March 2021

Bright Sky Digest 

Monthly SAS Newsletter
SAS Spring Astrophotography Contest Winner
Chris King

Celebrating International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day! This month we are excited to be celebrating Women's History Month with a column featuring Vera Rubin and her profound impact to the field of astronomy. In our monthly Stargazing in Seattle article, Bob tells us the best ways to observe the "Golden Gate of the Ecliptic". Furthermore, we are excited and honored to have Dr. Phil Plait present at our monthly meeting "Strange New Worlds" discussing the search for exoplanets and comparing them to Earth.

Upcoming Events

Tuesday, March 9th,
7:00 PM -9:00 PM:
Astrophotography Special Interest Group Meeting 

Wednesday, February 17th,
7:30 PM-9:00 PM:
SAS Welcomes Dr. Phil Plait presenting, "Strange New Worlds"

Sunday, March 28th,
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
SAS Board Meeting

Vera Rubin

Mary Anderson

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021, the life and accomplishments of eminent astronomer, Vera Rubin, offer great examples of major contributions to astronomy. Born in 1928, Vera Rubin spent many early childhood nights looking with fascination at the stars; and with the help of her father, she attended many amateur astronomers’ meetings. With growing passion for astronomy, she majored in astronomy at Vassar College and graduated from Vassar as the only astronomy major in 1948. She soon learned that her planned pursuit of graduate degrees and a career in astronomy would bring opposition and rejection because of a simple fact: she was a woman. Her request for a graduate school catalog from Princeton University met with no response because Princeton was not accepting women applicants for astronomy study.

She was accepted at Cornell University, from which she received her master's degree, and at Georgetown University, from which she received her doctoral astronomy degree.  During her studies at Georgetown, she received no support from the male faculty; but she did receive great support from her husband, Robert Rubin, who drove her to classes and ate dinner in his car while waiting for her to attend class. Their children's grandparents also offered support by babysitting the Rubin's four children while their mother worked for her degrees.  All four children became scientists as adults. 
Working as a professional astronomer, Vera sadly learned that as a female in a male dominated astronomy world, her only support would come from her family. Her doctoral dissertation was ignored, and her master’s thesis was thought to be highly controversial. Her most astounding confrontation with prejudice against women occurred when she accepted an invitation from a Mt. Palomar Observatory male astronomer to observe at the Observatory, which was officially closed at the time to all women, even to female astronomers and to wives of astronomers. She soon experienced the harsh reality of this female ostracism when she looked for a women’s restroom in the observatory and found none. The only observatory restroom she did find had a large image of only a male on the door. Undaunted, she quickly drew a female image on paper, featuring a figure with a voluminous skirt, and pasted her created image over the male image on the door. Undeterred by this offensive prejudice, she went on to earn the highest levels of esteem for her amazing work, which included the discovery that the inner stars in a galaxy were rotating at the same speed as the outer stars.
Vera Rubin looked through the Vassar College Telescope, 1946.
Her pioneer work on galaxy rotation rates led to discovery of the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion by studying galactic rotation curves. Her study told her it was likely that there was another unseen source of gravity beyond the known sources. This led to her greater discovery and confirmation of a major new element in the history of astronomy: dark matter. This major achievement raised public expectation for a probable Nobel Prize. She received many awards, including election to the National Academy of Sciences and the 1993 National Medal of Science. But she died at the age of 88 in 2016 without the expected Nobel Prize. However, one of Rubin's most important accomplishments and awards is seen in the currently large number of professional women astronomers with careers enabled by her pioneer efforts as a female astronomer. She was once asked, "Do you think that your experience in science has been different because you are a woman rather than a man?"  She replied, "Yes, of course. But I'm the wrong person to ask that question. The tragedy in that question is all the women who would have liked to have become astronomers and didn't." Vera Rubin's accomplishment in the area of social justice and equality for women and for all humans may be considered as important as her discovery of dark matter.

Stargazing in Seattle

Bob Mulford

This month, as seen from Earth, Mars moves through the “Golden Gate of the Ecliptic”, formed by the open star clusters known as the Pleiades and the Hyades.  Mars will be within a few degrees of the Pleiades at the beginning of March. In binoculars, the orange color of Mars should contrast beautifully with the hard blue-white stars in the Pleiades. The Pleiades are commonly known as the Seven Sisters, although there are only 6 bright stars. The Pleiades cluster contains over 800 stars and is a bit over 400 light years from the Earth.  There is an excellent discussion of lore associated with the Pleiades at the Earth and Sky web site:
Later in the month, Mars passes by the Hyades star cluster, the nearest open cluster to Earth. Its brightest stars form a distinctive “V” shaped pattern, punctuated at one end of the “V” by the red giant star Aldebaran. The easiest way to locate the Hyades is to start by finding the constellation Orion. A line drawn through the belt stars and extend to the right points to Aldebaran. Mars will be similar to Aldebaran in brightness and color and passes within 7 degrees of Aldebaran during late March. The pair will be joined by a waxing crescent moon, 1 day before first quarter, on March 19.

The Golden Gate of the Ecliptic, formed by the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters, is high in the southwest evening sky and traversed by Mars during March.
Graphic produced with the planetarium program Stellarium and annotated with PowerPoint.

Stargazing in Seattle highlights interesting astronomical events that can be seen without optical aid, simply by looking up at the sky. There is much to see in the sky even if you don’t have a telescope. In-the-sky,org has an excellent calendar of sky events (, in a convenient monthly calendar format.

Member Spotlight

Wendy Froggatt, Outreach Coordinator

Name: Wendy Froggatt

Member Since: 2017

Location: Seattle, WA

Hobbies: I love being outside and exploring nature-hiking, birdwatching, gardening and of course stargazing. I've recently started doing more astrophotography. I've started with trying to capture the Milky Way and I had some success with Comet Neowise last summer. I'm hoping eventually to be able to grow my skills and photograph deep sky objects. My first try will be of the Orion Nebula. That is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen through a telescope. When I'm forced to be inside, I enjoy painting, especially the colors of the sky. I'm also a total book nerd. I'll read almost anything but I especially like sci-fi.

Favorite Space Movie, Show, or Character: I love The Fifth Element. There is so much going on with the settings and the costumes-lots of eye candy, but it also has great goofy comic timing and characters. I never get tired of it.

Favorite Space Fact: I think it's amazing that the moon and the sun appear the same size in the sky and that allows us to witness solar eclipses-the sun is 400 times wider than the moon but the moon is 400 times closer to us. This perfect alignment creates one of the most beautiful sites on our planet.

Favorite Space Related Memory:  My favorite memory is the first time I saw the Milky Way. I was driving with my dad in Northeastern Washington and we were somewhere in the mountains, I think it was over Sherman Pass. My dad pulled over and we turned off the car lights. There were no lights anywhere. As my eyes adjusted, I couldn't believe the number of stars I could see. I will never forget that feeling of being surrounded by our universe. 

Hopes & Goals: As the Outreach Coordinator for SAS, I am working to establish a partnership with the Girl Scouts and our local schools. My hope is that through educational programs offered by SAS, we can help make Astronomy more accessible to populations that currently are underrepresented in STEM fields, specifically women and people of color.

Want to nominate someone for the next member spotlight?
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