Look, It's Uranus!
There's a lot going on above the Northwest clouds, and summer offers a chance to take a rare peek at the worlds turning above our heads. This summer's highlights:
•At 5:57 p.m. PDT on June 20, the sun will be at its highest point in the sky, marking the summer solstice. The first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere is the longest day of the year.
•The Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower, July 28–29: The moon will be nearly full, which will make viewing a bit of a problem, but the brightest meteors can be seen to the east after midnight. A thin crescent moon will allow good viewing of the Perseids meteor shower Aug. 11–13. The best show should be to the east after midnight.
•On Aug. 27, Uranus will reach its closest approach to Earth and can be seen with a telescope. The Earth will be between the sun and the giant blue planet.
•Head to the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the University of Washington, where the 110-year-old, 6-inch refracting telescope is open to the public the first and third Wednesdays of the month from 9 to 11 p.m. through Sept. 30. Talks are given at about 9 and 10 p.m. The dome will be open even if the sky is just partly clear.
•Turn to the Web for the Cassini Phoebe flyby. The flyby is at an altitude of 1,243 miles for the first close-up view of Phoebe, the dark moon that is the furthest moon orbiting Saturn. On July 1, Cassini will cross Saturn's ring plane, its closest approach to the planet (11,187 miles) during its four-year tour. NASA is scheduled to launch the Messenger spacecraft on July 30. The plan is for Messenger to fly by Venus and Mercury several times before entering orbit around Mercury in July 2009. For info on Cassini, check saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/index.cfm. For Messenger, go to messenger.jhuapl.edu.
Eyes closed, I squinted into blackness, trying to picture the subsequent shape. This was only my second visit to Capitol Hill's Museum of the Mysteries (MOM), and already things were getting inter- active. To gauge my ESP abilities, curator Charlette LeFevre (who co-directs MOM with librarian Philip Lipson) was using a deck of Zener Cards, each of which depicts one of five images: wave, square, cross, star, or circle. I guessed haphazardly as she flipped each card. At the end of the session, I emerged slightly above average in ESP terms: seven correct guesses in 25 attempts, two more hits than the norm. LeFevre seemed pleased.
"We always underline, when people peek in the door: We're not that scary," she assured me. "We want to stay away from what we call the glow-in-the-dark furry stuff. I always say there's two different platforms—there's the science and the spirituality. And we're right on the edge of the science, peering into the unknown."
LeFevre has a particular interest in "the Roswell of the Northwest," a 1947 incident in which a pilot named Kenneth Arnold spotted a gaggle of "doughnut-shaped discs" above the Cascades. According to LeFevre, this event was "the case that opened up the modern UFO era." She hopes to lead an expedition to the site of the incident, where a military plane allegedly crashed on an evidence-concealment mission. "Black lava rock and thin metal strips supposedly fell from this dougnut-shaped disc," she said. "We plan on searching the area . . . to hopefully find fragments of the plane, and document more of the military's involvement in this."
Whatever your opinion of ESP and UFOs, MOM's exploratory zeal can't be denied. "To investigate means to scrutinize, to peel away all the perceptual, what I like to call an onion skin," LeFevre said. "Peel all the perceptual phenomena and explanations away to get at the really raw core of the information."
MOM holds UFO–related events on a regular basis, including a segment of their upcoming Northwest UFO/Paranormal Event, a four-day conference with two programs on "Sightings, UFOs, and Our National Security" (7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, May 29; the suggested donation is $15). The museum is located at 623 Broadway Ave. E. For more information, visit www.seattlechatclub.org or call 206-328-6499.
Back to the Future
On the sci-fi front, the Central District Forum has been planning "Black to the Future: A Black Science Fiction Festival" for 18 months. What Forum Executive Director Stephanie Ellis-Smith describes as "a multidisciplinary arts festival that incorporates film, literature, panels, music, and performing arts" is almost certainly the first event of its type and scope. Likely festival highlights: a four-hour workshop called "Writing the Other," on the challenges of writing from cultural perspectives beyond one's own; "The Mothership Connection," a panel on black science fiction in music; an onstage interview with acclaimed Seattle-based sci-fi author Octavia Butler; and two nights of film screenings, including the recently released Sun Ra documentary, Space Is the Place, various live-action and anime shorts, and the 1984 John Sayles classic, Brother From Another Planet. "Black to the Future" takes place June 11–13; opening-night tickets cost $25, while Saturday and Sunday passes are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Visit www.cdforum.org/bttf or call 206-323-4032 for details.
Sci-fi at the Blob
Slated to open on June 18, the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (whose development SW's Tim Appelo chronicled in his April 14 article, "Future Cred") promises to be a multimedia extravaganza of sci-fi lore. Permanent exhibits include "Them," a rundown of alien beings as imagined by 20th-century authors and filmmakers; "Brave New Worlds," a catalog of futurescapes; "Fantastic Voyages," a roundup of sci-fi transportation (almost sure to include "Beam me up, Scotty!"); and a hall of fame saluting pioneering writers and directors in the genre. And get ready for this: The guest list at the grand opening ceremony (10 a.m. Friday, June 18) could include such high-watt celebrities as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and board Chairman Greg Bear. The museum is located within EMP at 325 Fifth Ave. N. For the intergalactic skinny, visit www.sciencefictionexperience.com or call 206-SCI-FICT.
If you're looking to separate science fact from fiction, drop by the Willard Smith Planetarium, part of the Pacific Science Center. Trained demonstrators provide visitors with guided tours of the night sky, answering questions. (For more along this line, see adjacent box.) Located at 200 Second Ave. N. in Seattle Center, the PSC is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends; admission is $10 for adults, $8.50 for seniors, and $7 for children (3–12). Visit www.pacsci.org/planetarium or call 206-443-2385.
The unsung hero of exploration— whether astronautic or earthbound—is navigation, a complex collection of mechanisms we use to find our way around. Navigation is vital to big-time explorers, but even the humblest humans can look to the sky for direction, as the Museum of History and Industry's new program "Finding Your Way" amply demonstrates. Open through the end of January, the interactive exhibit invites visitors to manipulate a sextant, learn about celestial navigation using a scale model of the Earth, and stand below a transparent half-dome to give star-based latitude deduction a try. At 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 17, in conjunction with "Finding Your Way," the museum is presenting "Native American Starlore," a primer on American Indian stargazing methods. Admission to all exhibits is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and youth (under 17). MOHAI is located at 2700 24th Ave. E.; visit www.seattlehistory.org or call 206-324-1126.
To conclude your sci-fi summer on an R2D2 note, check out Robothon, the Seattle Robotics Society's yearly homage to bodies electric. The free-of-charge festival highlights innovations in robot construction and features "many robotic competitions and activities," including robot sumo wrestling. Robothon takes place Sept. 25–26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, at the Center House in Seattle Center. Additional info is available at www.robothon.org.