Past General Meetings and Speakers
Searching for Aliens, Finding Ourselves
Are we alone? Humans have been asking this question throughout history. We want to know where we came from, how we fit into the cosmos, and where we are going. We want to know whether there is life beyond the Earth and whether any of it is intelligent. Jill Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for that institution.
This month our general meeting has been moved to the OMSI Empirical Theater. The Empirical Theater has an upper level wheelchair accessible entrance and theater restrooms.
Dr Erin Macdonald will present the science behind spacetime/general relativity and discuss how it applies to artificial gravity and faster-than-light (FTL) travel in science fiction. We will explore the best examples of gravity in fiction, and the three main ways sci-fi utilizes FTL and the long-shot "feasibility" of each while geeking out over our favorite sci-fi worlds!
There is an extensive history involving telescopes in our area — contrary to most expectations. A major public telescope was in use in Portland by 1910. An Alvan Clark telescope was in use by the 1920s. An amateur built reflecting telescope of 16 inches aperture was photographed in Portland in 1930, very early for such a large ATM project — though the mirror was commercial.
There is more in this history than can be shown in an hour, but we can have a quick overview as part of marking the upcoming 30th anniversary of RCA.
From tricorders to warp drive, Star Trek became the first series to bring us a vision of a future where humans were just as flawed as ever, but where technology and the way we used it had created a utopian society. There was no hunger, no homelessness, no rampant diseases, only long-lived humans exploring the galaxy, enjoying all the comforts one could ask for in life. Many of these technologies, dreamed up by Star Trek, are already real, while others are quickly approaching, and a few still remain elusive. From communications to starships to medical breakthroughs to civilian life, Star Trek promised us a future we can all aspire to. As we attempt to "make it so," let's take a look at the real-life science of how far we've come!
The RCA Holiday Potluck dinner is one week from tomorrow (Monday, December 18th). This year’s event is going to be different from those of previous years in several important respects. So please read this message carefully if you’re thinking about attending. Also, a preview of January’s meeting is at the bottom of this message. It will be a fun event as well and you might want to take a peek.
The RCA November General meeting date has changed to Monday, November 27th, and it will be special. OMSI Director of Space Science Education Jim Todd will be giving us a personal, behind-the-scenes tour of the newly remodeled and updated OMSI Planetarium. The program will include a complete showing of one of the one of the professionally-produced shows currently running. It should be a lot of fun. The change of date is caused by a street closure and interruption of electrical service on our usual meeting night.
After a grueling three-year journey of over 150,000 miles traveled and 3,000,000 pictures taken, renowned timelapse filmmakers Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan are proud to introduce SKYGLOW; a hardcover photo book and timelapse video series exploring North America’s remaining magnificent night skies and the grave threat of light pollution to our fragile environment. SKYGLOW explores the history and mythology of celestial observation, the proliferation of electrical outdoor lighting that spurred the rise of the phenomena known as "skyglow,” and the Dark Sky Movement that's fighting to reclaim the night skies.
Everyday, astronauts on the International Space Station take picture after picture of our planet earth and the spacescape they see out their cupola window. Astronomer and pioneer in astronomy podcasting, Dr. Pamela Gay will be inviting us to participate in CosmoQuest's new citizen science project, Image Detective: exploring astronaut photos, adding metadata about what's in the images, and helping identify what the images are of so they can be readily used by scientists, the media, and schoolchildren.
Tales From the Dark Side: Eclipse Lessons Learned "The Hard Way" — From an Expert, Yet Very Human, Eclipse Chaser
This lighthearted yet informative lecture reveals the difference between expectation and reality. Stephen, an avid eclipse chaser and observer of more than a dozen total and annular solar eclipses shares what we should do (and what not to do) so that we can have the best eclipse experience possible — without encountering the foibles described in this lecture. This entertaining romp should help eclipse watchers in Oregon to prepare for the unexpected. Who knows, maybe by the talk’s end, other veteran eclipse chasers in the audience will have their own stories and advice to share.
Eclipse expert Sean League will tell us stories of past total solar eclipses from the Sahara to Mongolia to the South Pacific and discuss what to watch for in the upcoming August eclipse. Learn what scopes and filters are good choices whether it's white light or H-alpha, and see how to photograph the eclipse.
Our speaker will be Greg Babcock, telescope designer and author of "Stargazing for Everyone with Binoculars."
Note: We will be auctioning off a 10 inch Dobsonian from the telescope library inventory during this meeting.
RCA’s annual Astronomy Fair is loosely allied with Astronomy Day, but since May's skies are often too cloudy to reliably host a star party, we have turned our celebration into a club information fair.
NASA aerospace technologist Les Johnson discusses technologies for making travel to other star systems possible. Some possibilities he will discuss are propulsion systems based on antimatter-matter annihilation, nuclear fusion, atomic warheads, and laser power. Mr Johnson is an excellent speaker and has made presentations at both TEDx and Google[X].
In 1888 astronomer John Dreyer compiled a list of 7840 “nebulae” for his New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars (abbreviated as NGC). Our speaker Steve Gottlieb recently completed observing the entire NGC, a project that took over 35 years and many trips to the southern hemisphere. Steve will be discussing the NGC/IC Project, a joint amateur-professional effort to re-examine the 100 to 200 year-old source material used by Dreyer.
Ethan Siegel, Author of Beyond the Galaxy
In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble's observations of stars in distant nebulae not only proved that the grand spirals in the sky were galaxies beyond the Milky Way, but allowed us to determine, for the first time, that the Universe was expanding. However, measuring the rate of this expansion has proved challenging: first for geologists, then for stellar astronomers, then for cosmologists and even today. This talk will examine the history of the expanding Universe and detail, up until the present day, how cutting edge science looks to determine, once and for all, exactly how the Universe has been expanding for the entire history of the cosmos.
On January 16th, we will be welcoming Dr David Grinspoon back to Portland to talk about his new book Earth In Human Hands and to autograph copies afterwards. Dr Grinspoon is an excellent communicator and a wonderful writer. We very much enjoyed his earlier book Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life and have been looking forward to his new book for a quite awhile. Earth In Human Hands was released on December 6th and has received many great reviews. It has also already been named a "Best Science Book of 2016" by NPR's Science Friday.
In keeping with our annual tradition, the December meeting of the Rose City Astronomers will be a holiday buffet and social gathering for all RCA family members to be held in the OMSI Auditorium. Tables will be set up in the main auditorium and plates, silverware, and some beverages and ice will be supplied by the club.
If you last name begins with... Please bring...
A through K - Main DIsh
L through Q - Side Dish
R through Z - Dessert
Troy J Carpenter: Administrator, Goldendale Observatory State Park
Learn about the various limitations of human vision, how they hinder our ability to observe the universe, and the brilliant technological solutions of the past century allowing us to transcend these hindrances. There will also be time for general astronomy questions and details about the Goldendale Observatory upgrade project.
For an in-depth, first person account of life in space, local astronaut Michael Barratt, M.D., will present a free public lecture followed by audience Q&A. With NASA since 1991, Barratt spent 199 days in space as Flight Engineer for Expeditions 19 and 20 in 2009. He currently serves in the NASA International Space Station Operations and Integration branches to handle medical issues and on orbit support.
Earth twin found around nearest star! Or was it? The announcement last month of a planet — one that could be just the right temperature to sustain liquid water — orbiting Proxima Centauri was certainly exciting. But it also generated a lot of hype, much of which might not be true. I’ll talk about what it was like, as an astronomer-turned-journalist, to cover one of the biggest astronomy stories of the year...
One Warped View of Cosmology, Outreach and Scientific Reproducibility
Lenses warp our perception of the world, creating illusions that we must navigate to make sense of the world. Gravitational lensing is the name given to the fact that mass itself alters the trajectory of light, leading to distortions of distant objects like galaxies. Measuring this effect allows us to map out the matter distribution of the universe, and learn about dark matter in the most massive objects of all - galaxy clusters. I will present an overview of gravitational lensing and some exciting results using this technique. Then I will show some fun and educational activities my colleagues and I developed for turning these concepts into hands-on classroom lessons. Finally, I’ll give my perspective on the reproducibility crisis in science, and discuss some progress being made toward a more open and efficient way of learning about our world.
John Spencer, Southwest Research Institute
The New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto on July 14th last year, revolutionizing our understanding of this remarkable distant dwarf planet and its moons. The flyby was the culmination of over two decades of effort, including a journey from Earth that lasted more than nine years. Pluto has emerged as a world of spectacular variety.
Jim Todd, Director of Space Science Education at OMSI
On August 21, 2017, millions of people across the United States will see nature's most wondrous spectacle - a total eclipse of the Sun. It is a scene of unimaginable beauty; the Moon completely blocks the Sun, daytime becomes a deep twilight, and the Sun's corona shimmers in the darkened sky. This is concept outline to understand, prepare for, and view this rare celestial event.
RCA’s annual Astronomy Fair is loosely allied with Astronomy Day (May 14), but since May's skies are often too cloudy to reliably host a star party, we have turned our celebration into a club information fair. All the special interest groups will be there with displays and people to meet. The usual services — telescope library and sales table — will be open, and the always-popular swap meet will be in full force.
Dr. Ethan Siegel will be discussing Einstein's theory of space and what LIGO saw on that now-famous event of September 14th, 2015. Many other aspects, such as the future of gravitational wave astronomy and the hope of probing quantum gravity, will be touched on as well.
Many of the people who come to the new members meetings express an interest in astroimaging. The meeting this month will feature a presentation, "Basic Imaging Concepts." It'll be an overall introduction to imaging, definitions, and recommendations for starting out. The new members meeting will start an hour prior to the general meeting at 6:30 in the planetarium. While the meeting is intended for new members, all are welcome!
Is the Universe Infinite?
It is an ancient question on whether the Universe has an edge or wall, does it have a beginning (or an end), or whether is it infinite in space and time. Modern cosmology, powered by a suite of new technologies and space-based observatories, has resolved many of these questions painting a naturalist explanation for most of the properties of the Universe. This talk will present the meaning of these discoveries in a non-mathematical format.
Astronomy, Big Data and The Future
As a result of the application of Moore’s Law to pixel detectors, the rate at which astronomical pixel data is acquired increases by about a factor of 4 each year. However, human processing of data and human thinking does not scale at all with Moore’s law. While machines have gotten faster this has mostly enabled data to be transferred and stored and Astronomy is in danger of becoming a pixel archive science. This talk will describe the development of this issue from the initial use of CCD cameras in 1981 to their current use some 35 years later.
Exploring Europa: A Potentially Habitable World
Dr. Pappalardo is the Project Scientist for the Europa Clipper NASA's official mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. Below a surface of solid ice, Europa is thought to have an ocean of salty, liquid water more than twice the volume of Earth's oceans combined. It is considered to be the most likely place in the Solar System to find simple extraterrestrial life. Dr Pappalardo is a wonderful speaker and he will be giving us the inside story of this remarkable mission.
Donald Edward Machholz is the most successful living visual comet hunter in the United States, being credited with the discovery of 11 comets, including the periodic comets 96P/Machholz, 141P/Machholz, the non-periodic C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) that was easily visible in binoculars in the northern sky in 2004 and 2005, and most recently, C/2010 F4 (Machholz). Machholz is also considered to be one of the inventors of the Messier marathon, which is a race to observe all the Messier objects in a single night.
When populations of humans eventually make multigenerational, interstellar voyages to settle an exoplanet, they will not be chisel-chinned astronauts living by checklists; they will be families, communities, entire cultures. How can we give them the best chance to succeed? We can begin by researching how humanity has adapted to global environments in the last 50,000 years. Both biology and culture will evolve beyond Earth.
Star formation is pervasive across the universe. Understanding why some galaxies form stars more quickly and in a greater quantity than other galaxies is a fundamental question in astronomy.I use a sample of distant galaxies to investigate how star formation proceeds and how the process of star formation affects the shape of galaxies. Specifically, I use data from the Hubble and Keck telescopes to study how star formation can cause bubbles of gas and dust to be blown out of galaxies ("galactic winds").
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is NASA's next Great Observatory, the scientific successor to both the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes. Its scientific equipment will include several cameras to produce amazing images in the tradition of Hubble. JWST will see the first galaxies to form in the universe, and explore how stars are born and develop planetary systems. It will examine planets around other stars to investigate their potential for life, and study planets within our own Solar System.
The surge of DSLR photography has brought a unique opportunity to the world of astronomy. Ben will speak about the ability of this growing night photography interestto connect newcomers to the expansive world of traditional astronomy. Ben will also share photos and timelapse videos of our night skies above the landscapes of our Pacific Northwest.
Douglas will be focusing on conveying a basic understanding of comet orbits, using real examples in historical context, including comets in elliptical, parabolic, and hyperbolic orbits, and showing how energy concepts can be use to characterize comet orbits.Examples will include some of the great comets of history, such as the Great Comet of 1577, the Great Comet of 1680, and Halley's Comet, as well as some illustrative recent comets, as a prelude to a discussion of the hyperbolic orbit of C/2012 S1 ISON. Will ISON survive solar passage?
The sky is home to many visual wonders some closer to earth than others. When attending a star party sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate. When this happens the weather itself can be the source of enjoyment for the educated observer.This presentation will explore the many atmospheric phenomena that occur within our atmosphere during both day and night, under both clear skies and overcast. In this survey Matt will cover common and not so common occurrences in the sky and explain the mechanics behind these often spectacular sights. From Sundogs to St. Elmo's fire come learn what you can see in the sky.
Star and planet formation is highly dynamic: the appearance of the youngest stars can change dramatically in as little as a week. Even by the standards of typically unruly young stars, some /*stars*/ exhibit remarkable changes, increasing or decreasing in brightness by factors of 1000 or more. These brightness changes are thought to be caused by sudden changes in the star's growth rate, or in the structure of the planet forming material in orbit around the star.
Have you ever dreamed of observing the pristine night sky at a truly dark site from the comfort of your home in the city? Or dreamed of sending a distant telescope on a mission to collect images of beautiful deep sky objects while you get a full night's sleep and wake up refreshed and ready for an early day at work? Then remote observing may be just what you're looking for.
David Grinspoon is an astrobiologist who studies the possible conditions for life on other planets. In November 2012, he began a one-year appointment as the inaugural Baruch S. Blumberg/NASA Chair in Astrobiology at the John W. Kluge Center of the United States Library of Congress, where he is researching and writing a book about the human influence on Earth, seen in cosmic perspective.
A product review in the most recent issue of Sky & Telescope Magazine begins with the statement "No name is better known in the world of amateur CCD imaging than SBIG, short for Santa Barbara Instrument Group." What is not so well known is how the threat of US/USSR nuclear test ban treaty violations and an "Ogre" were crucial to SBIG's beginnings. To fill in some of these interesting details, one of SBIG's co-founders, Michael Barber, will present a talk about SBIG's origins, some milestones in its history and the latest developments in its product line for amateur astronomers, including some demonstration and prototype items.
A video-packed, family-friendly exploration of the Mars exploration program through the stories of Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity — and the scientists and engineers behind the missions. Children's book author Elizabeth Rusch will take the audience behind the scenes of these successful missions by sharing NASA video clips and stories from researching and writing her book The Mighty Mars Rovers: The incredible adventures of Spirit and Opportunity.
During our general meeting on Monday, March 18th, weather at the telescope permitting, we will receive a tour of the Discovery Channel Telescope and its control room, conducted live via video teleconference, as the DCT team prepares for and begins to conduct an observing session. Our hosts will be Kevin Covey and Lowell Astronomer and Deputy Director of Technology Stephen Levine.
Richard Berry has been an amateur astronomer and telescope maker for as long as he can remember. In 1976, Berry joined the staff of Astronomy magazine. In sixteen years as its editor, he built Astronomy magazine from a struggling start-up to the largest circulation astronomy magazine in the world. During this time, he also founded and edited Telescope Making, the quarterly journal that helped make the 1980s such explosive growth years for amateur astronomy. In the last two decades, Richard's books "Build Your Own Telescope", "Discover the Stars", "The CCD Camera Cookbook", "The Dobsonian Telescope" and "The Handbook of Astronomical Image Processing" have introduced thousands to the joys of amateur astronomy, telescope making, CCD imaging, and digital image processing.
The "golden age" of relativity, from 1960 to 1974, was a period during which black holes were closely studied and understood.Cosmology today finds itself at a similar stage of development, with breathtaking observations now making it possible to more fully grasp the role played by general relativity in shaping our view of the origin and evolution of the cosmos as a whole. The Universe has much in common with black holes, and appears to be far simpler than once thought.
The Stardust spacecraft, which has traveled 2 billion miles, was launched Feb. 7, 1999, and returned to earth Jan. 15, 2006, when its Aerogel-embedded samples of comet and interstellar dust will be returned to earth on a capsule designed to safely land them in Utah. Comets are thought to have been created before the planets, so scientists hope analysis of the comet samples will reveal information about the creation of our solar system.
In the late 1950s, anticipating the introduction of artificial earth orbiting satellites, the Smithsonian Institution developed an ambitious program to track these satellites. Almost every aspect of this major endeavor was an innovation: the science of satellite orbits, the technology of imaging and tracking, and the bureaucracy of this complex global organization. The specialized photographic telescope developed for the purpose of imaging the track of a satellite across the sky was the Baker-Nunn camera and and Joseph Nunn used 55 mm Cinemascope film.
Turn Left at Orion has become one of the most popular guides to using a small telescope ever published... but the adventures of getting it written and published were almost as much fun as all the observing we did for the book! Hear stories of the steps, and missteps, that have gone into various editions of their book... what we learned about astronomy, and observing... and watch out for those pesky wabbits!
Server Sky is a proposal to build large dispersed arrays of 3 gram paper-thin solar-powered computer satellites and launch them into 6400km earth orbit. Thinsat arrays use unlimited space solar power and operate outside the biosphere. The environmental impact of power generation and heat disposal is tiny. Earth can return to what it is good at — green and growing things — while space can be filled with gray and computing things. Besides the presentation of the overall system, we will discuss the astronomical and ecological consequences of very large solar collectors in orbit, and how Server Sky will minimize or eliminate them.
Pat Hanrahan is the Planetarium Director and teaches astronomy for Mt. Hood Community College and has been a member of RCA for many years. Last fall, Pat spent over two months as an unpaid astronomer in the NamibRand Nature Reserve of Namibia. He will be presenting an interactive visual program showing the southern skies on the OMSI Planetarium dome.
All of this -- everything that we know of in existence -- had to come from somewhere. In this journey, we'll start with the world that we know and journey out into the Universe, exploring where the elements that form everything on our planet originate from, how they were created in previous generations of stars, where the building blocks of those stars came from and how they formed into galaxies, where those very first atoms came from in the earliest stages of the Big Bang, and finally, why we have a Universe with something in it instead of nothing at all.
The last 20 years have been a golden age for astronomy as advances in space technology has allowed us to study the Universe at wavelengths impossible to observe from the surface of the Earth. Space telescopes allow us to see the most violent phenomenon in the Universe (supernovae, black holes, colliding galaxies) and the most exotic phenomenon (expanding Universe, cosmic background radiation, protostars). This talk will be a non-technical review of the history of space telescopes from the 1960's to today, our discoveries, our plans for the future and the probable decline of American science in the 21st century.
Learn just why it's so hard to get to space, and follow along some of the trials and successes of Portland State Aerospace Society (PSAS) through the years. Then explore some of the astronomy potential of high altitude platforms like sounding rockets and day-dream about the day when we can all afford our own backyard space telescope.Nathan Bergey is freelance data scientist and programmer who has spent thelast several years helping build Portland's own home grown space program with the Portland State Aerospace Society (PSAS). He has a life-long passion for all things space.
William Herschel and his son John Herschel carried out the first comprehensive surveys of deep-sky objects and created a catalog we now call the New General Catalog, or NGC. To do this, they built and used the first really big telescopes with what today we consider primitive technology. Richard Berry will describe the telescopes these early amateur astronomers built, and show that they were well designed and effectively employed tools for discovery. The story of the Herschels begins in about 1780 and continues through about 1835.
Uncle Rod has written many articles in magazines such as Sky & Telescope and Astronomy Technology Today and a plethora of reviews on Cloudy Nights. He maintains a popular astronomy blog and is the author of several fine books.He is a great fan of catadioptric telescopes, such as the Celestron and Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain designs, and his latest book is titled Choosing and Using a New CAT: Getting the Most from Your Schmidt-Cassegrain or Any Catadioptric Telescope.