Getting closer to two dwarf planets

This is going to be a great year for dwarf planet exploration!  Two spacecraft are on their way to completing historic missions: the Dawn spacecraft headed for dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt and New Horizons headed toward Pluto.

Dawn will arrive at Ceres next month after 7.5 years of traveling.  Along the way Dawn stopped to study another object in the asteroid belt, Vesta. Vesta is a tiny world (too tiny to even be called a dwarf planet) but also very large as asteroids go.  To give you a sense of scale the mountain on the bottom of Vesta in the picture below is about twice the height of Mount Everest.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA

Vesta, a large asteroid. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA

In many ways Vesta is an object like our moon – made of rock.  From the way Ceres reflects light it is expected to be quite different – icy like the moons of Jupiter.  As Dawn gets closer it is sending back the best images of Ceres to date (February 5, 2015).

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Dwarf planet Ceres from the Dawn spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Dwarf planet Ceres from the Dawn spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Each pixel in the images above is about 8.5 miles across and we are just beginning to see details.  The good news is the pictures will only get better from here on!

Dawn will be wrapping up its mission at Ceres in July 2015 just as New Horizons will be making its closest approach to Pluto in the outer solar system.  Many people don’t realize this but currently we don’t have detailed pictures of Pluto.  This is a Hubble Space telescope image of Pluto and it is the best image to date of Pluto.

The highest resolution image of Pluto to date. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute)

The highest resolution image of Pluto to date. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute)

On July 14, 2015 New Horizons will make its closest approach to Pluto, a mere six thousand miles away.  That might seem like a lot but considering it traveled over three billion miles to get there it is nothing!  New Horizons is just starting to wake up and take pictures and pictures taken last week are about as good as the Hubble ones.

Pluto and Charon from the New Horizons Spacecraft.  Image Credit: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI

Pluto and Charon from the New Horizons Spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI

The images are only going to get better!  What mysterious will be discovered about this strange icy world?

Tacoma Astronomical Society

The Tacoma Astronomical Society hosts free public viewing sessions each month at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom.  Indoor lectures, science dome presentations, demonstrations and workshops are available regardless of weather.  On clear nights TAS volunteers provide telescopic observations on the moon, planets, star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, double stars and more.  To view their schedule visit: www.tas-online.org

Triple Transit of Jupiter

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Friday January 23rd something is going to happen that won’t happen again until 2032! If you can find a break in the clouds bring out your telescopes and fix them on Jupiter. Jupiter will be rising shortly after sunset and will be the brightest object in the Eastern sky. Through a telescope Jupiter looks like a small disk cut with faint parallel bands. Another unmistakable feature of Jupiter is the presence of its four companions that appear as tiny pricks of light on either side.  These four companions, discovered almost exactly 405 years ago are the Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

As Galileo discovered in January of 1610, these moons are continually dancing around Jupiter in neat little orbits, but Friday night’s dance will be particularly interesting.  It starts at 7:11 pm (PST) when the shadow of Callisto begins to fall on the face of Jupiter.  Io and Europa wait on stage right.  At 8:35 Io’s shadow also appears on Jupiter followed by Europa’s at 10:27 pm.  For about 25 minutes all three shadows will appear on the Jupiter’s cloud tops!

If you have a bigger telescope you should also be able to see the planets themselves pass in front of Jupiter.  Again all three will be cross at the same time from 11:08 -11:12 pm.

If you live in the South Sound area chances are the weather won’t cooperate but you can see a live stream from the Griffith Observatory (in Los Angeles, CA).  http://griffithobservatory.org/events/Jupiter_Shadowtransit_2015.html  You can also stop by the all-ages Science Dome show at 7 pm on Friday night to see a simulation of the even in the dome.

Celestial Celebrations Around the World!

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Celestial Celebrations Around the World

THURSDAY December 4th,  2-4 pm 
FREE.

Join us for several different Celestial Celebrations.  Programming includes.

  • Pale Blue Dot Culture, Josh Bero
  • African Dances for the Days and Seasons, Shalom Aburu
  • Skies and Superstitions, Steven Cagle
  • Native American Sky Stories, Sasha Amador
  • Music and the Stars, Adrian Milanio
  • Digital Design Showcase, Pierce College Digital Design Students

The program will begin at 2 pm with an intermission about half way through.  If you arrive during a presentation we may ask you to wait outside the dome until the next presentation so  the presenter is not interrupted.  Presentations last between 10 and 30 minutes

 

Family Science Night – November 21st

FamilyScienceNightJoin Central Washington University students in the Science Dome lobby for FREE hands on science activities for kids of all ages!  Activities begin at 5:30 pm, Friday November 21st.

Activities include:

  • Graham Cracker Earthquakes
  • Starburst Rock Cycle
  • Creating Crazy Craters!
  • Fossil Dig

Followed at 7PM by the Pierce College Science Dome All-Ages Public Planetarium Show featuring the video Dynamic Earth, $3 Child, $6 Adult.

Legends in the Sky, A new Children’s Show!

LegendsInTheSky

Long ago bedtime stories weren’t written in books, they were written in the stars!  Join us as we read the stories in the night sky from ancient cultures around the globe.

Legends in the Sky is starting at the Science Dome this weekend (November 8th) and will run through November and December.  Recommended for children ages 3-8.

Hoping for good weather…

Partial Eclipse, Credit and Copyright: Fred Espenak

Partial Eclipse, Credit and Copyright: Fred Espenak

On October 23rd there will be a partial solar eclipse!  We will be outside the Science Dome with SAFE ways to view the eclipse from 1-4 pm.  Please do not try just looking at the sun.  Not enough of the sun will be blocked and you will hurt your eyes if you try.

Stop by the dome – rain or shine – and pick up a pair of eclipse glasses or sneak a peak at the sun through our solar filter equipped telescopes.  If the clouds trick us out of this special treat we will have a live stream of the eclipse from a sunny location.

We will also have 20 minute presentations by Steven Cagle in the dome at 1:15 pm, 2 pm and 3:45 pm * on everything you ever wanted to know about solar eclipses: when and why they happen, all of the different types and where you have to be to see them.  Best part… all of it is FREE!

*If it is cloudy we’ll repeat these presentations a little more frequently adding in additional times of 1:35, 2:30, 3:10.

Are you afraid of the dark?

On a dark night telescopes can reveal some downright spooky images.  Come to the Science Dome this weekend to find out what is lurking in the skies above us!  Josh Bero will be presenting “Dark Skies” on Friday at 7pm and Saturday at 3:15 pm.  This live talk will be followed by the video “Sea Monsters.

WitchsHeadNebula

 

Sea Monsters – Be transported to the Late Cretaceous, when a great inland sea divided North American in two.  This film follows a curious and adventurous dolichorhynchops as she travels through the most dangerous oceans in history.  Along the way, she encounters long-necked plesiosaurs, giant turtles, enormous fish, fierce sharks, and the most dangerous sea monsters of all, the mosasaur.  This film weaves together a series of paleontological digs from around the globe in a compelling story about scientists working to answer questions about this ancient and mysterious ocean world.  A film produced by Lisa Truitt and Jini Durr.