Jacobsen Observatory resumes open houses this week

TJO

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

Spring has sprung, and one of the many wonderful manifestations of that is the resumption of bi-monthly open houses at the University of Washington’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. The first of the year will be held beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 2. Future open houses will be held on the first and third Tuesday of each month through September.

The day of the week is a change. The open houses have been held on Wednesday evenings ever since we can remember.

The open houses typically include a couple of astronomy talks by UW students. This week Aislynn Wallach will talk about The Future of Telescopes and Aleezah Ali will discuss Binary Stars. Unfortunately, reservations for these free events are usually snapped up pretty early, and the April 2 event is already listed as full. The observatory classroom in which the talks are held only holds 45 people. You can check out future topics and make reservations on the TJO website.

Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society staff the observatory dome on open house evenings and, weather permitting, give visitors a look through the vintage 1892 telescope, which has a 6-inch Brashear objective lens on a Warner & Swasey equatorial mount.

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Seattle is just like Mars, and other lessons from a 3-D trip

Attendees at the most recent gathering of the Seattle Astronomical Society went on an entertaining and informative 3-D trip to Mars, and learned that Seattle is just like the Red Planet.

Antonio Paris

Antonio Paris

Our tour guide was Dr. Antonio Paris, chief scientist at the Center for Planetary Science, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at St. Petersburg College in Florida, and author of Mars: Your Personal 3D Journey to the Red Planet (Center for Planetary Science, 2018).

Paris said he loves Mars and expects that humans will be going there sooner than later.

“I suspect that, the way things are going, probably in about 10 to 15 years we’re going to be on Mars,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think anyone is going to go it alone.

“Mars, in my personal opinion, is going to be an international effort, both with corporations as well as the government,” Paris said.

The book was something of a spinoff of an exhibit about Mars that Paris helped put together at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. The exhibit proved pretty popular, and the book seemed the next natural step. Proceeds from book sales support the work of the Center for Planetary Science.

Paris featured fantastic 3-D images of a great many Martian geological features in his presentation. While his Ph.D. is in astronomy, he’s really morphed into something of a rock hound.

“We are primarily geologists that are studying all of the geological features here on Earth,” he said, “and we’re trying to compare and contrast them with what we see on the lunar surface, what we see on Mercury, Venus, and all of the terrestrial planets.”

Paris called the process comparative planetology.

Ripples

Ripple marks such as those shown in this photo from the rover Opportunity were deposited by water moving back and forth. Image: NASA/JPL

“If I look at something here on Earth and I can determine how that thing happened,” he said, “and I see the same thing on Mars, I can deduce that the same processes have occurred, most likely.”

That caveat was included on most of his deductions, but the comparisons are pretty compelling. For example, Paris passed around a flat piece of rock with ripple marks on it that he collected in the Canyonlands in Utah. Such ripple marks are created by water moving back and forth over the rock, and the Canyonlands piece looks exactly like stuff the rovers have seen on Mars.

Paris also showed photos of rock formations made when moving or freezing water breaks up bedrock, and wears it down into small pebbles. At least, that’s how it happens on Earth.

Potholes on Mars

This set of images compares the Link outcrop of rocks on Mars with similar rocks seen on Earth. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and PSI

“We call that either fragmented sidewalk or conglomerate terrain,” he said. Here in Seattle, especially after our recent cold and snowy weather, we just call it a pothole, and that’s how the Emerald City is like the Red Planet! Potholes all over the place!

Paris does a lot of rock hunting in the American southwest, which has a lot of Mars analog sites that scientists and NASA use in their Mars work. These include Moenkopi in Arizona, Canyonlands, the Mojave Desert, Death Valley, and the Flagstaff area.

The website for the Center for Planetary Science notes that Paris will make a presentation in Portland in September at a time and place not yet published. Dollars to Voodoo Doughnuts it will be with Rose City Astronomers. Stay tuned.

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Astro Biz: Moon’s Kitchen

Moon's KitchenMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one periodically on Seattle Astronomy.

Today’s Astro Biz is Moon’s Kitchen Japanese restaurant. Moon’s Kitchen is on Fourth Avenue in Seattle’s Belltown Neighborhood.

Moon’s Kitchen has no official online presence that we could discover. That’s a little odd in this day and age; if there’s no website, does a place really exist? Probably so, as there’s a robust discussion of the joint on Yelp and the like, and it receives generally good reviews, though one grump called it a “glorified teriyaki place.” You can order Moon’s Kitchen dishes for delivery through Grub Hub, Uber Eats, and possibly others.

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Wow! Check out The Planets Online

There’s a great new website about our solar system that will blow your socks off! The Planets Online introduces viewers to a broad range of subjects in a unique, innovative, and entertaining way. The site naturally interweaves information on science, engineering, music, visual design, and technology—it could be a showcase for STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).

Adrian Wyard

Adrian Wyard

The site is the creation of visual artist Adrian Wyard. Followers of Seattle Astronomy may recall that we wrote about Wyard’s show The Planets Live about three years ago (story here). The concept is that Wyard uses images of celestial objects to accompany and enhance classical music. He’s done it with Gustav Holst’s The Planets, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Dvorák’s 9th Symphony.

The core of The Planets Online is a video of a performance of The Planets by the Auburn Symphony Orchestra directed by Anthony Spain and featuring the Seattle Pacific University Women’s Choir and Wyard’s visuals. This is no ordinary video, however. If you remember when we used to get our video on plastic disks, think of The Planets Online as a video loaded with special features. As the video plays, a sidebar describes the images and who created them, offers facts about the music, pulls up Wikipedia pages and other sources about the science, throws in tidbits of trivia, and more. You can switch any of these info streams on or off depending on your interests.

Here’s a little preview video of The Planets Online.

We expect you might spend a good deal of time with the site.

There are live performances of Wyard’s work coming up this spring in Florida, Virginia, and Texas. The last northwest live performances were back in April, May, and October last year. If you missed those, you can have a little fun—and learn a few things—with The Planets Online.

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Destination Moon exhibit taking shape at Museum of Flight

Helmet and gloves

The helmet and gloves used by Buzz Aldrin when he walked on the Moon, from the Destination Moon exhibit in St. Louis. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

With less than a month to go until its opening, the Destination Moon exhibit about the Apollo 11 mission is taking shape at the Museum of Flight. Museum staff announced in a news release this week that the helmet and gloves used by astronaut Buzz Aldrin during his walk on the Moon have been installed in the space. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the Apollo 11 command module Columbia, but it will feature many other artifacts of the historic mission.

I saw the exhibit when it was in St. Louis last summer (story here) and it was great. It opens at the Museum of Flight April 13 and runs through September 2, a stretch of dates that includes the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969 “giant leap for mankind.”

There will be some differences in the exhibit from when it was in St. Louis. For example, the Museum of Flight release notes that the helmet and gloves display will include a magnifying glass so that museum visitors can read the to-do list on Aldrin’s glove reminding him of his tasks during the moonwalk. A key item on the list: get a photograph of a boot print on the Moon!

More helmet and gloves

Shelley Sterns-Blackburn, ELY, Inc, and Lisa Young, Conservator at National Air and Space Museum make some final adjustments to spacesuit gloves worn by Buzz Aldrin while on the surface of the Moon. Aldrin’s helmet and visor are in place on the left. Photo Ted Huetter/The Museum of Flight.

Tickets for all dates of the exhibit are now on sale on the Museum of Flight website. Tickets are $10, or $5 for museum members, and must be purchased in addition to museum general admission, which is $25 for adults, $21 for seniors, and $16 for youth. Kids under 4 years of age are admitted free.

In addition, there is a free member preview of the exhibit scheduled for Sunday, April 7, which sounds like an excellent reason to join up today. Several free days are planned during the run of the exhibit, though no details on those have yet been published.

When I saw the exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center I went on a weekday afternoon and there were no lines or crowds; I just walked up and bought a ticket. Weekends might be a different story.

I can’t wait to see it again!

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Black holes and LIGO on Bainbridge Island

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory—LIGO—is leading scientists to discoveries at an impressive clip. Just two years ago we wrote about UW Bothell physics professor Joey Shapiro Key’s talk to the Seattle Astronomical Society about the detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two stellar-mass black holes—a discovery that won the Nobel Prize. Last week at Bainbridge Island Open Mic Science Key talked about LIGO, its latest detections, and plans for even bigger science in the future.

Joey Key

Joey Shapiro Key

Interferometers are a simple idea. They have two perpendicular arms of equal length. Laser light is split into the two arms, hits mirrors at the far ends, and returns to the source. If something changes the length of an arm, the light waves interfere with each other. LIGO in Hanford and a twin observatory in Louisiana are huge observatories with arms four kilometers long, and they are making amazing measurements.

“When we detect the gravitational waves they are quite pristine, even from billions of light years away,” Key explained. “But it was a challenge because gravitational waves interact so weakly with matter—that’s why they’re so pristine when they reach us—they’re very hard to detect.”

How hard? Einstein, who thought up the notion of gravitational waves and did the math to explain how they would work, thought the effect was too small to ever detect. It took a century to develop the technology to do it. LIGO can detect unbelievably minute changes in the length of its arms when a wave passes through.

“This is the most sensitive measuring device in the world,” Key said of LIGO. “For those four-kilometer arms, the change in the length in the arms we measure is a thousand times smaller than the width of a proton in the center of an atom.”


Simulation by SXS

The big discovery by LIGO since Key’s previous talk came in August of 2017.

“We detected a gravitational-wave signal from two neutron stars colliding, followed immediately by a detection of a gamma-ray burst by NASA’s Fermi satellite, and this set off a worldwide search for the source of that gravitational wave signal,” Key said. More than half a dozen observatories were involved in the work, observing the event in many wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum and pinning down the galaxy in which the collision occurred.

“This is the first ever multi-messenger detection with gravitational waves where we’re doing observations using gravitational waves and light,” Key said. Being able to see light from the event taught us a lot.

“We really learned from this one in particular that most of the heavy elements in our universe, including what solar systems are made of, what planets are made of, and what we are made of, comes from neutron stars colliding and kilonova events,” Key noted.

Just as light has a wide range of wavelengths, so do gravitational waves. Key said LIGO can only detect a limited slice of those wavelengths. It would be not able to find gravitational waves from the collisions of supermassive black holes or from the early universe. That will take a different tool.

“The future of gravitational wave astronomy lies in experiments such as LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, that will do laser interferometry in space,” Key said. LISA is a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency, but there will be a bit of a wait for it. LISA’s planned launch isn’t until 2034. In the meantime, LIGO has plenty to do, with planned upgrades that will make the detector even more sensitive.

“We really are in a brand new era of gravitational wave astronomy, and there’s a lot to be discovered,” Key said.

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Astro Biz: Starburst IPA

Starburst IPAMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one periodically on Seattle Astronomy.

Today’s Astro Biz is Starburst IPA from Ecliptic Brewing. Ecliptic is based in Portland, Oregon and (spoiler alert!) probably deserves an Astro Biz post all its own. Its website at present features nine brews, all with space and astronomy names. Ecliptic also has a brewpub in the Boise neighborhood east of the river in Portland.

The Starburst, according to the website, produces a soaring amount of hop flavor. Brewed with Amarillo, Azacca, Centennial, Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe hops for fresh flavors of citrus, fruit and pine. It uses 100 percent pale malt that makes for a super clean finish and puts the focus on the hop flavors and aromas. Dry hopped to the end of the universe!

Worth a try!

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