This photograph of the International Space Station was taken from the space shuttle Discovery after the two spacecraft undocked on March 7, 2011. (Credit: NASA)

Pretty much everyone in the Eastern part of the U.S. who has clear skies can get a view of the International Space Station (ISS) tonight (Monday, October 17, 2011). To see it, be outside by 7:16 p.m.

Over the following six minutes the ISS’s orbit around Earth takes it over the East Coast. For our area, the space station is predicted to first appear between 7:16 and 7:17 p.m. low in the southwest. It will pass almost directly overhead at 7:19 p.m., and finally disappear low in the northeast at 7:22 p.m.

Look for a very bright white “star” that is noticeably moving. And wave hello to the three people currently onboard.

If you don’t notice the ISS in the first couple of minutes, don’t give up. You can increase your chances of spotting it by inviting friends to help scan the sky with you. You might also practice “ambush astronomy” and introduce nearby friendly pedestrians to one of the coolest things to see in the sky.

Although the space station orbits our planet about every 90 minutes, you won’t see every pass. According to predictions on Heavens-Above and NASA’s satellite sightings page, tonight’s ISS pass should be the easiest one to see from this area for the rest of October.

If you miss the real thing, you can see a simulated ISS pass by attending Morehead's Carolina Skies planetarium program. Just ask your presenter before the show.

Have you explored the Rotunda of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center? It’s on the west end, adjacent to the Science Stage, and you enter through the UNC Visitors Center. The Rotunda showcases one of John Motley Morehead III’s gifts to UNC, a memorial to his wife: the Genevieve Margaret Birkhead Morehead Art Gallery.

The gallery features 11 portraits, mostly by 17th- and 18th century artists. Of these, perhaps the portrait of Liesbeth van Rijn is most famous — not because of what it is, but because of what it isn’t.

Portrait of Leisbeth van Rijn

Liesbeth van Rijn

Liesbeth (or Lijsbeth, following the Dutch spelling) van Rijn was a sister and a favorite model of master painter Rembrandt van Rijn. For hundreds of years, the Liesbeth painting at Morehead was considered to be an original Rembrandt portrait. It was purchased and displayed as a Rembrandt, not only in the Morehead gallery (where it arrived in 1949) but at galleries and in private collections beginning in the 1700s.

About 30 years ago, the Rembrandt Research Project identified Liesbeth as the work of another painter in Rembrandt’s workshop, probably his student Isaac de Jouderville. With her newfound notoriety as a faux Rembrandt, Liesbeth has earned quite a bit of publicity for herself, and this month she travels to the North Carolina Museum of Art to participate in a groundbreaking exhibit of paintings by Rembrandt and other artists in his workshop. You can read about Liesbeth’s road trip in this recent article from The News & Observer.

Beginning in a few weeks, you can view Liesbeth in Raleigh at the NCMA’s Rembrandt exhibit, or you can wait until she returns home in a few months and see her in the gallery here at Morehead. Be sure to check out her “neighbors” in Morehead’s gallery:

  • Capt. David Birrell, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn
  • Lord Mountjoy Blount, painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck
  • John A. M. Bonar, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn
  • Genevieve Morehead, painted by Nichola Michailow
  • Edmund M. Pleydell, painted by Thomas Gainsborough
  • The Scribe, painted by Aart de Gelder
  • Paulus van Beresteyn, painted by Michiel Jans Mierevelt
  • Gen. George Washington, painted by Rembrandt Peele
  • Martha Washington, painted by Rembrandt Peele
  • James Watt, painted by Sir William Beechey

In addition to these portraits, the Genevieve Margaret Birkhead Morehead Art Gallery features a larger-than-life statue of U.S. President James K. Polk, who was graduated from UNC in 1818. The statue was created by artist and UNC alumnus Stephen H. Smith in 1997. The gallery also houses a unique pendulum clock and barometer, both decorated with sculpted images from the constellations of the Zodiac.

And the origin of Liesbeth isn’t the only mystery that’s been solved in the gallery. There are 16 columns supporting the Rotunda, each carved from a single piece of green marble from the Ozark Mountains. One of these monolithic columns was cracked around its circumference when the columns were installed during construction. Can you spot which column was cracked?

Yes, we're the science specialists, but we like art too.

Did you feel tremors during yesterday’s East Coast earthquake? Did you think “Earthquake!” or “Hmmm, maybe a construction crew is working nearby” or even “Are we under attack?”

USGS "Shakemap"

The US Geological Society uses data to develop "Shakemaps" like this one.

Here at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, we thought, “The education team must be working on the Science LIVE! Earthquakes presentation again.”

Morehead offers several different versions of Science LIVE!, its interactive science demonstration show. In the Earthquakes version, the Science LIVE! presenter shows the audience how a seismograph works — and since Science LIVE! is an interactive presentation, that means the Science LIVE! presenter asks the audience to jump up and down, creating vibrations. Those vibrations can be measured by a simple accelerometer as the Science Stage auditorium shakes from the impact of dozens of people jumping up and down.

Science LIVE! is presented in our Science Stage auditorium, and Morehead staff member Jeff Hill has an office directly under the Science Stage. This summer, Jeff became accustomed to his office shaking every day around 2:45 p.m., as another audience participated in Science LIVE! Earthquakes. Visitors to Jeff’s office looked alarmed as the office began shaking, but Jeff explained calmly, “They’re just making an earthquake upstairs.”

So you can understand why Morehead staff thought “Science LIVE!” instead of “Earthquake!” yesterday. But that tremor wasn’t caused by a Science LIVE! audience. We’re actually closed for maintenance right now, which gives us a chance to update and fine-tune our programs.

That’s important, because scientific knowledge changes every single day. Right now, researchers are studying data from yesterday’s earthquake. We’re following their research (and research in other science disciplines, too) so we can bring you the most up-to-date scientific content in Science LIVE! and other educational programs at Morehead.

When we reopen on Sept. 17, come experience a Science LIVE! presentation. You may find yourself making an explosion, making snow or, yes, making an earthquake. And we’ll make it fun!

Friends in California are saying, "Earthquake? What earthquake?"

This is the bad news. (Image credit: Luc Viatour)

Many people’s favorite annual meteor shower, the Perseids, will peak the night of August 12/13, 2011.

The good news: That’s a Friday night/Saturday morning. For many people, this is a convenient time of the week to be outside looking for meteors—those streaks of light (also known as “shooting stars”) created when cosmic debris interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere.

The bad news: The Moon will not be cooperating this year. On August 13 it’s full, meaning the Moon will be up all night, its bright light hiding the dimmer meteors from view.

Tips if you decide to view the Perseids this year:

  • To see most meteors, go out during the last dark hour before dawn.
  • Get the Moon out of your field of view, and look toward the northern half of the sky. You’ll want a view unobstructed by trees or buildings.
  • Take a chair to sit in, and look about halfway up the sky.

For more tips, see the American Meteor Society site.

If it’s too cloudy that night or you just don’t want to make the effort, you can still see some meteors (the simulated kind) by coming to Carolina Skies at Morehead this Sunday, August 14, at 3:30 p.m. At your request, the presenter can send a few meteors shooting across the planetarium sky.

Moonlight won't interfere with the peak of the Perseids in 2012.

The production department here at Morehead has been hard at work the last year and a half putting together our newest fulldome show – Solar System Odyssey. The show is meant for audiences 10 and up and will open sometime in the fall.

The story takes place far in the future with an Earth on the verge of environmental collapse. Billionaire Warren Trout thinks he can make a fortune colonizing the rest of the solar system and sends space pilot Jack Larson to find out where. But there’s one thing he didn’t count on – Ashley, Trout’s daughter, has stowed away on board the ship and has her own ideas. You’ll learn about the solar system, moons, space junk and have a fun time while you’re at it.

Check out the teaser trailer:

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

We’re pleased to announce that the August Science Café will focus on the science of running. Join us on Thursday, August 4th, 6 p.m. at the Back Bar in downtown Chapel Hill.

The program is free and open to the public. Free appetizers courtesy of Sigma Xi, our gracious sponsor, will be available starting at 5:45 p.m.

More details:

Barefoot or Traditional? The Runner’s Dilemma

What’s better for you? A traditional running shoe with lots of support and cushioning? Or a more minimalist approach, through either very nonsupportive shoes or barefoot running? As physical therapists and UNC researchers studying different running styles, Don Goss and Dr. Mike Gross and share insights from the scientists’ point of view.

Want to take the scientists’ running style survey? Here’s the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JGQN2F2.

Featuring:

Don Goss, PT, lead investigator, doctoral student in biomechanics

Dr. Michael Gross, PT, FAPTA

Thursday, Aug. 4, 6 p.m.

Back Bar at Top of the Hill

Downtown Chapel Hill

Free Appetizers courtesy of Sigma Xi (while supplies last…)

Thanks! We hope to see you there,

Jonathan

Link to our page: http://moreheadplanetarium.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page&filename=current_science_forums.html

Jonathan Frederick works with the North Carolina Science Festival and he just bought new running shoes.

My family was traveling home from the beach — salty, sandy, tired. Just one hour from home, my dad pulled the station wagon off the highway under a bright orange sign: a Howard Johnson’s motel. He went into the motel lobby and talked to the manager at the desk. Moments later, he ushered all of us into the lobby.

Inside, the manager and a few guests were clustered around a small television, and we joined them. On the television screen, we saw a big room filled with men watching all kinds of monitors and gauges. They seemed excited. Everyone in the motel lobby seemed excited, too.

The television picture changed, and everyone in the motel lobby seemed to hold their breath. A pale image filled the black and white screen: a man in a big white suit and helmet, climbing awkwardly down a ladder onto a barren white landscape. He took the last step off the ladder.

Neil Armstrong descends the ladder toward the Moon's surface.

Neil Armstrong

“That’s one small step for [a] man … one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong said as he became the first human to walk on the Moon. Everyone in the motel lobby cheered and applauded. Around the world, more than 600 million people watched that step with us.

It’s been 42 years since I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969 at 10:56 p.m. I didn’t understand much of what I saw then, but I knew one thing: This was something important, and my dad wanted to be sure I saw it.

Just a few years ago, I had the rare opportunity to spend some time with Charlie Duke, who had been one of the excited men in the control room on the television screen. Gen. Duke served as CAPCOM for Apollo 11 and was the first person to speak to Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin after they landed the lunar module on the Moon. He became a Moon walker himself in 1972, and he tells great stories about his adventures as an astronaut.

Gen. Duke spoke at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center during the premiere of our “Destination: Space” planetarium show. I served as a guide during his visit to Chapel Hill, driving him from and to the airport and to media interviews. It’s probably one of my favorite Morehead memories. First, because it’s totally cool to have someone who has walked on the Moon sitting in my car, and second, because I know how much my dad would have enjoyed riding with us and listening to the conversation.

This is what I learned from my dad: When a parent is excited about science, his or her children are going to be excited about science, too. That interest, that passion, that enthusiasm — it’s contagious. I see examples every day at Morehead. Children, parents and grandparents are learning about science together, and they’re excited about their discoveries.

My interest in space exploration began in a Howard Johnson’s motel lobby in Jacksonville, N.C., 42 years ago. When and where did your parents inspire you to learn more about science?

Thanks, Dad.

Harry Potter would have needed magic to pass his astronomy exam in book 5.

J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, must be a bit of an astronomy buff. She named a number of her characters after stars or constellations, such as Bellatrix, Draco, Regulus, and Sirius. And in her book about Harry’s fifth school year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Rowling even gave Harry an astronomy exam.

What an exam, though! Harry appeared to have an impossible task that night—to note the location of the constellation Orion in the June sky.

Rowling had Harry successfully complete Orion on his star chart, but Orion wasn’t visible in the night sky from anywhere on the planet that month. In June, when viewed from Earth, the stars of Orion lie roughly in the same line of sight as the Sun. So Orion is above the horizon only in the daytime.

To see Orion in the middle of the night in June, Harry must have used some serious magic, possibly whipping the Earth to another place in its orbit around the Sun. Let’s hope he received extra credit.

This week, we’ll use Morehead magic to re-create the night sky on the planetarium dome for two programs about what you can see this summer:

Both programs are aimed at Muggles (non-magic people, in Harry Potter’s world) who want to learn to identify what’s overhead on North Carolina summer nights. Please register online in advance.

During the Summer Skies programs, we'll see Orion's enemy, Scorpius (another Harry Potter character, known to fans who have read to the very end of the series).

Bateman, biomedical engineer

A few Morehead folks had the chance to go down to watch the last shuttle launch and meet up with Dr. Ted Bateman, a biomedical engineer. He has a research project aboard STS-135 and is going to talk about it on Tuesday, July 12, at 6 p.m. at the Back Bar in downtown Chapel Hill.

If you’re at all interested in how space affects astronauts and how studying that might benefit us here on Earth, then this is the cafe for you.

Let’s get to know Ted:

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? I suppose I was being “trained” to be a scientist.  I won the science fair in sixth grade with a study feeding mice different diets and running them through a maze to see how it affected learning.

How did you get interested in science? My mom was a high school science teacher, and she always brought the lab projects home. I first got interested in NASA when I spent a summer at Kennedy Space Center doing space life sciences experiments while I was an undergrad.

In one sentence, describe your job: I run a lab where we research the effects of ionizing radiation on the skeletal system, trying to better understand what space radiation does to astronauts and how radiation therapy affects cancer patients. [My team's] Space Shuttle work with microgravity is a “hobby” that I have been fortunate to work with for more than 15 years.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that you’re colleagues don’t know about? I used to be really, really good at brewing beer. I need to pick that up again.

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? I would accelerate our clinical trials studying radiation therapy-induced osteoporosis. Women with gynecological tumors have a greater risk for hip fractures, and we can prevent this with existing treatments- we just need to prove the drugs work.

Or- thinking entirely NASA…

Build the habitats to fly mice on the replacement vehicles for the Space Shuttle. We have the opportunity to get mice up to Space Station for long-term experiments, but the animal habitats are not being built.

Great stuff, Ted. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions while prepping for the big launch.

Please join us this Tuesday at the Back Bar! Special thanks to Sigma Xi for their continued support of the Carolina Science Cafe program.

Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He wonders what the astronaut mice are thinking about right now.

The Beehive Cluster [Atlas Image courtesy of 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF

Please “catch the buzz” and join us this Saturday, June 25, when Morehead hosts a Family Science Day with a theme of “Native Pollinators.”

We will have lots of free activities!  Play Pollination Jeopardy, dance like a bee, craft a pollinator or flower, listen to a story, examine a flower with a ‘Scope on a Rope, do a scavenger hunt in Coker Arboretum, see “Science 360: Flower Power,” and have your face painted with a flower or pollinator.

Also, with paid admission to a regular planetarium program this Saturday (Morehead members free), you get a bonus: the award-winning shortJeepers Creepers” and a pollination-related tour of the night sky.

Family Science Day happens rain or shine.  Events are inside and outside the Morehead Planetarium building from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Amy Sayle will tell the Cherokee Legend of the Milky Way (a story about a wind-pollinated food) during Family Science Day.


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