Two chicks and a cool eclipse product

An Oregon-based company has created a fun item to commemorate the upcoming total solar eclipse. Two Chicks Conspiracy is selling a fashionable key ring and fob that features an image of a total solar eclipse.

The two chicks are Kimberly Kelly and Joanna Rosinska, who founded Two Chicks Conspiracy, a casual fashion accessory company, back in 2013.

“It actually all started because I needed a new belt,” Kelly said. The company had some stops and starts because it was difficult to find a U.S.-based manufacturer that could do the sublimation—printing on polyester webbing—that was needed to make their creative belts. They finally found a company in Alabama that would work with them at their relatively modest production level.

The bulk of Two Chicks Conspiracy’s products are belts that are really wearable art, with designs based on nature and native culture as well as cityscapes and activities such as cycling. They have several designs that are space themed, which came about because of Rosinska’s personal interest in both astrology and astronomy.

Solar Eclipse key fob“Gazing into the night sky is good for the soul,” she said.

The company is based in Albany, Oregon, which is within the path of totality for the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse, and so a product featuring the eclipse seemed a natural. Kelly and Rosinska have used the smartphone app Solar Eclipse Timer to scope out a good nearby viewing spot for eclipse day.

Check out Two Chicks Conspiracy for some cool products made in the USA.


Two Chicks Conspiracy is a Seattle Astronomy advertiser.

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Astro Biz: Space Needle IPA

Space Needle Golden IPAMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is Space Needle Golden IPA from the Pike Brewing Company. Pike’s website describes Space Needle Golden IPA as a West Coast IPA that is “assertively hoppy.” It is brewed with four varieties of Yakima Valley aroma- and flavoring-hops and is full of citrus, pine, and floral hop flavors.

We picked up a six-pack the other day because, well, it’s an Astro Biz, plus we’re busy doing extensive research to inform our choice of the official house IPA at Seattle Astronomy headquarters. Besides, the Space Needle was an original Astro Biz.

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CSI Universe: Unraveling the mysteries of Tabby’s Star and supernovae

The universe is full of mysteries; that’s one of the reasons that astronomy is so interesting! We dug into a couple of puzzling phenomena at the most recent gathering of Astronomy on Tap Seattle at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. The session was dubbed “CSI: Universe,” and Brett Morris, one of the co-hosts of Astronomy on Tap Seattle and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, gave a talk about the star KIC 8462852, more commonly called Tabetha Boyajian’s star, thank goodness. His talk was titled, “The Weirdest Star Gets Weirder.”

You helped

Citizen scientists were the first to notice that there was something odd about Tabby’s Star. The Kepler Space Telescope was searching for exoplanets by watching for slight but regular dips in a stars brightness, a possible indication of a planet in orbit around a distant star. Morris noted that it can be difficult to write a computer algorithm to filter out noise in the data, so they enlisted the help of the public through the website PlanetHunters.org.

Brett Morris

Brett Morris (Photo: Greg Scheiderer)

“What you can do on this website is help scientists look for things that are weird,” Morris said. People identify objects that don’t look right, then professional astronomers check them out. “Through this process they found a whole bunch of stars that misbehave.”

One of them was Boyajian’s.

“If we look at its colors, if we look at its spectrum, it behaves like all the other F-stars,” Morris said, “and so we were a little bit puzzled when we started looking at data.”

There were dips in light from Tabby’s Star, all right. There were smaller dips early in the mission that never really matched up. Then in March 2011 there was a huge dip of 15 percent of the star’s light, and it lasted for days, not hours as most transits do. Then in February 2013 there was an even bigger reduction in brightness of 20 percent. Nobody has come up with a plausible explanation for this.

“Whatever this is, this thing’s big,” Morris said.

No easy answer

An astounding array of possible explanations have been thrown out there. Examples include an object like Saturn with rings that could cause variations in the light curve, a passing comet, debris from a huge planetary impact like the one thought to have formed our Moon, and Tabby’s Star’s indigestion from having just swallowed a whole planet. The one in vogue at present is that a family of 10 to 20 comets, all giving off material, are creating these odd light curves. Morris doesn’t quite buy this one, either.

“The more bodies that you imagine being there, the easier it is to fit a light curve,” he said. “If you just keep adding new parameters into your model, eventually it will fit.”

“If you invoke wierdly shaped objects, you can fit it perfectly,” Morris added. “If you invoke the kinds of objects that we expect are most likely, it’s a lot harder. We really don’t know what this star is doing.”

Some have wondered if something between us and Tabby’s Star, maybe interstellar gas or dust, caused the strange light curves. Morris himself investigated this one. Back in May he got a Tweet—he said this is mostly how astronomers communicate these days!—noting that Tabby’s Star’s brightness was changing. He used the Apache Point Observatory to look for signs of absorption from interstellar gas or dust. But the spectra didn’t change even though the star was changing.

“We’re slowly ruling things out,” Morris said. “It’s not something in our solar system, it’s not something between us and the star; it’s got to be something near the star, but we don’t know what near the star could be doing this.”

As for wild speculation that the strange light curves could be caused by a Dyson Sphere or other “alien megastructure”:

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I do not have any evidence to suggest that we can make a claim as extraordinary as that,” Morris said. He and a team of undergraduates at the University of Washington continue to work on the puzzle.

Coroner for the Stars

The second talk of CSI: Universe came from Prof. Melissa Graham of the UW, who does work on supernovae. These mark the death of a star, and Graham’s job is to figure out whodunnit.

Melissa Graham

Melissa Graham (Photo: Greg Scheiderer)

Graham pointed out that a star is considered alive if it’s in hydrostatic equilibrium; that is, when atomic fusion in the star’s core supports the star by counteracting gravity. Sometimes the death of a star is from natural causes. A typical star will fuse hydrogen and helium into carbon, then gradually fuses neon, oxygen, and heavier elements until eventually a core of iron forms. Graham said this means trouble, because fusing iron into something heavier is not exothermic; it doesn’t release energy.

“If you end up with a core of iron, your hydrostatic equilibrium suffers because you are losing out on that fusion in the core,” she said. “The core collapses because it can’t support itself anymore, the outer layers fall onto the inner layers, and you end up with a supernova explosion.”

Material blows away and leaves neutron star behind.

“That’s death by natural causes,” Graham said.

Type 1a supernovae are more interesting to stellar criminologists. These involve a white dwarf star, which is the remnant of a smaller star that doesn’t have enough mass to fuse carbon and oxygen into anything heavier.

“The carbon and oxygen core shrinks under its own self-gravity, and the outer layers are lost, which causes a really pretty planetary nebula,” Graham said. “The star is now supported by electron degeneracy pressure.”

This means the star isn’t alive because it’s not fusing elements.

“It’s more of a zombie star,” Graham said. “It’s died once and continues to live.”

The usual suspects

It’s a suspicious death when you see one of these explode. Graham rounded up the usual suspects: It could be a binary companion, such as a red giant or a sun-like star or another white dwarf. Sometimes it could be a pair of white dwarfs with a third companion star. A type 1a supernova also might from from a white dwarf’s impact with a primordial black hole or comet.

One way to figure this out is to simply look at the scene of the crime.

“Once this white dwarf star explodes, the other companion star would still be there,” Graham said. A companion would heat up and get brighter, so it might be detectable. Interstellar dust and gas may also light up from the energy of a supernova. Looking back at the scene later might detect such material that is at significant distance from the event. Graham is using the Hubble Space Telescope to check to find out if this is happening. She’s also looking forward to the completion of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which is expected to find some ten million supernovae over its 10-year mission. With so many new examples we will, “really start to understand how these carbon-oxygen white dwarfs die,” Graham said.

More information:

Morris’s talk on YouTube

Ted Talk by Tabetha Boyajian

 

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Astro Biz: Comet cleaner

CometMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is Comet cleaner. Comet has been around for a long time; introduced in 1956 by Procter and Gamble, the line was sold to Prestige Brands in 2001. The green powder cleanser is probably the most well known, but the product line includes a variety of other formats.

Comet also was—and maybe still is!—the subject of a children’s song that pointed out that the product makes your mouth turn green, tastes like gasoline, and makes you vomit. We’re not sure who did the product testing to figure that out.

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Good events and maybe actual observing as holiday weekend approaches

We hope you have had a chance to dust off the telescope and get in some observing with the recent good weather. Seattle Astronomy had some fine looks at Jupiter and Saturn over the weekend. The forecast looks promising for some public star parties next weekend, too.

The Seattle Astronomical Society plans its free monthly public star parties for 9 p.m. Saturday, July 1 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Bad weather cancels these events, so watch the website for updates.

SAS is also involved, along with the Boeing and Tacoma clubs, with the Covington Community Park star party set for 9 p.m. Friday, June 30. This one, too, is weather dependent.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its public nights at 9 p.m. Saturday, July 1 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor program will be about constellations and star-hopping. The telescopes will come out under clear skies.

The Eastside Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 27 at the Newport Way Library in Bellevue. The topic for the night will be the August total solar eclipse. EAS doesn’t meet during the summer, so this will be its last gathering until September.

AOT SeattleAstronomy on Tap Seattle will hold another of its gatherings at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 28. The topic for the evening will be CSI: Universe. AOT Seattle co-host Brett Morris will give a presentation titled “The Weirdest Star in the Universe Gets Weirder,” an update on Tabetha Boyajian’s star in light of its recent misbehavior. UW observational astrophysicist Dr. Melissa Graham will speak about her research as “Coroner For The Stars,” working to unravel the mysteries of supernovae.

There’s plenty of time for Q&A and prizes to win in astro-trivia.

It’s free, but buy beer, and bring a chair to create your own front-row seating.

Asteroid Awareness Day is Friday, June 28, and the Museum of Flight will offer educational activities and livestream lectures between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in its Alaska Airlines Aerospace Education Center.

Also Sprach Zarathustra

The Seattle Symphony is going to show the science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey this weekend, and they’ll be providing some of the music live! Performances are at 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, June 30 and July 1. Tickets, available online, range from $38 to $128.


 

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Breaking barriers in the early ’60s space program

NASA played a key role in the integration of the workforce of the south during the early 1960s, and a recent book tells the tale of how that came about and of the African Americans who were key participants in that movement. We Could Not Fail: The First African-Americans in the Space Program (University of Texas Press, 2015) was written by Richard Paul and Steven Moss. Moss spoke about the story last week at the Museum of Flight.

It wasn’t altruism that drove NASA. After President John F. Kennedy made his man-to-the-Moon speech in May of 1962, the agency and its contractors suddenly needed about a quarter of a million engineers and rocket scientists to achieve that goal. They couldn’t afford to discriminate. In fact, Moss pointed out that Vice President Lyndon Johnson made a speech in Seattle in 1962 about NASA recruiting the best talent regardless of race. JFK knew getting the Civil Rights Act passed would not be a speedy process, but he made an executive order to address discrimination in federal employment. It was essentially the first mention of equal employment opportunity.

Policy doesn’t always make it to the streets immediately. Moss said that Houston Power and Light actually turned off the electricity to the Pelican Island Destroyer Base near Galveston, Texas because the utility didn’t approve of the nondiscrimination order. LBJ leaned on the local congressman, noting that if a naval base couldn’t be powered, Houston might not fare well in its efforts to land the Manned Spaceflight Center.

“The Navy got its power very quickly, and in September Houston got its space center,” Moss said.

NASA gets on board

Moss and Hawks

Author Steven Moss, left, and Harvey Hawks, a Museum of Flight docent, after Moss’s talk June 14 about the book We Could Not Fail. Hawks said during the Q&A period that, though he didn’t try to work for NASA, he faced similar challenges after graduating with an aeronautical engineering degree in 1963. (Photo: Greg Scheiderer)

At the start of this process in 1962 NASA was near the bottom of federal agencies in the hiring of African Americans. That began to change quickly, but again it took political pressure. In May of 1963 Attorney General Robert Kennedy discovered that, despite a large African American population in Birmingham, Alabama, only 15 African Americans held jobs with the federal government there. Kennedy leaned on Johnson, who leaned on NASA administrator James Webb, who leaned on Wernher von Braun, who was head of the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“Over the next six weeks NASA does more to engage in the hiring of African Americans than it has at any other time in its history,” Moss noted. In October of 1964—just before the presidential election—Webb threatened to move management personnel out of Huntsville over the Alabama’s discriminatory policies.

“Qualified people—blacks and whites—refused to work at Huntsville,” Moss said. “They refused to go to Alabama because of its laws, because of its violence—not just its reputation, but the very real violence against people.”

They also had trouble keeping people there.

“The turn-around at Marshall was pretty high compared to some other places, because people just did not want to be there once they saw it,” Moss said.

Von Braun became something of a “point man” on civil rights, according to Moss. He made a visit to Miles College, a historically black institution, in November of 1964 for the opening of a new science building.

“Von Braun goes there and it is a very bold statement,” Moss said, “that (NASA) is going to stand up for civil rights and for the African American community.”

The other great stand happened at Marshall. Governor George Wallace was gearing up for a presidential run, and organized a tour of the facility in Huntsville, bringing 200 Alabama state legislators with him. Von Braun made sure to be there to speak against Wallace’s segregationist policies.

“He tells them that Alabama’s hope for industrial growth is jeopardized by its racial policies,” Moss said, “and he tells them that attracting and keeping the best people would succeed if Alabama offers the same opportunities as other states.”

“The only federal official that could stand toe to toe with George Wallace was Wernher von Braun,” Moss said.

Moss noted that von Braun likely didn’t do this out of the goodness of his heart. Through co-author Paul’s conversations with Mike Neufeld, a historian at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and specialist on von Braun, and their own research, they concluded that von Braun was completely driven by launching rockets, and would do what it took to keep that going.

The pioneers

Officialdom was slow to conquer Jim Crow and the Klan, which were still strong forces in the south. Much of the book is devoted to profiles of some of the African American pioneers who helped make it happen despite the barriers. Moss highlighted several of them during his talk.

Montgomery

Julius Montgomery (Photo: FIT)

Julius Montgomery was the first African American hired as a professional at Cape Canaveral. He was the first African American to sign up for classes at the Florida Institute of Technology, which at the time was known as Brevard Engineering College. He played a key role in integrating the college. Today FIT offers the Julius Montgomery Pioneer Award to African American students who make outstanding contributions to the community.

Clyde Foster promoted compliance with equal employment opportunity at NASA. He helped Alabama A&M in Huntsville start a computer science program. A great many of the African Americans who worked at NASA began their careers at A&M. Foster also convinced NASA to do advanced training in management there—before this it was nearly impossible for African Americans to get such training and advance their careers, because the sessions were held at segregated institutions or hotels.

Crossley

Frank Crossley. (Photo: We Could Not Fail on Facebook)

Frank Crossley was one of the first black Navy officers, and was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in metallurgical engineering.

“Although he was never a NASA employee, the work he did with metals and with alloys is significant for NASA’s success,” Moss said.

Charlie Smoot was hired by NASA as a recruiter. As an African American he could visit colleges and bring real information to prospective students about what it was like to be black and work for NASA. He organized presidents of black colleges and universities to help build a pipeline of qualified students.

George Carruthers is an astronomer who built the first observatory ever deployed on another celestial body, a UV telescope used on the Moon during the Apollo 16 mission.

Morgan Watson was one of NASAs first black engineers. Moss played a sound clip of an interview in which Watson gave what turned out to be the title of the book.

“We felt that the image of black people was riding on us as professionals,” Watson said. “We could not fail; we had go forward and do our best.”

“The pressure to succeed and the fear of failing was understood,” Moss noted.

In another clip Watson said that the space program changed the south by integrating African Americans into the workplace.

“By showing that there were black professionals that could do that,” he said, “it helped to break the walls down; it helped change people’s perception of black people in the south.”

As with the recent book Hidden Figures, Moss noted that the stories of the people he and Paul profile are not well known. In fact, they ran across cases in which the people’s own children or grandchildren had no idea of their accomplishments. Moss also said that, sadly, many of the African American NASA employees of the era are aging and in poor health, and were unable to participate in interviews.

We Could Not Fail promises to be a good read for the space history, but even more so for the stories of the courageous people who made that history.


You can purchase We Could Not Fail through the link above or by clicking the book cover image. Purchases through links on Seattle Astronomy help support our efforts to bring you great space and astronomy stories. We thank you!

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Astro Biz: Star Ice & Fuel

Star Ice & FuelMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is Star Ice & Fuel. The company has been in operation since 1888, the year before Washington became a state. They were located in downtown Tacoma for 122 years, and moved into a new facility between Fife and Federal Way in 2010.

Star Ice & Fuel makes ice: crushed, shaved, block, and dry. They also do heating oil, propane, kerosene, firewood, and wood pellets.

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