The Price of Moon Dust

Bag of moon dust sells for $1.8 million
Posted: Jul 20, 2017 6:29 PM PDT
NEW YORK (AP) — A bag containing traces of moon dust has sold at auction for $1.8 million.The sale at Sotheby’s on Thursday was surrounded by some fallout from a galactic court battle.  The collection bag was used by astronaut Neil Armstrong during the first manned mission to the moon in 1969.  But the artifact from the Apollo 11 mission was misidentified and sold at an online government auction. NASA fought to get it back. In December, a federal judge ruled that it legally belonged to a Chicago-area woman who bought it in 2015 for $995.
Sotheby’s declined to identify the buyer who won the bag.

Nancy Ann Carlson bought trouble in a 12×8.5 inch bag. The bag was square, zippered, and printed with the words: LUNAR SAMPLE RETURN. Did it arrive one morning in a simple box while she was sipping her tea? Did she peer at it over her Earl Grey, guessing that it might be famous dust? Did she open it and let some of the fine silt sift over her fingers? Or did she keep it closed, prudently considering contamination or other scientific concerns, only conjuring the moon dust in her mind?

The surface of the moon is pockmarked with millions of meteor strikes. The atmosphere of the moon is much thinner than that of the earth (10 to the 13th if I counted zeros correctly), so the moon is subject to constant bombardment from full sized space objects. A bag full of such dust would be guaranteed cosmic, guaranteed starstuff. Touching moon dust would be as close as you could get to touching the stars. (Metaphorically! Yes, I know stars are mostly energy, plasma, hydrogen atoms — but somewhere in there is “stuff” which makes it “starstuff.”)

How this bag came from the moon into Carlson’s possession and, thus, into a swirl of trouble is a curious story. Continue reading “The Price of Moon Dust”

Bridge to Nature: Glaciers, Slime Molds, and Slugs

After two weeks of posting sentimental, smoke-from-the-ears thought-provoking stuff, I thought it was time to throw off the maudlin. Let’s talk about slugs and slime molds.

Quick! What do glaciers, slime molds, and slugs have in common? Quite a lot. In fact, this could be a great parlor game.

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

The most obvious common bond is that they’re all slow. And yet, they don’t stop moving. Unrelenting, you might say.  They’re also a way of Mother Nature making us feel humble. Think you’re all that? Virginia Woolf once said the rock you kick will outlast Shakespeare. Glaciers, slime molds, and slugs will all outlast Shakespeare.

Another common bond is that you can find them all in Alaska, which is where we were touring last week. Alaska is a unique place with large areas of wilderness yet to be discovered as you venture through forests and ocean inlets.  It also, therefore, contains many things whose way of existence seems completely alien. You can’t help thinking, how does evolution favor THAT? But the more you learn, the more you realize nature has many ways of propagating itself that we can only guess at. Continue reading “Bridge to Nature: Glaciers, Slime Molds, and Slugs”

Flag Day; Pride Month

Betsy Ross was fake news. I hate to puncture your patriotic bubble over this one, but her story was entirely made up. Alternative Facts.

I had read this before, but even as I starting working on this week’s entry, I fully expected to write about the circle of stars and the bars of stripes, and was upset to be reminded – that it’s not true. I even read a biography all about her in the second grade… say it’s not so!  But, as Wikipedia says, “the claim by her descendants stat[ing] that Betsy Ross contributed to this design is not accepted by modern American scholars and vexillologists.Vexillologist should be our word for the day!

Ross, by the way, was an upholsterer and did sew but the details of how she gave the design to George Washington in 1776 at his request all appear to be made up by an enterprising descendant, William Canby, who wanted to hawk fake artifacts on the Internet. (Or the Internet version in 1870, which was the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.) Since her house is now treated as a historical site and a cottage industry has sprung up around her name, his ploy worked.

The Grand Union Flag & the British East India Company
Now I am going to blow your mind. The flag below was the first flag of the United States. Continue reading “Flag Day; Pride Month”

Inquiring for Work at the Polish Factory

There is an apocryphal story about my grandfather. He was a man of few words and died when I was young, so most of the stories have an urban legend ring to them. I don’t know which ones, if any, are true.

My father told me that Grandpa Chmaj was a young man, new to America, just off the boat so to speak. He was looking for work and saw the big sign POLISH FACTORY so he went in and asked for a job. Because he was Polish. And they made…shoe polish.

20170607 chmajyoungThe year that my grandparents emigrated is a little fuzzy in my mind. When I worked on the requisite eighth grade Family Tree project forty-some years ago, I seem to recall learning that both grandparents came between 1900 and 1910. There was a wave of Polish immigrants between 1905 and 1910 after the Revolution.  Several more waves came at the beginning of the 20th century, as Prussia, Germany, and Russia argued about which of them owned Poland. If the date of my grandparents’ emigration is prior to 1911, they escaped far more strife in their country of origin than whatever hardships occurred here.

Continue reading “Inquiring for Work at the Polish Factory”

The Avocado Toast War

When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each.
–THIS GUY*, Australian Real Estate Mogul

We are on the precipice of a full-scale war. The skirmishes are already under way at blogs, tweets, instagrammies, and facebook posts around the globe. While the world may be going to hell in a handbasket for other reasons, humanity is in high dudgeon over avocado toast. I might as well as join the party.

The instigator was THIS GUY (*who I refuse to name; you can google it if you want to give him the publicity) with his comment targeting the group we all love to bash, the Millennials. This 35 year old real estate mogul from Melbourne targeted Millennials on the Australian 60 Minutes by focusing on their passion for the luxuries of Avocado Toast, lamenting how it prevents them from properly purchasing a white picket fence house in the suburbs and having the 2.3 children that has been mythically dictated to be required for a good life.

Such comments raise so many questions. What is the price of avocados and, moreover, of avocado toast? What is the price of a house, and how does it compare to toast? Are millennials buying houses and, if not, why not? Who is THIS GUY? And, anyway, who asked him?

20170517 avocadotoast Continue reading “The Avocado Toast War”