Denver By Way Of The Aurora Borealis

A sighting of the Aurora Borealis in the Minneapolis Airport Friday. This was definitely not in the forecast. Photo: Bob King

I keep running into the aurora borealis. This morning it popped up as a gaming locale in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. While colorful, I’ll admit the display was a bit on the static side.

I’m headed to Denver to the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) in nearby Boulder today to attend a conference for new media folks on a wide variety of space topics by a great lineup of speakers. Presentations include the moons of Mars, the Kuiper Belt, lunar dust, the aerospace industry and what makes a planet a planet. The last will be given by none other than Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the New Horizons mission to Pluto. You’ll all recall that Pluto was “demoted” to dwarf planet status in 2006.

The new definition has three criteria – to qualify as a planet the object must orbit the sun (or star), have enough mass to crush itself into a spherical shape and be the dominate body in its orbital neighborhood. Pluto scores well on the first two but fails the third because there are lots of other mini-Plutos (even a few maxi-Plutos) along the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt where Pluto resides.

I hope to learn a lot, ask a few burning questions and have a blast. Our group includes 16 other science media writers/bloggers/video people from around the country. I’ll share my experiences later this weekend through pictures and words.

9 Responses

  1. Dan Staley

    Welcome to Denver. Keep your TV off so you aren’t saturated with inane 24/7 coverage of the latest mass murder. Sorry its so hot, but you get to consider dinner at Frasca – pricy but the best eats in Colo.

    1. astrobob

      Thanks! Coverage is heavy as you’d expect. It was such a terrible thing that happened.

      Ever heard of “Oak” in Boulder. We ate there – amazing place!

  2. Richard Keen

    Bob, have a great time at LASP. Be sure to check out the main lobby with all sorts of backup spacecraft, including Mariner 6 (or is it 7?).
    My favorite food around here is the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery up the road in Nederland – great ribs and their own beer. If you do head up to the hills, drop me a note and we can look poke around with my 12-inch newly recoated newt. I’m at 9000 feet just half an hour from Boulder! Up here we call 80 degrees hot, and a foot of snow a trace.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Richard,
      Thanks for the invite and the dinner suggestion. I don’t have a car but I might be free tomorrow night. The lobby had lots of models of spacecraft – the one you referred to was Mariner 6/7, an actual engineering model.

      1. Richard Keen

        Bob, drop me a e-note and maybe we can figure something out.
        The observing invite may be a hollow one, with lots of cloud debris from afternoon thunderstorms messing up the evening sky these days. It clears after midnight. That’s summer in the Colorado mountains.

      2. Richard Keen

        Actually, my 12-inch newt is partially built of space-flown parts. Back in ’76, I observed an uptick in the brightness of Comet West, apparently due to the breakup of the nucleus just before perihelion. Inspired by the sudden brightening, LASP sent up a UV telescope on a sounding rocket a couple of weeks later. The rocket broke up upon landing, of course, but they gave me some of the surviving panels and structural beams that are now part of the scope.
        There’s something fun & special about things (and people!) that have flown in space.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Larry,
      Yes, I knew it was in Boulder but chose Denver because it was the airport of my destination. Thanks though. I’m much happier in Boulder since the mountains are much closer.

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