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The Aquarius Project Podcast: Episode 4

Adler Teens, Behind the Scenes

Header image: The Aquarius Project sled in all its (current) glory.

New to the Aquarius Project? Start here! (Really, go. This post will make a lot more sense once you’re caught up.)


I am pleased to announce that the fourth installment of the Aquarius Project Podcast is available now!

The Aquarius Project sled did not emerge, fully formed, from anyone’s imagination. It is the product of many drafts, sketches, prototypes, design ideas that sounded really good but ultimately did not work, epiphanies, happy accidents, and elbow grease (listen to the episode for details!). Our plan was to spend the whole episode telling you about the sled, but something project leader Chris Bresky said to producer Erin Kahoa and me led us down a side street that ended up being a big part of our story.

Project leader Chris Bresky (right) tries to reassemble a sled prototype from 2017 while podcast producer Erin Kahoa records.
Project leader Chris Bresky (right) tries to reassemble a sled prototype from 2017 while podcast producer Erin Kahoa records.

Chris was showing Erin and me the oldest, wobbliest, duct-tape-iest version of the sled, trying to remember where all the pieces had come from and where the missing ones had gone. In between reminiscing about the sled’s humble beginnings and squeezing the duct tape together at the joints, he mentioned that someone in the Adler’s collections department had told him to hang onto this prototype because the museum might want to keep it.

The idea that this broken down pile of pipes might end up in a glass case (like some kind of shimmering bespoke astrolabe made for a medieval king) sounded so ridiculous to us that we recruited Chris Helms, the Adler’s collections manager, to tell us why anyone—especially a museum with one of the world’s finest astronomy collections—would give it a second look.

He told us it wasn’t ridiculous at all. Even a venerated astronomer like Galileo was once an amateur telescope maker, and his oldest handmade telescopes are now so valuable and rare that even the replicas are glass-case material.

Talking to Chris H. also got me thinking about themes that tie this episode together: Not only how the Aquarius Project fits so neatly into the DIY history of astronomy, but the way history itself is made of objects. Take a good look at anything—a rock, a book, a phone, a shiny old astrolabe, anything—and start asking questions. You’ll find enough stories to last a lifetime.

From left, Adler teens Carmen Jones, Giovanna Rossi, and Jack Morgan show off an important piece of technology they all helped create. Listen to the Aquarius Project Podcast to find out what it is!
From left, Adler teens Carmen Jones, Giovanna Rossi, and Jack Morgan show off an important piece of technology they all helped create. Listen to the Aquarius Project Podcast to find out what it is!

Hope you enjoy the episode as much as we enjoyed making it!

Subscribe to the Aquarius Project Podcast!
Soundcloud | iTunes | Stitcher

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Photo Credit: NASA

AstroFan: Reimagining the Origins of the Moon with Synestia

Bianca Anderson Astronomy

Hello again! Welcome to the second installment of our AstroFan series! This month’s topic focuses on Synestia, a molten HOT new theory regarding the origins of our Moon. If you’re like me and love action-packed collisions, then buckle up and enjoy this trip back in time to proto-Earth!


A few weeks ago a colleague and I were shocked to discover the grisly nature of metamorphosis.

The conversation went something like this:

“You mean to tell me that caterpillars digest themselves, and essentially become caterpillar SOUP in their cocoons?!” I asked incredulously.

“Yep! They just turn into mushy-gobbledygook, rebuild themselves, and then voila butterfly,” replied Carly (our Content Specialist here at the Adler).

“That’s insane! Who knew butterflies were so hardcore?!” I exclaimed, filled with chagrin at the realization that I had completely misunderstood the whole caterpillar to butterfly process for the last 24 years of my life.



I bet you’re wondering why I chose to start off with an anecdote about the butterfly’s life cycle!

WELL, there is a brand-new theory about our Moon’s formation, called Synestia, that oddly enough, mirrors a butterfly’s metamorphosis.

In order to fully understand Synestia, we’ll need to start at the beginning. It’s important to have a grasp on the way things were in our early Solar System (and by early I mean 4.5 BILLION years ago).

To sum it up: things were extremely chaotic! Our early Solar System was packed with planets and debris, making collisions a constant reality. These destructive events, driven by gravity, aided in the shaping and molding of our Solar System into what it currently looks like today.

Which brings us to proto-Earth (Earth at an early stage in its development) and our early Moon!

For years, astronomers have been working to figure out just how our celestial neighbor, the Moon, came to be. The long-standing theory of Moon formation has been the Giant Impact Hypothesis. In this model, proto-Earth suffered a collision with a Mars-sized planet called Thea. According to this hypothesis, the impact caused material to be ejected out and the Moon formed from the material!

Although this hypothesis has been the leading model for over a decade, there is one question in particular that it has a hard time answering: Why are the Earth and the Moon composed of such similar material?

The issue with the Giant Impact Hypothesis is that the simulations for it point to the Moon being formed mostly from Thea. This would in turn lead to a Moon that doesn’t have such a strikingly similar composition to Earth—which is not the case (at all).

In 2018, scientists Simon Lock and Sarah Stewart proposed an alternate theory for Moon formation, Synestia, that worked to rectify some of the shortcomings of the long-standing Giant Impact Hypothesis.

The proposed collision in the Synestia model goes something like this (as seen in the Adler’s new show Imagine the Moon):

I. Proto-Earth, spinning so fast that it has an oblong shape.

II. Proto-Earth makes impact with a planet named Thea. The collision has such a high angular momentum that 10% of the Earth’s rock is vaporized and the rest becomes liquified.
(Fun Fact: One of the cool things about Synestia is that it allows for lots of different types of collisions with different mass ratios to work! Unlike the Giant Impact Hypothesis, which requires a Mars sized planet!)

III. And VOILA Synestia forms: a high-speed, spinning object of molten and gaseous material—which also happens to be in the shape of a donut (yum)!

Once a Synestia forms, it can be segmented into two main parts: an inner and an outer region. As a Synestia cools, a “seed” of liquid rock begins to form from within, as vaporized rock condenses and falls (a.k.a magma rain), the seed begins to grow and eventually becomes our Moon. The rest of the material left behind becomes Earth.

This whole process happens in the cosmic blink of an eye! Some estimate that Synestias exist for just a century.

Unlike the Giant Impact Hypothesis, Synestia explains why the Earth and Moon are so similar in composition—it’s because they were formed from the same material!

Isn’t it cool to think that our planet and Moon formed as a result of such a cataclysmic event?

Just like the caterpillar, our Moon was able to experience a sort of rebirth, in a cocoon of its own debris (or shall we say its own gobbledygook). Kind of poetic, don’t you think?

Stay tuned for more awesome space facts on the next AstroFan.

Thank you for reading!

Bianca a.k.a AstroFan




Adler Staff Star: Meet Meredith!

Behind the Scenes

Meredith Stepien
Experience Developer

Experience Developer—that’s a pretty fun title! Can you tell us about your role and what you do here at the Adler?
I’m a creative developer in the Adler’s Guest Experience department! I design experiences through programming and exhibitions.

March is Women’s History Month. Who are some of the women who have been most influential in your life? 
JANE AUSTEN!!! For life!!! I love reading her books and thinking about feminism in the Regency era. I wish I could go back in time to visit her! Then I could also meet Caroline Herschel, another amazing femme regency heroine!

The non-regency women I love are all musicians, since I’m a musician too! Kimbra, Emily King, Beyonce, Lucius, and Tune Yards—to name a few.

Aside from your role here at the Adler, we hear that you are also an actor with the critically acclaimed StarKid production group!? What has been your greatest memory made while acting for them? 
I have so many memories with StarKid, it’s hard to pick one! Something I’m most proud of is the music I wrote for Firebringer, which has turned into one of our most popular musicals! I also just love traveling with StarKid and meeting fans of our work. It’s the best!

If you had the opportunity to take a 10-year-trip to Mars, would you do it? Why or why not?
No… I like my home planet too much, and I’m also pretty scared of space! I LOVE Star Trek, but often think about how scary it must be to live on the Enterprise and deal with red alerts all the time and also have to deal with new aliens that are scary in infinite ways every day. I’d just be hanging out in the holodeck pretending to be back on Earth on the beach all day!

Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome?
Space is freaking awesome because of the infinite possibilities it offers. I LOVE thinking about how things form, and how things could change or be different elsewhere in the universe. It’s SO BIG! Thinking about the Universe helps center me!

Far Horizons Web Comic: Meet Defiance

Webcomic: A Balloon’s Journey to the Edge of Space

Reyhaneh (Rey) Maktoufi Astronomy, Behind the Scenes

The following is a webcomic created by Adler Visiting Researcher, Reheynah (Rey) Maktoufi! In this comic, you’ll meet Defiance, a payload box, who is about to journey to the edge of space with the Adler’s Far Horizons‘ team!


In loving memory of Poppy

Defiance remembers Poppy earlier that day in Stratosphere:

Michelle Nichols - Telescope

Adler Skywatch: March 2019

Karen Donnelly Astronomy

Get ready to move your clocks ahead an hour and to welcome the season of Spring this month—March 2019.

Daylight Saving Time starts this year on the 10th at 2:00 a.m. local time. Move your clocks ahead one hour on this date. We’ll get that hour back on November 3, when Daylight Saving Time ends for the year.

The vernal equinox, marking the start of the spring season in the northern hemisphere, occurs this month on the 20th at 4:58 p.m. Central Daylight Time.

In planetary action this month, look for Mars in the west-southwest skies about an hour after sunset. The evening of the 11th, it appears a few degrees to the right of a waxing crescent Moon. The last few days of the month, Mars appears near the Pleiades, a small, twinkling cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus. The “Red Planet” gets a little less bright every evening this month, since Earth is moving away from Mars in space. It sets in the west-northwest around midnight Central-Time.

Several planets are visible before sunrise this month. About four hours before dawn, the planet Jupiter is rising in the southeast sky, shining brighter than any of the stars around it. It’s near the dark side of a waning gibbous Moon the morning of the 27th.

About 90 minutes before sunrise, when Jupiter is slightly higher in the south-southeast, the planet Saturn is just above the southeast horizon. It’s not as bright as Jupiter, but still readily visible in a clear sky. Saturn appears near a waning crescent Moon the mornings of the 1st and the 29th.

Finally, as morning twilight brightens the sky, the brilliant planet Venus shines low in the east-southeast. The first two mornings of the month, Venus appears about 15 degrees to the lower-left of Saturn, with a slim waning crescent Moon nearby. But as the days pass, Venus rises later in the morning and moves further north along the horizon—and, thus, also appears to move further away from Saturn in the sky. By the end of the month, the two planets appear 45 degrees apart.

The planet Mercury appears so close to the Sun this month that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to see.

New Moon: March 6th
First Quarter Moon: March 14th
Full Moon: March 20th
Last Quarter Moon: March 27th

Please note: these descriptions are for the Chicago area, using Central time.

The Aquarius Project Podcast: Episode 4

Aubrey Henretty Adler Teens, Behind the Scenes

Header image: The Aquarius Project sled in all its (current) glory.

New to the Aquarius Project? Start here! (Really, go. This post will make a lot more sense once you’re caught up.)


I am pleased to announce that the fourth installment of the Aquarius Project Podcast is available now!

The Aquarius Project sled did not emerge, fully formed, from anyone’s imagination. It is the product of many drafts, sketches, prototypes, design ideas that sounded really good but ultimately did not work, epiphanies, happy accidents, and elbow grease (listen to the episode for details!). Our plan was to spend the whole episode telling you about the sled, but something project leader Chris Bresky said to producer Erin Kahoa and me led us down a side street that ended up being a big part of our story.

Project leader Chris Bresky (right) tries to reassemble a sled prototype from 2017 while podcast producer Erin Kahoa records.
Project leader Chris Bresky (right) tries to reassemble a sled prototype from 2017 while podcast producer Erin Kahoa records.

Chris was showing Erin and me the oldest, wobbliest, duct-tape-iest version of the sled, trying to remember where all the pieces had come from and where the missing ones had gone. In between reminiscing about the sled’s humble beginnings and squeezing the duct tape together at the joints, he mentioned that someone in the Adler’s collections department had told him to hang onto this prototype because the museum might want to keep it.

The idea that this broken down pile of pipes might end up in a glass case (like some kind of shimmering bespoke astrolabe made for a medieval king) sounded so ridiculous to us that we recruited Chris Helms, the Adler’s collections manager, to tell us why anyone—especially a museum with one of the world’s finest astronomy collections—would give it a second look.

He told us it wasn’t ridiculous at all. Even a venerated astronomer like Galileo was once an amateur telescope maker, and his oldest handmade telescopes are now so valuable and rare that even the replicas are glass-case material.

Talking to Chris H. also got me thinking about themes that tie this episode together: Not only how the Aquarius Project fits so neatly into the DIY history of astronomy, but the way history itself is made of objects. Take a good look at anything—a rock, a book, a phone, a shiny old astrolabe, anything—and start asking questions. You’ll find enough stories to last a lifetime.

From left, Adler teens Carmen Jones, Giovanna Rossi, and Jack Morgan show off an important piece of technology they all helped create. Listen to the Aquarius Project Podcast to find out what it is!
From left, Adler teens Carmen Jones, Giovanna Rossi, and Jack Morgan show off an important piece of technology they all helped create. Listen to the Aquarius Project Podcast to find out what it is!

Hope you enjoy the episode as much as we enjoyed making it!

Subscribe to the Aquarius Project Podcast!
Soundcloud | iTunes | Stitcher

Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM Series: Meet Stacey

Bianca Anderson Behind the Scenes

“Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM” is a new series on The Adler ’Scope that highlights the awesome women of Chicago who are doing amazing things in science, technology, engineering, art, and math fields here in our own community. Meet women of varying ages, backgrounds, and interests and learn their unique stories.


Dr. Stacey Dixon
Director, Student Veteran Support Services
National Louis University

Dr.Stacey Dixon | Chicago's Black Women in STEAM Series
Dr. Stacey Dixon

What first sparked your interest in Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC)?
I have always been interested in science. All through school, I excelled in both science and math. However, those courses were not stressed as STEM or STEAM during that time (early eighties). We were more driven towards the world of business with programs like Junior Achievement and others similar. Though I participated in them at the urging of my parents and teachers, it was not my passion. When I joined the military, the only fields available to women were in administration or the supply field. I spent my first enlistment doing something that did not excite me, and decided to leave the Marine Corps after six years. I was then offered the opportunity to transfer into the field of Meteorology and Oceanography because someone noticed that I had received high scores on the ASVAB (a test used by the military to measure an applicant’s suitability for enlistment), mainly in the fields of science, electronics, and math. The field was very small, competitive, challenging, and intensive—and I loved it. Except there were very few females (and none of color) in the field at the time, which made it difficult at times.

You were the first female Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC) Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps (SO amazing). Could you tell us a bit more about what it was like taking on such a groundbreaking role?
In the military, especially the Marine Corps, women are almost always outnumbered. In METOC, the number of women in the field was even smaller. Our customer base was mostly infantry, artillery, and aviation: all male-dominated fields. Working with mostly male officers, not of color in these fields, they rarely took my work and/or briefings seriously. I was often challenged on my forecasts and intelligence briefings or they would ask the male officer or even another enlisted male to confirm my data and analysis.

For me to become an equal and gain the credibility I deserved, I needed to become an officer like them. In 1990, I submitted my first package for the Warrant Officer Program, a program that promotes you from enlisted to officer. A special kind of officer: one with years of technical experience and leadership in their field. In February 2000, I was promoted to Warrant Officer; after ten years, ten applications, and a lot of pushback. It was groundbreaking, though few acknowledged it. The challenges continued to come, but I now had leverage—and I used it. Eventually, the respect for the work I did was acknowledged by others. But I first had to acknowledge for myself how this precedence would change the outlook for the young women coming up in the field after me.

As a former high school teacher, what were some of the ways you encouraged students to develop an interest in STEAM?
I had the privilege of starting my teaching career with the JROTC program. Since the program had a broad curriculum, I had the flexibility to expose the students to other studies like meteorology, and stress to them that they would really use the math they were always complaining about. I achieved this by having them apply some of their education to everyday life. Whether they were in the kitchen cooking or trying to figure out the interest on their accounts, I tried in my simplest way to explain that our world works in binary code in one form or another through mathematical problems, everyday technology, and language. I encouraged them to always think about ‘why’ and ‘how’ things work, because sometimes it is as simple as the equation on the board, or the science question on the test.

Currently, you serve as the Director for Student Veterans Support Services at National Louis University. Does your STEAM background inform how you approach your work?
Two skills that were enhanced through my STEAM background and experiences, were my analytical and critical thinking skills. As a Meteorologist, we didn’t only have to forecast the weather and tides, we also had to determine how it would impact operations and the mission for both ground and air operations. We did it with little technology at the time.

We mostly used real-time satellite photos, radiosondes, and terminal arial forecast to graph charts by hand. We also had to facilitate support for multiple departments simultaneously, and would frequently bear the burden and stress of determining if a mission was ‘a go’ or ‘no go’.

Likewise, as a Director, I have to partner with several internal and external partners in order to achieve the goals we want to use for developing the program. My analytical skills have played a significant role so far in my short success as a Director in determining what will work and may not work for the students I serve. I have to ensure my decisions for the program can and will support assisting each student individually to achieve their academic goals in their transition from the military to the civilian community.

Why are STEAM skills important even for people who don’t intend to become scientists?
All areas of STEAM provide analytical and critical thinking skills, two skills that are necessary to become successful in whatever industry one aspires to pursue. Despite our world of technology, the ability to ‘think out of the box’ is more important than ever. The expected is no longer good enough, we are forever looking for that new life-changing discovery. The next great invention, new technologies, advances in engineering, creativity in art, and revolutionary mathematics. All of which can or will impact what we do everyday and everywhere across spectrum. So, the more you know…

In the United States (and beyond) few women are earning degrees in STEM, and the percentage is even smaller for women of color. How have you made sense of this inequality? How have you overcome it?
I don’t know many people who would endure ten years of rejection in order to achieve a small but important goal. I was brought into the field because of the scores I achieved on their tests. But for ten years, I was told that I was not good enough to be an officer in that same field. Not because I couldn’t, but because I was a female and of color. Similarly, science and math were not stressed upon us as girls and especially not girls of color. So when we struggled, we were often reassured that it was okay because girls just aren’t good at math and science. Sadly, that message continues to circulate. I’ve made sense of the fact that I was a victim of that pedagogy from decades ago. I was a product of that mentality. Even though I crossed some of the hurdles of inequality, I didn’t celebrate them. I was promoted to Warrant Officer, on 2 February 2000, in Black History month. There was no story told across the Base or the Marine Corps that acknowledged that moment in Black History. To me, and for many young girls and women of color, it was as it has always been, “not for girls.” 

Though I continue to struggle with being a woman of color in fields dominated by men, I have learned that we are our best advocates. Every chance I get to tell the story of my journey, I tell it. I tell it for women who have been through much of the same, and for those who need to hear it, so that they can have the courage to push through, despite the stereotypes and the inequality.

What advice would you give to young girls of color who are interested in pursuing careers in STEAM?
My advice is simple and somewhat of a cliche… just do it! If it is the stars, the sky, the numbers, the art that excites and ignites your passion, do not let anyone or anything deter you from it. Then, after you are successful in your area of STEAM, let the world know about it. This is how we can combat the stereotype and motivate future generations of women of color to pursue and excel in these areas. Women of color are NOT newcomers to the world of STEM or STEAM. They have contributed significantly to these career fields for decades. It has only just been brought to the forefront recently with movies and documentaries that are finally giving recognition to these groundbreakers. I would advise young girls of color to look back at our history, and witness all of the great achievements from women who were young girls of color, just like you… with a passion in an area of STEAM. They broke the glass ceiling long ago… think about what you can do with those pieces of glass today.

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