Astronomy Day

universe2

Have you ever wanted to look through a telescope? Then come and help us celebrate Astronomy Day! We will be hosting the Everett Astronomy Club on Saturday May 10, 2014 in the Main Library Children’s Activity Room. The Everett Astronomy Club will have telescopes set up that you can look through, as well as video and computer displays and amateur astronomers to answer your questions.

At the event, you can learn about light pollution, observing techniques, stars, galaxies, planets and meteorites. Weather permitting, they are going to try to set up a telescope outside for solar observing. We have lots of books about astronomy if you are interested in learning more either before or after the program!

astronomy books

The group will also have their telescopes set up at Harborview Park on Friday May 9th and Saturday May 10th from 6:00 PM until midnight (weather permitting) and you can gaze at the stars there as well.

 

Stargazer

Origins CoverSomewhere along the line I forgot about outer space. Like many kids who grew up in an urban area, experiencing the beauty of the night’s sky meant driving into the city, passing under an oddly-orange firmament where ‘stars’ usually turned out to be planes, to go to the planetarium. There, among the laser effects and synth-heavy space funk, I became enthralled with the idea of traveling to distant planets (our visits probably also laid the groundwork for my high school rave years). Being raised watching Doctor Who sealed the deal. This lasted until I was about 10, when I realized that my fear of heights, going fast, and flying would pretty much ruin any aspirations I had of reaching for the stars. Once the dream became impossible, it seemed acceptable to forget I ever had it.

Thankfully for the rest of the world space exploration carried on, and amazing things were accomplished. We have robots sending us beautiful images (and data) from Mars, while private corporations are currently discussing sending people (and reality shows) to that same red planet. We have interstellar probes, launched before I was even born, that are about to pass out of the solar system.  At this moment, astronauts from three different countries are living and working in the massive International Space Station that is hurtling around the planet miles above our heads.

Moon CoverWhen you take the time to remember outer space, you realize how far we’ve come in understanding it, and how far we’re about to go in continuing that research. There are scores of great books written about space and space exploration, so I felt it would be appropriate to make a reading list for anyone who wanted to be an armchair astronaut with me.

One of the best parts about being in the Pacific Northwest is that you’re never too far from wilderness, and the amazing star-gazing it affords you.The Monthly Sky Guide by Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion is an easy to use, very portable book that you can take along on camping trips to help you learn about all the beautiful activity going on above you.

As mentioned in a couple of our Facebook posts, Neil deGrasse Tyson is someone you should know if you don’t already. Tyson is as influential and likable a celebrity for astrophysics as Bill Nye is for science education, or Michael Pollan is for botany. For two very enjoyable and accessible reads about the history of the universe, and where mankind’s place is in it, I’d recommend Origins and Space Chronicles.

Pale Blue Dot coverTo look into the past, present, and future of humans in space, Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan is a classic. This book is full of beautiful illustrations and thought-provoking chapters that read like sci-fi.

If you’re like me, and you want a little bit of anthropology mixed in with your space (I know, weird), look no further than Moon: a Brief History by Bernard Brunner. This book takes a look at the mythology and symbolism that has developed around the Moon, and combines it with what we know scientifically about our closest neighbor in space.

Pluto CoverFinally, for mourning fans of debased Pluto, there’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown. Written by the astronomer who made the discovery that inadvertently dethroned Pluto as a planet, this book gives the reader a humorous and enlightening explanation of one of the stranger recent events in astronomy.

I hope this list has inspired you, as Jack Horkheimer always urged me as a kid, to “keep looking up!”

Planet X

Credit: NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI)

Planet, dwarf planet, and Kuiper belt object. These are just a few of the labels attached to that icy sphere at the end our solar system named Pluto. I must admit my favorite, a name Pluto held before its discovery in 1930, is Planet X. The name Planet X gives Pluto the proper sense of the unknown. 

Mystery is the key when it comes to Pluto because what we don’t know is immense. A short summary will easily give you all the facts that science has been able to find out to date. Science is only part of the story, however. When Pluto was demoted to the status of dwarf planet in 2006 a huge outpouring of anger and emotion erupted among the public. It seems that icy Pluto has a lot of friends.

There are two great new books about Pluto that will initiate you into the controversy of just what to call the “object”.

The first is The Pluto Files: the Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson, who is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, humorously chronicles the saga of Pluto’s demotion to Dwarf Planet status. The book is worth reading alone for the examples of grade school hate mail Tyson received when he took Pluto off the list of official planets at the museum.

The Case for Pluto by Alan Boyle tries to put a more positive spin on Pluto’s reclassification.  Boyle argues that Pluto is the first of a new class of planets which, while never being part of the official eight planets, will usher in a new era of discovery. A bit of a sugar coating perhaps, but there actually is a lot to look forward to.

For the first time in the history of our planet, a spacecraft is on its way to Pluto. The New Horizons probe launched in 2006 and is set to explore Pluto, Charon and other objects beyond. New Horizons has reached the halfway point of its trip and is scheduled to meet up with Pluto in July of 2015.  It has already sent back great pictures of Jupiter as it cruised on past.

I know five years might be considered a long time to wait for results, but why not spend it contemplating what might be found. Personally I’m hoping for the discovery of Ripley’s frozen escape ship from the Nostromo or perhaps a rebel base under attack from AT-AT walkers. Not likely, perhaps, but at this point it can’t be disproved.  There are advantages to being the unknown Planet X.

Richard