at 2 p.m. Saturday remembering the astronauts who paid the ultimate price in the line of duty.

Ready, Jet, Go!

Ready, Jet, Go!The Pierce College Science Dome and KBTC public television team up Sunday, Jan. 31 for a special event to launch the new PBS KIDS astronomy show Ready, Jet, Go! The event runs from 10 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. and includes hands-on science activities and screenings of the program at 10 a.m. and noon in the planetarium.

TAS public night

taslogoThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The planned program will be about Apollo missions to the Moon. Club members will be on hand with telescopes for observing, weather permitting.

Up in the sky

The Moon passes near the star Regulus in the constellation Leo on Monday, Jan. 25 and flirts with Jupiter on Wednesday evening. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have other observing highlights for the week.

Coloring the Universe on this week’s astro calendar

If you’ve ever wondered if the universe really looks like it does in those amazing photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories, you’ll want to attend this week’s meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society. Travis Rector and Megan Watzke, two of the co-authors of Coloring the Universe: An Insider’s Look at Making Spectacular Images of Space (University of Alaska Press, 2015) will be the guest presenters at the meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 16 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. The pair will discuss the book and the process of converting raw data into astronomical images that amaze the public and inform scientists.

Astronomy on Tap views Cosmos

Cosmos on TapWatch Carl Sagan in the original Cosmos television series and enjoy a refreshing beer as Astronomy on Tap Seattle becomes Cosmos on Tap at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 15 at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. A guest presenter will introduce episode three of the series, and will discuss updates in the science since the series first aired; there’s been a lot of learning since 1980! AoT also features astronomy trivia contests, fun prizes, and plenty of time to talk with the scientists in attendance. This will be the tenth month for Astronomy on Tap Seattle, which is presented by graduate students in astronomy from the University of Washington. It’s free! You can RSVP or sign up for the Astronomy on Tap mailing list through the UW Astronomy website.

Star parties Saturday

saslogoThe Seattle Astronomical Society will host its regular, monthly free public star parties starting at 6 p.m. Saturday, December 19 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. The star parties are dependent on good weather, and are cancelled in the event of rain or overcast. Watch the SAS website or Facebook page for updates.

Neptune and Uranus pass fairly close to the Moon this week, and Comet Catalina will be passing near Venus before dawn. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky and Telescope run down the observing highlights for the week.

Meteor shower, dueling talks highlight week’s astro calendar

The Orionid meteor shower peaks this week, and the scheduling gods are forcing astronomy buffs to choose between two interesting talks on Wednesday evening. These are the highlights of this week’s astronomy calendar in Seattle.


The Orionid meteor shower peaks in the wee hours of Thursday morning, October 22. Though the Moon is in a waxing gibbous phase, it will set around 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, putting it out of the way for the prime meteor-viewing hours. As per usual, it’s best to get away from the city for the best chance to view the most meteors. Space.com has a good primer on the Orionids.

Take a peek at Sky & Telescope magazine’s This Week’s Sky at a Glance for other observing highlights for the week.

The Big Bang and Beyond

The University of Washington Department of Astronomy is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and among the festivities are a series of lectures titled The Big Bang and Beyond: Four Excursions to the Edges of Time and Space. The talks are sponsored by the UW Alumni Association.

Andy Connolly

Andy Connolly

The first of these will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 21 in room 120 of Kane Hall on the UW campus in Seattle. UW professor Andy Connolly will give a talk titled Unraveling Our Own Cosmic History. Connolly will discuss how, using the latest technologies, astronomical surveys like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Large Synoptic Sky Survey Review produce some of the deepest optical images ever obtained. These images allow us to look for flashes from the most energetic events in the distant universe and dramatically extend our cosmic reach.

The talk is free, but preregistration is required. Our post from August gives the schedule for other talks in the series.

Where to go next

saslogoThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at that same hour Wednesday, gathering at 7:30 p.m. in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building. Guest speaker Van Kane, who writes about  planetary exploration for the Planetary Society and on his own blog, will talk about the five finalists for the next NASA discovery-class mission and what each could tell us about our solar system.

Public night at TAS

taslogoThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will offer one of its popular public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, October 24 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. TAS students will put on a special Halloween presentation, and the club will have telescopes out for observing, weather permitting.

Keep an eye on the Seattle Astronomy Calendar for advance notice of upcoming events.

Predicting some big astronomical kabooms

X-ray binaries are out in the universe making gravitational waves, and Breanna Binder says we may well be on the verge of being able to detect such waves generated in distant star systems. Binder, a recent University of Washington astronomy Ph.D. who did her dissertation about the evolution of X-ray binary systems, gave a talk on the subject at the August meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

Dr. Brianna Binder gave a talk about X-ray binary systems at the August meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Dr. Breanna Binder gave a talk about X-ray binary systems at the August meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Binder noted that it’s a bit of a longshot for an X-ray binary system to form. They start out as a pair of stars ten times or more massive than our own Sun.

“Almost all massive stars are born in binary systems,” she said. “Not only that, massive stars are more likely to be born with massive companions.”

However, these massive stars live relatively short lives and ultimately explode in supernovae. The more massive the star, the more rapidly it evolves, and so the larger of two massive stars in a binary system will be the first to expand into a blue giant. The more it expands, the weaker its gravitational pull on its outer atmosphere will be, enabling the smaller companion to steal some of its mass.

Eventually the larger of the pair goes supernova and leaves behind a compact object: either a neutron star or a black hole. This is often the end of the binary system, as only about one in 10,000 pairs remain gravitationally bound after the supernova. If they do stick together, that’s when the fireworks really get going. The sibling star, having siphoned off some of its companion’s mass, also begins to grow into a blue giant.

“As this happens, material flows from the giant star onto the compact object,” Binder explained, “and when this happens the system starts to heat up. All that material funneling onto the compact object gets incredibly hot and begins to glow in X-rays.”

These are easy for us to spot from Earth.

“These objects will emit X-rays at levels that are tens of thousands to millions of times above what a normal star like our Sun does,” Binder noted.

This high-mass X-ray binary phase doesn’t last long in astronomical terms, perhaps just 10,000 years or so. Eventually the second star goes supernova.

“If the system survives the second supernova explosion, which is a big if, you end up with two compact objects in orbit around each other,” Binder explained. While two neutron stars is the most likely formation, it can also be two black holes or one of each, she said.

With two neutron stars in a system they spiral rapidly around each other, creating powerful gravitational waves. Eventually the two objects merge, creating a big explosion that we can see as a gamma-ray burst. This is the aftermath of the merger of two neutron stars, and it’s also where the new science comes in.

“In the very near future, we’re hoping to be able to detect neutron stars in the process of spiraling into each other before the gamma-ray burst occurs,” Binder said. We will do that by actually detecting gravitational waves using LIGO—the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

The challenge with LIGO is that there’s a lot of noise out there. Anything that moves through space generates gravitational waves. In its first runs LIGO in Richland was able to detect motion from ocean waves breaking on the Washington coast. So scientists have been busy modeling and tweaking, and expect to make the first science runs of a new version of LIGO some time this fall.

“If we’re going to detect gravitational waves, it’s going to happen as soon as we bring advanced LIGO on,” Binder said. “It could easily be within the next year that we are able for the first time to directly detect gravitational waves from the source.” That will give us some early warning about where to look to spot future gamma-ray bursts.

Ultimately the study of these systems will help us better understand stellar formation and evolution.

Observatory open house, TAS meeting this week

Happy September! It’s a pretty light week on the calendar, though we will get to enjoy a club meeting and an observatory open house as Labor Day approaches.

taslogoTonight is the night for the monthly meeting of the Tacoma Astronomical Society, which welcomes our friends from Cloud Break Optics, who will visit to talk about useful telescope mounts for public star parties and outreach. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1 at the University of Puget Sound’s Thompson Hall, room 175.

TJO winding down


Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the UW. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

On Wednesday, Sept. 2 the University of Washington hosts an open house at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the Seattle campus. As we move into September, the start time for the bi-monthly open house moves up to 8 p.m. Physics and astronomy student Mallory Thorpe will lead a discussion titled “The Planet Club.” Thorpe will talk about how the definition of a planet has changed over the years, covering the discovery of Neptune, exoplanets, and the controversy around Pluto’s planetary status. These talks at the TJO open houses have become about the hottest ticket in town. Today’s talk is full and has a lengthy wait list as well. The talk for the next open house on Sept. 16 is also full, and that will be the last one of the year. Even without a reservation for the talk, you’ll have a chance to tour the observatory dome and, weather permitting, peek through the vintage telescope, operated by volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society.

The ice giants are out

The ice giant planets are near the top of our observing list for the week. Neptune is at opposition Sept. 1 and well-placed for viewing. Uranus will be easier to spot, as it will appear barely one degree north of the Moon this evening. Binoculars or a telescope are a big help on both, though some eagle-eyes claim to be able to spot Uranus, in particular, without magnification. Check out Astronomy magazine’s The Sky This Week for more observing highlights for the week.

Future file

bigbangThe University of Washington Astronomy Department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a string of lectures and events that begins next month. The talks feature UW faculty members and guest astronomers, and a special multimedia concert is on the docket, too. Check our post about the celebration for the low-down on all of the events, and watch our calendar to find other interesting local astronomy activities.

Astronomy on Tap and more this week

Happy Moon landing day! July 20 marks the 46th anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong took that giant leap for mankind and became the first human being to walk on the Moon!

For those interested in a little history, we’ve read a couple of good books about the race to the Moon lately. Space policy maven John Logsdon penned John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon (Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology, 2013). It’s an interesting account of the race that really wasn’t, and the pitfalls that nearly derailed the Apollo program before it got going. Logsdon has spoken in Seattle twice this year; check out our accounts of his address to the American Astronomical Society in January and of a talk last month at the Museum of Flight.

The second Moon book is of particular interest to public relations and marketing professionals. Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program (MIT Press, 2014) by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek was one of our favorite books of last year. It’s loaded with great stories and lots of images of some of the marketing materials that helped sell the Apollo program. Check out our review here. The books are available by clicking the handy links above. They and more are also featured in the Seattle Astronomy Store.

Astronomy and beer

aot5posterHey, didn’t we just have Astronomy on Tap Seattle last week? Yes, we did; it was a special Pluto and New Horizons edition. Read our recap of the event. This Wednesday, July 22 at 7 p.m. AoT will be back at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. There will be brief talks by UW grad students in astronomy, and there’s always plenty of time for Q&A. This week Rodrigo Luger, exoplaneteer extraordinaire, will speak about “Syzygies in Silhouette: The Search For Alien Earths,” and James “JRAD” Davenport, connoisseur of small stars and big flares, will discuss “How Stars Keep Active as They Age.” There also will be trivia games and prizes. Hot tip: the prizes often are in the form of treats from Trophy Cupcakes, decorated in relevant astronomical ways, though past history is not necessarily an indicator of future performance. In any event, astronomy is great with a nice cold brew. Astronomy on Tap is free, but please RSVP.

Star parties

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its free monthly public star parties at Green Lake in Seattle and at Paramount Park in Shoreline this Saturday, July 25. The star parties get under way at 9 p.m., presuming the weather is good. And when was the last time you saw a cloud? Go take a peek!

What’s up in the sky?

Saturn will appear just two degrees south of the Moon on Sunday night, July 26. Check Sky & Telescope magazine’s This Week’s Sky at a Glance for other observing highlights.

Pluto-paloozas and other events

With New Horizons whizzing past Pluto today after a nine-year journey, there’s plenty of excitement around the new learning about the former planet and its system. Thus many of this week’s events have a Pluto focus.


New Horizons close-up of Pluto. Photo: NASA.

Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info is hosting a Pluto-palooza at 5 p.m. this afternoon at the High Point Library in West Seattle. Enevoldsen, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, will talk about the mission and new information coming in today.

By coincidence, Enevoldsen is the former director of the Willard Smith Planetarium at the Pacific Science Center. The PacSci folks have developed a special Pluto program for the planetarium: “The Outer Limits: Pluto and Beyond” includes images from New Horizons and more information about the dwarf planet that is more than three billion miles away. The program runs daily at 12:30 p.m., and they’ve added extra showings to the schedule for today and for Saturday, July 18. Check the planetarium schedule for a rundown of all show times. Admission to the planetarium is $3, but free for PacSci members. Tickets can be purchased online.

Pluto on Tap

plutopalOur friends at Astronomy on Tap Seattle have cooked up a Pluto-palooza program that will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 15 at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. AOT events are hosted by University of Washington graduate students in astronomy, and they’ll talk about Pluto history, have a Q&A, and share brand-new photos of Pluto. It’s free, but please RSVP, and enjoy a brew or three in toast of New Horizons at Bad Jimmy’s.

Speakers at Museum of Flight

The Museum of Flight will dedicate its Sunday to all things Pluto. There will be activities for kids, family workshops, and special exhibits all day. At 1:30 p.m. July 19 Alan Boyle, author of The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference (Wiley, 2010), and Ron Hobbs, NASA Solar System Ambassador, will talk about New Horizons and its discoveries about the Pluto system. You can grab a copy of Boyle’s book by clicking the link above or the photo at left; he’ll sign books after the talk. Also check out our previous Pluto coverage, including our review of three different Pluto books. The authors voted 2-1 against planethood.

All of the events are free with museum admission.

Sundial celebration

sundialThe Battle Point Astronomical Association had its equatorial bowstring sundial project on the drawing board for many years. A fundraising push in August and September of 2013 finally gave them the funds they needed to make the sundial a reality. It has been installed near their Edwin Ritchey Observatory in Bainbridge Island’s Battle Point Park; the photo at left was snapped during the installation back in May. BPAA will hold a celebration to dedicate the sundial at 1 p.m. Sunday July 19 in the park. Refreshments will be served, the observatory will be open for tours, and the club will have solar telescopes on hand for looking at the sun.

SAS looks at asteroid mining

The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 15 in room A-102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. Engineer Krunal Desai of Planetary Resources will talk about their first spacecraft and its mission, due for deployment from the International Space Station next week.

TJO and the shape of the universe

Wednesday is open house night at the UW’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. The event gets under way at 9 p.m. Unfortunately, the talk by students Riley Harris (engineering) and Rachel Morton (physics and astronomy) about the Shape of the Universe and Possible Implications of the Theories is already filled and the waiting list is closed, but other visitors can still get a tour of the observatory and a look through its vintage telescope.