Tag Archives: OMSI

Amateur astronomy in the age of coronavirus

Coronavirus and social distancing cannot deprive us of our enjoyment of astronomy. One can make the case that the best way to enjoy the hobby is with a telescope in your back yard in the middle of the night, as noted in my most recent tweet of Sky and Telescope’s weekly update of stuff to see.

On the other hand amateur astronomy is also a highly social endeavor. There are jillions of astronomy clubs all over the country with members devoted to putting on interesting meetings and to sharing their enjoyment of the heavens with their neighbors. The members of these clubs also rely on each other as answerers of how-to questions. Our last post was about Goldendale Sky Village, which is being designed as a spot in which it will be easy for members to observe the night sky together.

In the coronavirus era the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been replaced on astronomy’s hardest-to-spell list by the word “canceled.” As astronomy groups call off their events one sees this AP-Style preferred spelling about as often as “cancelled,” which most dictionaries list as OK, too. Grammar police from both sides tend to weigh in with little impact.

Calling the whole thing off

Regardless of the spelling, a great majority of official astronomy events are being canceled these days. Part of the challenge is that many astronomy organizations hold their gatherings at schools or colleges, libraries, museums, and other sorts of places that are now buttoned up. Just this morning Washington governor Jay Inslee announced a ban on any confab of more than 50 people, and said even smaller meetings had to meet strict guidelines for hygiene and social distancing. Officials urged people to avoid any “unnecessary interactions” at least for the next couple of weeks. As much as I love them, astronomy events probably fall into that category.

The Seattle Astronomical Society has canceled its March meeting which would have been on the 18th. The club is looking at streaming more meetings, as it did with a remote guest speaker last month. Similarly, the Rose City Astronomers in Portland have ditched their regular meeting set for tonight, though club members can check out an online meeting via Zoom. Clubs in Bainbridge Island, Everett, Whatcom County, Island County, Tacoma, Bellevue, Tri-Cities, and Eugene also have nixed many of their events at least for March and some in April.

Taking it online

A couple of major events are planning to go virtual. The Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF), perhaps the hobby’s biggest trade show, is switching to a one-day online event set for April 4. The next meeting of the American Astronomical Society, scheduled for Madison, Wisconsin May 31 to June 4, is looking at moving from an on-site/in-person conference to a fully remote/virtual one.

The author social distancing
Social distancing in astronomy! The author caught the 2012 transit of Venus by himself at a remote county park in northern California. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

These are hard times for astronomy bloggers, too. The Museum of Flight, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Pacific Science Center, and Town Hall Seattle are all closed, and these have provided many great astronomy events that we’ve covered over the years. In addition, we haven’t heard anything official from Astronomy on Tap Seattle about the status of its monthly gathering, but it typically draws way more than 50 people, is held in a beer garden, and all of those have been closed, so we can connect the dots on that.

Nevertheless we soldier on! We’ve got a little stretch of clear sky going, so social distance yourself and get out and enjoy it while it’s here. We’ll keep blogging it up and, once this virus is licked, we’ll see you at the next star party. In the meantime, wash your hands.

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Calendar: Meet with Ladies Who Launch this week

Ladies who launch gather this week at the Museum of Flight, and there’s a lot of local club activity on the calendar.

Ladies who Launch

Ladies who launchElsbeth Magilton, executive director of the Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications law programs at the University of Nebraska College of Law, will speak at a special Ladies Who Launch event at 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 9 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Magilton’s areas of specialty include commercial space law and policy, cybersecurity and cybercrime, and national security. She will focus on the need for more women in leadership positions in aerospace and the technology sector, and positive, concrete steps we can take to advance our careers accordingly.

Ladies Who Launch is a specialized networking group for professional women with ten or more years of experience and a passion for flight, who are actively seeking to advance their careers in any industry and hold, or desire to obtain, leadership roles. Tickets to the event are $35 and are available online.

Battle Point

The Battle Point Astronomical Association’s monthly public events are coming up Saturday, January 13. Family date night starts at 4 p.m. when BP Astro Kids look at how things spin and what that means. The presentation repeats again at 5 p.m. Following at 7:30, the monthly planetarium show looks at the similarities between telescopes and dragonflies, and examines the work of a new class of ‘scopes. There will be stargazing, too, weather permitting.

Astronomy club meetings

Olympic Astronomical Society, Monday, January 8, 7:30 p.m.
Heart of the Valley Astronomers, Tuesday, January 9, 7 p.m.
Boeing Employees Astronomical Society, Friday, January 12, 7 p.m. Agenda
Everett Astronomical Society, Saturday, January 13, 3 p.m.

Futures file

Rose City Astronomers meet next Monday, January 15, at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. The guest speaker will be Ethan Siegel, author of Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive (Voyaguer Press, 2017). Check out our podcast and article with Siegel about the book. You can always scout future Northwest astronomy events on our calendar.

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Club activity and more Viking news on this week’s astro calendar

The Vikings are sailing on Oregon, and a number of astronomy clubs in the region have meetings and events this week.

Viking at Science Pub Eugene

VMMEPPMeet some of the folks involved with the Viking Mars missions in the mid-1970s at Science Pub Eugene at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10 at Whirled Pies at Cozmic in Eugene, Oregon. As an 11-year-old girl Rachel Tillman saved the last remaining un-flown Viking spacecraft from the scrap heap. She later became founder and is executive director of the nonprofit organization The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project. Tillman will speak at Science Pub Eugene, along with Al Treder, who worked on Viking guidance and control; Peggy Newcomb, wife of NASA Viking engineer and author John Newcomb, who passed away in March; Virgil Young, Camera Imaging Team member at Martin Marietta Laboratories; and Dr. Clare Reimers, professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University.

Suggested donation for admission is $5. Science Pub Eugene is a program of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. If you can’t make this Viking Mars Mission event, it will be repeated at Science Pub Corvallis on the 14th.

Astronomy clubs

Olympic Astronomical SocietyThe Olympic Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for tonight (Monday, November 7) at 7:30 in room Art 103 on the campus of Olympic College in Bremerton. A look at the constellations Libra and Piscis Austrinus and a talk about the warping of time and space are included on the agenda.

beaslogo_300The Boeing Employees’ Astronomical Society will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10 at the Boeing “Oxbow” Fitness Center. NASA Solar System Ambassador John McLaren will give a presentation about the latest information gained from exploring the Sun. Non-Boeing visitors are welcome but need an escort to the meeting. Contact David Ingram for more information.

BPAA logoThe Battle Point Astronomical Association on Bainbridge Island has several events planned for Saturday. Parents and budding scientists attending the BP Astro Kids program at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. November 12 will learn what caused all of those craters on the Moon, and then will build their own moons to take home. At 7:30 p.m. the club’s planetarium show will look at the possible connections between dark matter, black holes, and gravitational waves. If there weather permits there will be astronomical observing as well. It all happens at the club’s Edwin Ritchie Observatory and John Rudolph Planetarium in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge.

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will offer a workshop about understanding telescopes at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 13 at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Experienced stargazers will discuss the basic concepts needed for choosing and using telescopes, eyepieces, and star charts. The event is open to members and non-members alike.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include the next Astronomy on Tap Seattle event, set for November 16 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. By the way, there’s a nice article about the Astronomy on Tap movement in the December issue of Astronomy magazine.

Up in the sky

Neptune will appear very close to the Moon on Wednesday. The Sky This Week from Astronomy and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have more observing highlights for the week.

SpaceFest at MOF tops week’s astro calendar

A three-day space fest, several star parties, some astronomy club meetings, and a chance to meet Viking mission folks are on tab for the next week of astronomy events.

SpaceFest: Ladies who LaunchThe third annual SpaceFest at the Museum of Flight kicks off Thursday for three days of exhibits and presentations. Under the theme of Ladies Who Launch, this year’s SpaceFest celebrates women astronauts, engineers, authors, and others who helped put America into space.

The days are packed with events. Highlights include a talk by South Korean Astronaut Soyeon Yi at 1 p.m. Friday, November 4, and a keynote at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, November 5 by Nathalia Holt, author of Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars (Little, Brown and Company, 2016). The book is a tale of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

You can order the book by clicking the link above; purchases through the Seattle Astronomy Store help defray our operating costs and enable us to bring you great astronomy stories. Check the full schedule for the weekend on the museum’s online calendar. We plan to attend a number of the sessions, and will report back!

Viking at Portland Science Pub

VMMEPPMeet some of the folks involved with the Viking Mars missions in the mid-1970s at Science Pub Portland at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 3 at McMenamins Mission Theater in Portland. As an 11-year-old girl Rachel Tillman saved the last remaining un-flown Viking spacecraft from the scrap heap. She later became founder and is executive director of the nonprofit organization The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project. Tillman will speak at Science Pub Portland, along with Al Treder, who worked on Viking guidance and control; Pat DeMartine, Viking lander command sequence and simulation programmer and science team member; and Peggy Newcomb, wife of NASA Viking engineer and author John Newcomb, who passed away in March.

Suggested donation for admission is $5. Science Pub Portland is a program of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. If you can’t make this Viking Mars Mission event, it will be repeated at Science Pub Eugene on November 10 and Science Pub Corvallis on the 14th.

Saving the planet

Ed Lu

Ed Lu. Photo: NASA

When the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope comes online, it is expected that the discovery rate of near-Earth asteroids will increase by more than a factor of 20 over the current rate, and that the list of asteroids with a worrisome probability of hitting the Earth will also become much larger. Astronaut Ed Lu, CEO and co-founder of the B612 Foundation, will discuss the scientific as well as public policy challenges related to potential asteroid impact scenarios at this week’s University of Washington astronomy colloquium. The event will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 3 in the Physics/Astronomy Auditorium on the UW campus in Seattle.

Club meetings

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 1 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus in Tacoma. Topics will include a review of some of the club’s new gear and a primer on Proxima b, a roughly Earth-sized planet believed to be in orbit around our nearest stellar neighbor.

The Spokane Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 4 at the planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. Specific topics or guest speakers for the gathering had not been published as of this writing.

Star parties

There are three star parties on the calendar for this week. The Covington Community Park Star Party is planned for 8 p.m. Friday, November 4 at the park. The event is a joint effort of the Seattle Astronomical Society and the Boeing Employees’ Astronomical Society.

The Seattle club also plans its free monthly public star parties for 6 p.m. Saturday, November 5 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Cloudy weather will mean cancellation of the star parties; watch the club’s website or social media for updates.

Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its free public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 5 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor program will be about spectroscopy. If the weather is clear they’ll break out the telescopes and have a look at what’s up in the night sky.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include:

Up in the sky

The Taurid meteor shower peaks this Thursday and Friday. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have more observing highlights for the week.

Total solar eclipse 2017: Salem, Oregon

This is the tenth article and podcast Seattle Astronomy has done to preview possible places from which to view the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States next August 21. We’ve talked with folks from Madras, Oregon to Columbia, South Carolina and points in between. It’s time to look at the closest viewpoint for Seattle eclipse chasers: The Salem Fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon are just 219 miles from Seattle Astronomy world headquarters, and will be the site of an eclipse viewing party headed by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI.)

Good viewing in Oregon

“Oregon is really advertised as the best place to view the eclipse, and we’re expecting ten million visitors to come down to Oregon for that one-day event,” said Jim Todd, director of space science education at OMSI. “Oregon needs to be ready.”

se2017That latter is something of an understatement. Todd says they expect about ten thousand people to attend the OMSI-sponsored party at the fairgrounds, an event that has support from Rose City Astronomers in Portland, the Oregon Observatory, and NASA, among others. The party will feature science lectures, astronomy-related community groups, and entertainment, including a performance by the Portland Taiko drum ensemble.

Salem is a bit north of the center line of totality, which crosses I-5 about halfway between Oregon’s capitol city and Albany. But the total eclipse will last nearly two minutes at the fairgrounds, and Todd said there will be numerous other viewing points in and near the city, including at Willamette University and Volcano Stadium in Keiser, where the Salem-Keiser Volcanoes baseball team, a class-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, are planning a Monday morning baseball game for next August 21 that may feature the first “eclipse delay” in the history of organized ball.

“It goes without saying: we can’t do this alone,” Todd said. “We just have to educate the public and make sure they understand what’s involved with the eclipse.”

Oregon West

Western Oregon eclipse map courtesy GreatAmerican Eclipse.com.

They’re doing that through planetarium shows, workshops, and social media to get the word out, especially about about safe viewing of the eclipse during its partial phase. They’ve also been in touch with government officials from the Oregon governor’s office on down to make sure they’re thinking ahead for eclipse day. With huge crowds expected, things could get chaotic, espeically if there are clouds around and people have to scramble to find a clear sky for the moment of the eclipse.

“It will likely be hot, it will likely be crazy as far as traffic jams. Airports, hotels, you name it,” Todd warns. “It’s going to be a crazy day. It’s going to be one of those days people are going to remember where they were on that very day when they were looking for the eclipse.”

Rural options

Todd also serves as a co-director of the annual Oregon Star Party, which has set its 2017 event for the days before, of, and after the eclipse.

“We plan to do viewing from Indian Trail Spring in the Ochoco Mountains,” he noted. The site is somewhat south of the center line of the path of totality, and will enjoy about a minute and 27 seconds of total solar eclipse.

One concern about eclipse day is that many people will simply head for similar remote areas and gridlock roads there.

Jim Todd

Jim Todd. Photo: LinkedIn.

Todd has seen one other total solar eclipse, that back in 1979. He was a senior in high school and had to wrangle his way around official authority to do it.

“My science teacher was going to keep the class inside,” he recalls with a laugh. He got permission to head to Goldendale, Washington with another family, where they escaped cloudy Portland skies—it was February—and saw the eclipse. Next year may be a bit easier.

“Fortunately for us [the eclipse is] going to be in August, when we have a great chance of clear skies,” Todd noted.

The job fits

Todd is a true space nut. Like many of us, his interest was cemented when he watched Apollo 11 land on the Moon. He taught himself space science and astronomy, then took an internship at OMSI. He never left; he’s been there 33 years.

“It’s been my way of getting close to NASA by getting close to all of the astronomical events,” he said. “It’s one of the very few jobs where the hobby has actually become the job. I was able to combine my passion with astronomy and space science with the teaching and computers and so on. It was a perfect fit.”

Portland is an astronomy city. Rose City Astronomers is one of the biggest clubs in the country. Proximity to pretty good dark, transparent skies may be one reason for that.

“Portland has a science-minded audience and they love these kind of events,” Todd said. “We like to think, too, that OMSI had a role in that.”

Tickets to the eclipse party at Salem Fairgrounds are $8 and are available now through the OMSI website.

Podcast of our interview with Jim Todd:

Transit of Mercury highlight of the week; maybe the year

The most anticipated observing event of the year happens Monday morning, May 9, as Mercury will transit across the face of the Sun. The transit begins at 4:13 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, so it will be under way when the Sun rises in Seattle.

NASA illustration.

NASA illustration.

The weather gods are taunting Seattle astronomers, as usual. After a pretty good run of mostly clear weather, we awoke to rain on Mother’s Day morning. The forecast is for mostly cloudy cloudy skies around sunrise Monday, turning to sunny by noon, when the transit will be over. So, it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll see the transit constantly from sun-up to finish, but also looks pretty unlikely that we’ll get skunked.

There are several transit-observing events that we know about. Seattle Astronomy will be down at Seacrest Park near the West Seattle Water Taxi dock with a telescope; join us and have a look! The Seattle Astronomical Society will hold an observing event at Snoqualmie Point Park near the town of Snoqualmie. (UPDATE: The SAS event has been cancelled due to inclement weather.) There will be transit viewing and programming at the Pierce College Science Dome in Lakewood. Rose City Astronomers and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry will be observing the transit from the OMSI site in Portland. Check the links for details.

A couple of things to keep in mind about the transit. First, don’t ever, ever, ever look at the Sun without proper protection. Regular sunglasses won’t do the trick. You need special eclipse glasses. Second, Mercury is so small that you will need magnification to see it, and that means a telescope also equipped with the proper solar filters. Be safe out there!

Read our preview article about the Mercury transit.

AstronoMay continues

Pacific Science CenterAstronoMay continues at the Pacific Science Center this week. There will be two interesting lectures on Saturday, May 14. At 10 a.m. Elena Amador, a graduate student at the University of Washington, will talk about the search for water on Mars. Then at 2:30 p.m. Dr. Sandeep Singh, a planetary scientist from the Bear Fight Institute in Winthrop, will speak about Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Singh has worked on NASA’s Rosetta, Cassini, and DAWN missions.

Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand much of the day Saturday with solar telescopes for observing the Sun, and the center is offering planetarium shows and other astronomy-related programming throughout the week. Check their calendar for details.

PacSci Podcast about AstronoMay:

Club events

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will host one of its public nights beginning at 9 p.m. this Saturday, May 14 on the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The program will be about black holes, and there will be observing if the weather permits.

BPAAThe Battle Point Astronomical Association has several events on Saturday, May 14 at its Edwin Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. At their BPAstro Kids shows at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. youngsters will build their own planets and check them for life. Following at 8 p.m. astronomer Steve Ruhl will examine exoplanets: How we see them, what they tell us about our solar system, and how we might know if there other habitable worlds out there.

Check out our recent article and podcast about BPastro Kids:

Up in the sky

The Mercury transit is the big astronomical event of the week. 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.

Astronaut talk, Astronomy on Tap this week

We’ll hear from South Korea’s first astronaut this week and celebrate the first birthday of Astronomy on Tap Seattle.

Astronaut Soyeon Yi

soyeonyi_calendarSoyeon Yi became South Korea’s first astronaut when she flew with a Russian crew on Soyuz to the International Space Station in 2008. Yi, who retired from the astronaut business in 2014 and now lives in Puyallup, will give a talk at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 26 at the Museum of Flight. Yi’s appearance is part of the museum’s annual Women Fly! event for junior- and senior-high girls who are interested in aviation and aerospace careers.

Happy birthday to Astronomy on Tap Seattle

AOT Seattle March 23In March 2015 Astronomy on Tap Seattle started bringing us beer and astronomy on a monthly basis. They’ll celebrate a year in business with a big bash at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 23 at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company in Ballard. A handful of mini-talks will highlight astronomical discoveries and advances of the past year. You’ll also be able to buy a special Astronomy on Tap Seattle beer glass and fill it with deluxe, barrel-aged Big Sipper, an imperial Scotch ale that was named by popular vote of AoT participants. Check out our article and podcast from earlier this month about Astronomy on Tap Seattle’s first year.

Rose City

The Rose City Astronomers will hold their monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 21 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. Prof. James Schombert of the University of Oregon will take on the question of whether the universe is infinite, and how the latest observations are helping find answers.

LIGO lecture

A century after Einstein predicted gravitational waves, scientists with LIGO found them. Dr. Muzammil A. Arain, one of the authors of the paper that announced the discovery, will give a lecture at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 21 at Building 27 on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. The talk will cover the science behind the LIGO detectors, the basics of gravitational waves, and the data processing techniques employed by LIGO that enabled gravitational wave detection. Registration is $5 and can be done online.

Art on the Moon

NASA photo.

NASA photo.

The Giant Steps art exhibition and contest continues Saturday and Sunday at Seattle’s King Street Station, where it will be open from noon until 6 p.m. both days. The event challenged students, artists, engineers, architects, designers, and other space enthusiasts to imagine and propose art projects on the surface of the Moon. Their submissions will be on display at the station weekends through April 3. Admission is $10.

 

Up in the sky

Jupiter is just two weeks past opposition and well placed for viewing these days. The King of Planets will pass close to the Moon on Tuesday. 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.