Happy 100 to Us!

1914 patent for backless bra

Even though we’re living in a country with a 17 trillion dollar debt, Amy and I still think a hundred of anything is a pretty big number. For example, we were impressed when we learned that Smucker’s, the backless bra, Wrigley Field, and Mother’s Day all reach the century mark this year.

Just think about working a hundred-hour work week. Eeek! Or maybe needing to lose a hundred pounds. Would you like to commute a hundred miles to work everyday, or shovel a driveway that’s a hundred feet long? How about trying to do a hundred sit-ups, carry a hundred bricks into the backyard for the patio, or pay for that hundred gallons of gas you just pumped into your truck? Yep. A hundred is still a pretty big number.

smuckersTo bring this sudden fascination with 100 down to a personal level, Amy and I are excited because, besides 100 being written by the Roman Numeral “C” (which always stands for chocolate) this is a time of celebration for the Astro Babes because this is our 100th Astro Babe blog!

The first 100 blogs have been challenging but loads of fun, too. We’ve written about a lot of different topics and learned a lot. Hopefully you’ll be with us, dear reader, to see where the next 100 blogs takes us.

Lynn & Amy

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One Giant Whiff for Mankind

hopkins iss
Astronaut Mike Hopkins on board the ISS.

After recently returning from spending 166 days on board the International Space Station, Astronaut Mike Hopkins commented on a phenomenon that’s been reported by many other astronauts – that space itself has a smell. Hopkins said that it’s a metallic, ionization-type smell that he found quite unique and distinctive.

How cool is that? Who would have thought that space had a smell? While I was pondering this spacey-smell thing, it reminded me of something else that had a smell to it that I discovered years ago.

Back in the late-80’s, I left the frozen Wisconsin tundra and moved to sunny Arizona. We lived in a suburb of Phoenix where it never dared snow. After a few months of noticing a strange odor Astronaut snow2here and there during the winter, someone put two-and-two together for me and told me that the acrid, metallic smell meant it was snowing up in the mountains just an hour or so north of us. Of course I didn’t believe such a ridiculous notion because I was a snow expert from Wisconsin. But eventually I discovered that every time I noticed that smell and turned on Weather.com, it was always snowing just north of us.

Although it was common knowledge in Arizona, I can’t smell it here in Wisconsin when the snow is close or actually falling on us. Don’t know why that is. However, I’ve read that there are plenty of people in the Northwest who claim to smell snow when it’s close by (and also plenty of scientists who claim that there’s no scientific evidence that someone can smell snow).

Astronaut Don Pettit blogged on the NASA snow globewebsite that space has “a rather pleasant sweet metallic” smell that reminded him of welding fumes. That kind of sounds like the smell of snow, which I remember as an ionized, metallic smell (like the one you often notice right before it rains) with an undertone of something else like hot, dry metal. Here’s a link to a Popular Science article that gets into a lot more detail about the spacey odors.

Too bad I personally will never get to compare the two smells. Of course, if NASA calls and wants me to go up and do a comparison/contrast essay on the subject, I can pack in ten minutes!


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Cosmos Finale Was a Big Hit

Hope everyone enjoyed the Cosmoscosmos2 finale as much as the Astro Babes did this past Sunday. We began the series with a party at Amy’s house and ended it with a party at Lynn’s house. There were plenty of munchies (including Ships of the Imagination, meteoroids, spiral galaxies, planets, stars, and shuttle tiles). We even had a celebrity appearance by one of the Astro Babes’ guest bloggers,  Barbara Millicent Roberts (aka Mars Barbie).

There’s been a lot of speculation in the media about the possibility of a second season of Cosmos, especially after Fox began referring to current episodes as “Season 1.” Ratings have been up and down, but the show consistently brought in more than 3 million viewers each week. The second-to-last episode beat out NBC and CBS in the

Cosmos munchies included meteoroids, spiral galaxies, planets and stars. Yumm! Luckily our spouses were there to help us with the celebration.

coveted 18-49 demographic with 1.3 million viewers, and the finale reached 3.52 million viewers in that same demographic with some stiff competition from the other networks and cable channels.

If Cosmos returns, it might not be the same show we’ve grown to love because Fox might be shopping for another host. In mid-March, Neil deGrasse Tyson said in an interview with Space.com that he currently has no plans to host another season because it took a lot of time and kept him away from his family. He could change his mind though.

In the meantime, we’ll just keep our fingers crossed and watch for the official announcement from Fox.


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Chicks in Science

As much as I hated to name this blog post that way, it had to be done. I’m referencing the comment made by former Treasury Secretary & Harvard University President Lawrence Summers who suggested that there might be a genetic reason that women don’t excel in math and science related fields of study. The question “what’s with chicks in science?” was asked by an attendee of a panel discussion at the Center for Inquiry.

The person brave enough to respond to the question was Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and host of the new Cosmos series. His answer was quite honest and thought provoking and brought me to tears.

How much talent have we discouraged due to social norms and prejudices?  What could society possibly gain by intentionally discouraging bright young minds of all kinds to stretch and grow to their full potential? Doesn’t that seem counterproductive? Imagine what we could have accomplished by now if we had been wise enough to see beyond the fear and stereotyping. It’s enough to take your breath away.

Some of you may say “But Amy, we’ve come a long way”. That is true, but we have a long way to go.  I had to explain to my daughter’s seventh grade math teacher that when he pits the boys against the girls in a problem solving contest it becomes less about math and more about gender. If the boys win, boys are just smarter than girls. If the girls win, well that’s just a fluke. Let’s teach our kids to work together as a team!

One reason I like Mr. Tyson is his passion. Where’s OUR passion people? Why was I the only parent who had a problem with the whole ‘boys against the girls’ concept of teaching?  No one else said anything, and hadn’t for years. Why is that?

I say we show this video to every parent and every educator in the country. A tall order I know, so let’s get going!

Thank you Mr. Tyson for your insight and your bravery for saying it like it is.



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Photographing Cool, Distant Planets Now Possible

Back in 1985, I lived in Arizona and attended Arizona State University. My favorite

Image taken by the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) shows a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris.

classes were (of course) a mid-level class in astronomy and in physics.

Many evenings after dinner, my friend, Hol, and I would float around in the pool and discuss all sorts of heady topics, such as surface tension, pulsars, light spectra, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Hol helped me take the leap into converting science into mathematics.

On one of those nights 29 years ago, in one of those heady discussions, the topic was astrophotography. In the retelling of something that I had learned in class that day, I misspoke and said that we were close to actually photographing planets outside of our solar system in visible light. Time has erased what I actually meant to say, but my friend got a good chuckle out of that.

“How absurd is THAT,” he blurted (or something quite similar to that). I, of course, immediately got defensive and said, “What? Well I didn’t mean to say that we could photograph planets today, but I’m sure we will someday.”

“HA! That’ll NEVER happen!” he insisted, and he was not one to say the word ‘never’. “They’re too far away and too small and too buried in the visible light of their sun. What a ridiculous idea.”

When he put it that way, it did sound rather implausible, but I dug in my heels and announced that yes, I believed it WAS possible and that it would happen in my lifetime. In my memory, he sneered at me for weeks after that, but he probably just snorted and said that I was totally wrong. A $10 bet ensued.

So here we are, nearly 30 years later, and it’s finally happened using a charged couple device (CCD). The new technology is called Magellan Adaptive Optics (MagAO). The first planet recently captured was Beta Pictoris b in the constellation Pictor, which has a mass 12 times that of Jupiter and orbits its sun at nine A.U. (equivalent to the distance from here to Saturn).

The exciting thing about this advancement is that unlike infrared, which only picks up “hot” planets today, we can use CCD to detect planets that have cooled. Cooled planets have a much greater likely to be habitable.

So ha HA Mr. Hol. Looks like I get the last laugh after all. I’ll be watching for that ten-spot in the mail.


Cosmos Remake Didn’t Let Us Down

Cosmos party at Amy’s house.

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this blog, you’re the type that thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of Cosmos last night. (If you missed it, watch it here). It had an estimated 5.8 million viewers. How cool is that??!?

The show opened with Neil deGrasse Tyson taking us on a tour of the solar system in an updated version of the Ship of the Imagination (much cooler than the 1980 version). The show also included the story of Giordano Bruno, the first man to see a vision of a limitless universe. The Cosmic Calendar followed, which started with the big bang and put the timeline of our universe into perspective.

Needless to say, Amy and I really enjoyed the show. To commemorate the event, we threw a Cosmos Party that included our respective spouses. Chocolate wine, strawberries, cheese, homemade cookies, chips – all on a table that usually holds our star charts and binoculars. Who says astronomy is boring??

It turned out that Cosmos wasn’t the only spacey thing going on last night, either. As soon as Cosmos ended, the local PBS station aired Apollo 17: The Untold Story of the Last Men on the Moon.

We also peeked in on a live web cast from Slooh.com, who was tracking asteroid 2014 CU13 from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands. This asteroid, approximately 623 feet wide, whizzed by us today about 1.9 million miles (a mere eight times the distance between the Earth and the moon). Slooh hoped to draw attention to the asteroid so amateur astronomers will help efforts to pinpoint its orbit.

A good time was had by all, and it was nice to do some indoor astronomy for a change. Hope you got all of Amy’s tweet’s during the show!


Getting Away From it All

Overlooking Wittman Field.

I’ve been on a hiatus of sorts, off on one of my consulting assignments. I spent six weeks in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, writing about buying steel for military vehicles and ordering chassis’s to build fire trucks.

The upside was that I made some cash, met a bunch of great people, and had a mini-vacation. The downside was that my laptop totally died the day before I hit the road so blogging became impossible. While I was there, we also had 34 consecutive days with below zero temperatures. Even if I had my scope or my binoculars with me, I would’ve been too wimpy to do any serious observing.

I arrived in Oshkosh late Sunday, January 5, and spent the evening getting ready for my first day on the job. While I was unpacking Sunday night, I discovered that right out the side door of the hotel was the expanse of Wittman Field, home of the EAA. Turns out there is only three blocks of houses beyond the end of the runway before the horizon drops off into Lake Winnebago in the East-Southeastern sky, and although it was cloudy that first night, I knew I might get to see some stars on clear mornings and nights.

orionI woke up early the next morning and stepped out the side door of the hotel. The first thing that took my breath away was the frigid -17°F air. But the second thing that took my breath away was the black, pre-dawn sky. As focused as I was about getting to work on time, I lingered long enough to take it all in.

There, twinkling in the frigid sky, was Orion, standing tall with his belt only about 40 degrees off the treeless horizon. Betelgeuse, Rigel, Sirius and Procyon formed their own mini-Great Square below him. The night sky always seems so much more clear and beautiful when it’s really cold outside.

Every cloudless morning after that I was greeted by Orion, and over time watched him slowly march around the corner of the hotel. By the time I stepped out into the -6°F morning for the last time five weeks later, Orion had moved to the near Southern sky and his belt had risen to 50 degrees.

Orion’s been my hero for a long time, and I’m glad he was there to greet me at the beginning of every (clear!) day.

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Chang’e 3 – Brought to You by Planet Earth

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs apollo-11-rocket and comments lately about the Chinese probe and rover landing on the moon. Much of the rhetoric is extremely supportive, congratulating China for a tremendous achievement. We should all recognize it for what it is – not just an accomplishment for the Chinese, but an accomplishment by us all.

I watched Apollo 11 lift off the pad back in 1969. At the time, it actually occurred to me that there should be a flag symbolizing humankind next to the U.S. flag on the side of that Saturn 5 rocket. I wanted to see a symbol that said, “Hey! This rocket isn’t just from the United States – it’s from the whole human race!”

I’ve thought about this often over the years and decided that it would take more than a few email suggestions from me to make that Human Race Flag happen.

united-federation-of-planets-symbolWho’s going to design and approve the Human Race Flag? And after all this time, who would be the first to put this emblem on their rocket? Would the Chinese fly the Human Race Flag if it was designed in the United States? Or would we use their design? No.

I’m thinking it’s going to take a threat to our collective race, like an impacting meteorite or an invasion from outer space, to get us to drop our borders and work together. Just like in the movie Independence Day. Until then, I guess we’ll have to wait until we collectively join the United Federation of Planets and dispense with our homegrown flags all together.


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Another Missed Eclipse

Last week, a total eclipse took place in us-eclipseNorthern Australia and in the South Pacific.

Whenever I read about them, it always reminds me of an article that I read 30-plus years ago about a man’s experience during a total solar eclipse. I don’t recall all the details, but I vividly remember that his descriptions of the event made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Shortly before the darkness came, he wrote of the growing excitement as the long bands of shadows began moving across the ground. Looking through an eyepiece, he saw Baily’s beads of bright pearls forming on the edge of the moon, and the beautiful crimson color of the prominences on the edge of the sun. Then a blanket of darkness fell upon him as quickly as a light switch turning off, and the full glory of the solar corona filled his eyepiece. It said it was the eeriest experience he’d ever had.

Needless to say, I’ve wanted to experience this in person ever since, but only 21 total eclipses have happened in the last 30 years, always seeming to happen in places I couldn’t or didn’t want to go to, like Syberia or Iceland or Colombia.

But it’s finally going to happen for us here in the Midwest. In 2017, the point of Greatest Eclipse will fall only 500 miles south of here for a total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. You can bet Amy and I will be there!

Now if only the moon were in a perfectly circular orbit, a little closer to the Earth, and in the same orbital plane, there would be a total solar eclipse every month. I don’t know if everyone else thinks that’s a good idea, but I’m quite sure I’d never tire of it.


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Elusive ISON

Just got back from my first attempt at viewing sunrisecomet ISON with my 10×50 binoculars. It’s tough this time of year, crawling out of a nice, warm bed and stepping alone into the dark, 19-degree Wisconsin morning. But the sky was clear and there were enough pointer stars nearby in Virgo for me to give it a try.

Typically, I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. The rusty old Buick was parked in the way, and keys needed to be found to do a round of musical vehicles. Then, I wasn’t more than a block from my house before I realized my Out of Gas light was blinking. I needed to pull into the Shell station down the road and grab a few gallons before I drove to the outskirts of town.

I arrived at my usual Easterly observing site, and as my eyes were getting dark-adapted, a pickup truck lazed towards me from a farm up ahead. By the time I had explained that I was all right and actually trying to look at a comet on the other side of his truck, well, astronomical dawn had arrived and my night vision had left the building. The ISON party was over for the night.

Dick, a member of our local club, sent me this Visibility of Comet ISON chart that shows when ISON will be visible around here in the near future. Hopefully the moon, the clouds, and the snow will all cooperate again soon so I crawl out of bed and try again.