Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Woohoo! It's Time to Star Party!

Greetings, astronomy fans!

Ah, the summer star party.  Sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it?

Actually, we're really excited about our summer star parties.  We'll have time in the early part of the evening to view the Sun, which is pretty awesome right about now.  We're in solar maximum, so there's almost always something cool to see.  And by cool, we mean about 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  That's the rough temperature of the average sunspot, a cool, dark region on the solar surface.  I know, it doesn't exactly sound cool...but with the rest of the solar surface hovering around 10,000 degrees, suddenly 8,000 doesn't sound so bad.

The Sun today, June 5, 2013.  Image courtesy NASA and

Once the Sun sets, we'll be treated to some wonderful sights in the evening sky.  Saturn is prominent right now, and looking awesome.  At a recent overnight event at the museum, we saw 4 moons (out of Saturn's many dozens), Cassini's division (a large gap in the ring system), and even some faint banding in the clouds of the giant planet (yellow and white clouds generally don't make for great contrast, so when you can see them, it's quite lovely).  Saturn is truly a sight to behold in a telescope, and well worth the wait for the darkness of night.  Beyond Saturn, expect to see some beautiful double stars, like Alberio, in the head of Cygnus the Swan...and perhaps a nebula or two, like the the Ring Nebula in Lyra the Harp.

Still from a video of Saturn shot June 2, 2013.  Image by Dash One using Raspberry Pi.

While you're waiting for the darkening sky to reveal it's secrets, we've got a special treat for you.  The United States Air Force Heritage Combo, the Blue Aces, will be rockin' it out in the Conservation Garden from 6-8pm (if the weather is inclement, they'll move into the lobby of the main museum building).  Trust me, you're going to enjoy that!  And did I mention that everything we've talked about so far is free? No really, FREE!

The Blue Aces.

Beyond the freebies, you can support the Virginia Living Museum and see some amazing stuff this Saturday night.  Only during the three evening star parties of summer can you visit our stunning summer exhibit, Bodies Revealed, without paying admission to the museum as well.  Stand alone tickets to Bodies Revealed will be available for $15 for adults and $12 for kids.  Members, of course, are only $7.  The exhibit is an incredible journey through the human body - you won't want to miss it.

Also available is an expanded slate of shows in the Abbitt Planetarium!  At 5:30pm, you can see Microcosm, our show about the parallel developments of space exploration and medical technology that will also propel you into a possible future where human beings can go inside the human body to cures diseases.  At 6:30pm, take a break and rock on with Laser Pop, featuring pop music across the decades.  At 7:30pm, catch a preview of the evening sky with Virginia Skies, a live sky talk with one of our staff astronomers.  At 8:30pm, the rock and roll goes on with Laser Vinyl, a mix of classic rock hits you won't want to miss. Rounding out the night is a Pink Floyd double feature - The Wall at 10pm and The Vision Bell at 11:30pm.  The Wall features selections from that classic album, while The Vision Bell is a fabulous mix of old and new Pink Floyd favorites inspired by the release of The Division Bell.  It's a double header you won't want to miss.  Shows in the planetarium are $6 each, or catch a double feature (any two shows on the same night) for $10.  Members are always half price!

Besides all this fun, the Wild Things Museum Store and the Wild Side Cafe will be open for your shopping and eating pleasure!  Plus enjoy the beautiful gardens as the Sun goes down and the evening cools off.  All in all, our summer star parties should be a blast!  Our first one is this Saturday, June 8, and will be your only chance to see the Blue Aces.  Come out and join us!

Until next time,
Carpe noctem!

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