Tag Archives: Science Cafe

Tough choices Wednesday on week’s busy astro-calendar

There are several great astronomy events on the docket for this week. Unfortunately, three of them are at the same time on Wednesday.



The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Washington continues with another of the lecture series The Big Bang and Beyond. UW astronomy professor Julianne Dalcanton will give a talk titled “Building the Universe, Piece by Piece.” Dalcanton will highlight the unique role that the Hubble Space Telescope has played in shaping our understanding of galaxies and stars as she illuminates the complex forces that have shaped the universe we see around us. She will also talk about the future of space exploration and how it will shape future discoveries about the universe. All free tickets have been claimed for the talk, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18 in room 120 of Kane Hall on the UW campus in Seattle. There will be a waiting list in the event of no-shows.

AOT in the Star Wars spirit

aotnovIf you prefer a little beer with your astronomy head over to Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard Wednesday for another Astronomy on Tap Seattle event. It’s the ninth monthly event in the series, being presented by graduate students from the University of Washington. It’s so popular that Bad Jimmy’s named a brew especially for AoT: the Big Sipper, a Scotch Ale. (It’s yummy.)

This month the topic is planets with two stars. Guest speakers will give brief talks about “How to Find a Tatooine” and “How to Build a Tatooine.” The event is set to coincide with a certain movie release. We’re not sure which one, as they’re not saying. Astronomy, trivia games, prizes, fun, and beer get under way at 7 p.m. It’s free, but RSVP.

SAS takes on photography

saslogoThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the UW campus in Seattle. The club’s former president, Denis Janky, will give a talk titled “Astrophotography With a Large Dobsonian Telescope and Color CCD Camera.” Janky is a long-time visual observer who only recently began dabbling with astrophotography. He uses a Mallincam Universe color CCD camera with an Obsession Dobsonian telescope. The Obsession has a tracking system, but is designed for visual observing. The Mallincam has capability for real-time observation on a computer screen and is also a full-fledged color CCD camera. Janky will show his setup and explain how it works.

The club will also hold its election of officers for the coming year.

Eastside Science Café

logo-233x751The Eastside Science Café tackles an astronomy topic this month. Matt Tilley, a Ph.D. student in the UW Astrobiology Program, will give a talk titled “The Magnetospheres of Solar System Planets and Beyond” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17 at Wilde Rover Irish Pub in Kirkland. Tilley will talk about how the Earth’s magnetic field shields us from deadly solar radiation. He’ll look at other planets and discuss how magnetic fields might be used to explore planets light years away.

Science cafés are a program of Pacific Science Center.

Saturday star parties

Both the Seattle and Tacoma astronomical societies plan public events for Saturday, Nov. 21. SAS will hold its free monthly public star parties at Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Both will get under way at 5 p.m., weather permitting. Tacoma Astronomical Society‘s public night at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College will begin at 7:30 p.m. with a presentation about the New Horizons mission to Pluto. Telescopes will come out for observing if the weather cooperates.

Track upcoming events on the Seattle Astronomy calendar.

Asteroid mining: not such a crazy idea

When Bellevue-based Planetary Resources, Inc. first went public in April of 2012 with its plans to mine astroids for water and minerals there were many who reacted with an “Oh, pshaw.” Less than three years later, the successful landing by the ESA Rosetta mission of its probe Philae on the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, out in the far reaches of the solar system, makes it all seem like a more plausible idea.

“I love seeing the success of this mission because it proves that what we are doing is technically feasible today,” said Caitlin O’Keefe, director of marketing for Planetary Resources, on Tuesday during a Science Café talk sponsored by the Pacific Science Center at The Swiss Pub in Tacoma. O’Keefe added that Philae and Rosetta are ten-year-old craft that have spent a decade traversing six billion kilometers of space. Technology has advanced during that time; think about what your cell phone couldn’t do in 2004.

Caitlin O'Keefe

Caitlin O’Keefe, marketing director for Planetary Resources, spoke about asteroid mining at a Science Café event Tuesday in Tacoma. Photo borrowed from Facebook.

O’Keefe and everyone at Planetary Resources understand the skepticism. She quoted company co-founder Peter Diamandis as saying, “The day before something is a breakthrough it is a crazy idea.”

They’re creating the technology today to get themselves to that breakthrough. Advances in spacecraft control, avionics, communication systems, propulsion, and observation will help them identify and then get to resource-rich asteroids.

Unfortunately, one of their first tests of the technology went up in flames. Their Arkyd 3 satellite, which was to try out some of their new systems, blew up with the Antares rocket back in October.

“This was a bummer for our team to watch,” O’Keefe said. “There was a big hooray when it launched, and some not so nice words when it exploded six seconds later.”

But, she added, they’ve been able to shrug it off, in large part because their philosophy is to build a lot of small and relatively inexpensive spacecraft rather than putting all of their space-bound eggs into one billion-dollar basket.

“This is going to be a very important part of the space industry going forward: the ability to accept failure,” she said.

Many of the questions from the patrons of The Swiss during the talk centered around the financial aspects of mining in space. O’Keefe noted that there is a lot of potential. For example, one target astroid is thought to contain some $500 billion worth of platinum, which if mined would be more than has been extracted from Earth to date. While that could be a big payday, their first target is a more common substance: water. Water is good for drinking and protection from radiation, and can be turned into rocket fuel. And O’Keefe pointed out that it’s a lot cheaper to pick up water in space than it is to take it with you. To launch a bottle of water into low-Earth orbit you need about 50 times its mass in rocket fuel, and that pencils out to about $20,000. The savings add up, and it will make long space missions much more fiscally possible; a spacecraft can go all the way from Earth to Pluto on the same amount of fuel it takes just to launch into low-Earth orbit.

Mining may well be easier in the zero gravity of space, too, and the methods for doing it are pretty straightforward.

“Building this technology will be extremely difficult,” O’Keefe admitted. “I’m not downplaying the difficulty of a complicated system, but the theory of how to extract it is pretty well known.”

O’Keefe invited us all to join the asteroid mining effort. You can go to Asteroid Zoo, a venture launched this summer by Planetary Resources and Zooniverse, to help comb through data and identify potentially resource-rich asteroids.

Mario Livio highlights week of great space and astronomy events

Writers should generally avoid clichés. Given today’s end of a great streak of good observing weather, and some great choices for science lectures in the next week, “When it rains, it pours” seems an apt statement even for an astronomy blog.

Mario Livio

Mario Livio will speak about Brilliant Scientific Blunders at Town Hall Seattle Wednesday evening.

The headliner for the week is astrophysicist and author Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who will speak at Town Hall Seattle on Wednesday, May 15, about his new book, Brilliant Blunders, being released this week. Livio’s premise is that even the great ones like Einstein and Darwin goof, and that’s good; science thrives on error, advancing when incorrect theories are disproven. Livio also is the author of Is God a Mathematician?, and he’s one of half a dozen experts featured in an article of the May issue of Astronomy magazine who help explain the size, shape, and limits of the universe. Livio’s talk at Town Hall begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Other choices for the week:


Another Town Hall Seattle event May 13 is actually a triple feature. At 6 p.m. University of Washington Ph.D. students Patti Carroll and Meg Smith will talk about their work as part of the U.W. Science Now series. Carroll will talk about radio astronomy and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Hint: It’s not exactly like the movie “Contact.” Smith will talk about the mysteries of Mars and the possibility that life once existed there. As a bonus, tickets for these two talks also get you in to a 7:30 p.m. lecture by Daniel Dennett titled “Thinking About Thinking Itself.”


At a “Science Café” event May 14 at the Swiss Pub in Tacoma U.W. Prof. Joshua Bandfield will give a talk titled, “To the Moon, Mars & Beyond: Robotic Spacecraft Exploration.” Bandfield will discuss the pros and cons of using no-crew spacecraft to explore the solar system. Bandfield is an engaging speaker who keynoted the Seattle Astronomical Society annual banquet in 2010. Admission is free to the Science Café, though it would be good to buy a brew. The series is sponsored by the Pacific Science Center and KCTS9 television.


Theodor Jacobsen Observatory

The Seattle Astronomical Society meets at the U.W. on Wednesday evening, with its main topic being a discussion of considerations for buying a first telescope. It’s just late for Mother’s Day, but it’s never to early to start thinking about Christmas! SAS meets at 7:30 p.m. in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the U.W. campus.

Also at the U.W. May 15 they’ll hold one of the bi-monthly open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. Three different U.W. students will give talks during  the evening, and Seattle Astronomical Society volunteers will be on had for tours of the vintage building and, if weather permits, a look through the Alvan Clark Telescope in the dome. Events begin at 9 p.m., and advance reservations are strongly encouraged for the talks.

Jon Jenkins

Jon Jenkins will give two talks about the hunt for exoplanets Thursday at the University of Washington


Back to the U.W. again on May 16 for a pair of events featuring Jon Jenkins of the SETI Institute and the NASA Ames Research Center. Jenkins will speak at the U.W. Astronomy Department Colloquium at 4 p.m. in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building, and give a public lecture at 7:30 p.m. in Kane Hall room 120. The colloquium will be a highly technical talk about the Kepler mission, while the public lecture will be a more general exploration of the search for exoplanets.

You can keep track of area space and astronomy events by watching the Seattle Astronomy calendar. Also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.