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Picture Book Women in Science Captures Little-Known Stories of Pioneers

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If you like science, or books, or art, or history, we’ve got a title for you: illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky’s picture book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. mental_floss talked to Ignotofsky about her history, her heroes, and her hopes for our planet’s future.

Have you always been passionate about science?

Pretty much. My dad has a master’s degree in biochemistry and my mom worked as a computer programmer, so there was always science going on in our house. My two favorite subjects in school were science and art.

How did you get started as an artist?

There’s also a reason my work is so heavily illustrated: I was a very weak reader at first. It was only through illustrated books that I really learned to read and gained my love of learning. I began to draw the information so I could actually understand it. Later on in college, I was learning so much about design and organizing information that, when I was left to my own devices, all I wanted to do was make diagrams of the things that interested me.

Women’s accomplishments have historically been overlooked or erased. Was it hard to find 50 women to feature in your book?

Not at all. It was actually hard to narrow them down! I could write a whole second book with 50 more women who made amazing discoveries. There’s this assumption that just because we don’t know their names, women have not been key players in the field. And that assumption is so detrimental. It gets into the hearts and minds of young boys and girls who want to get into STEM and it creates less opportunities for women.

Who do you think should read Women in Science?

This book is for people of all ages. There are adults who need to know this information just as much as kids do. But my dream is that a bunch of young girls will read this book, then grow up and cure cancer. That’s the fantasy.

If you could speak directly to STEM-loving* kids, what would you tell them?

Follow your passions. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re incapable of doing anything, and look at all these incredible role models who came before you. Feel empowered, take risks, and contribute. I think a lot of young girls feel shy about taking their place as leaders in STEM fields. My hope is that seeing these women who have led in the past will help girls feel more confident, like ‘Not only do I deserve this, but I’m going to take it.’

What would you tell their parents?

If your kid is digging in the dirt and looking at worms, encourage that. Send them to science camp. Buy them good books. No matter what your child’s passion is, whether they want to be a dancer or a scientist or an artist, it’s best to nurture what they want to do the most. That’ll make them proud and powerful. Don’t limit a child’s imagination with what you expect them to be.

In your opinion, what are the greatest obstacles facing women in STEM fields today?

There are so many. Just getting hired, for starters. Another challenge is that, in all fields, women are seen as only able to take on one role at a time. You’re a mother, you’re a star, you’re a smart girl, or you’re pretty. The truth is that you can be all of those things at the same time. Then there’s the lack of funding and opportunities for women due to the idea that science is not a place for women. But through these stories and all the women working there now, you can see that’s not true. Women have as much of a place in these fields as men do, and they succeed and soar in them.

Do you have a science hero?

One of my favorite stories is Katherine Johnson. She was an African-American woman growing up during the Civil Rights movement. She got a job at NASA, at a time when women were only seen as female computers, meaning that they just crunched the numbers for the engineers. But she just invited herself into meetings. They tried to keep her out, and she said, ‘Is it against the law for me to be in these meetings?’ and they were like, ‘Oh. No. I guess not.’ She got very involved and started educating herself and became a lead on solving equations to get the space shuttles from Earth to the Moon. She calculated the flight paths for one of the first manned missions into space, then the Apollo missions. Due to her, the astronauts were able to get to the moon and back safely.

It’s amazing how far she came just by not taking “no” for an answer and speaking her mind, and what an asset she was to such a pivotal moment in American history.

Why do you think it’s so important to talk about these women?

The most important way to fight gender bias is to share stories of amazing women with boys and girls. Statistics and just being told that things are unfair may not be enough; people need to feel an emotional connection and hear stories to realize that there are injustices in this world, and to stand up and do something about them.

Many of these women have changed the way that we understand our world forever, but we don’t know about them. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are more household names than Grace Hopper, who invented coding. When we don’t tell these stories, we allow these inequalities and stereotypes to continue.

Women have more power than we ever had in human history, but we still have a lot to fight for. We’re 50 percent of the population. This is brain power we can’t ignore.

*STEM stands for the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

All images reprinted with permission from Women in Science© 2016 by Rachel Ignotofsky. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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Eclipses Belong to Families That Span Millennia
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If you’re lucky enough to see the solar eclipse when it passes over America on August 21, you’ll bear witness to a centuries-long legacy. That’s because total eclipses of the sun aren’t isolated incidents that occur at random. They belong to interconnected eclipse families that humans have been using to track the phenomena since long before the first telescope was invented.

In the latest installment of StarTalk on Mashable, Neil deGrasse Tyson chats with meteorologist Joe Rao about the science behind eclipse families. According to Rao, eclipses follow Saros cycles which repeat every 18 years, 11 days, 8 hours. Astronomers keep track of many different Saros cycles. The eclipse on August 21, for example, is a member of the family Solar Saros 145. Every 18 years a Saros 145 eclipse falls over a different third of the Earth. In 1999, the great American eclipse’s “cousin” appeared in the skies over Europe and south Asia, and 18 years before that another relative could be seen over modern Russia. The Solar Saros clan can be traced all the way back to 1639 and it will keep going until 3009.

Today, scientists have space-age technology that allows them to track the moment of totality down to a fraction of a second. But thousands of years ago, before such satellite-tracking equipment was invented, ancient Babylonians only knew what they could observe from Earth. Their eclipse calculations ended up serving them pretty well: They were able to predict the same 18-year cycle we know to be true today.

Saros 145 isn’t the only family of eclipses making its way around the Earth. There are enough solar eclipse cycles to make the event a fairly common occurrence. If you’re curious to see how many will happen in your lifetime, here’s where you can calculate the number.

[h/t Mashable]

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7 Maps of Fun Eclipse Viewing Locations
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Do you have your protective glasses and camera filter ready for the great American solar eclipse on August 21? Perfect. Now all you need to do is pick the ideal location for scoping out the event. Fortunately, the path of totality (the area from which the moon’s total coverage of the sun is visible) stretches from Oregon to South Carolina, and there are plenty of places in between where you can set up camp. We’ve tracked down maps of some of the most unique locations that will fall beneath the moon’s shadow on Monday.

1. WATCH FROM A NATIONAL PARK.

What better place to witness one of the most stunning events in nature than from a national park? Using data from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio, the National Park Service has published a map of sites that will provide the best views of the celestial show. Several locations, from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the East to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in the West, fall in the path of totality. Click any marker in the interactive map to see if that place is hosting viewing events or other eclipse-related activities on August 21.

2. WATCH FROM THE CLOUDS.

When viewed from Earth, a total eclipse lasts only a few minutes. One way to get the most out of the experience is to head into the sky. You don’t need to board an invitation-only flight to see the eclipse from a bird's-eye perspective. There are plenty of airports in the path of totality, and NASA has compiled them all into a helpful map. In addition to choosing your departure and arrival points carefully, you’ll need to get the timing right. According to The Points Guy, taking an eastbound flight from a Pacific Northwest airport around 9 a.m., or a Denver, Colorado area airport around 10 a.m. will put you in a golden position for eclipse chasing—that’s assuming you can book a last-minute flight.

3. WATCH FROM A WAFFLE HOUSE.

On August 21, many Waffle House patrons will be treated to a mind-blowing experience—and we’re not talking about the topped and smothered hashbrowns. During the eclipse’s final hours it will be visible from dozens of Waffle Houses in the southern U.S. To choose a restaurant for viewing, refer to this map of Waffle Houses in the path of totality, put together by University of Georgia assistant geography professor Jerry Shannon. (He also tried making an eclipse map of Tim Hortons locations, but sadly fans of the Canadian chain won’t be so lucky.)

4. WATCH WHILE EATING FRIED CHICKEN.

Want some chicken to go with your waffles? Eclipse gazers watching from the southern states should have no trouble doing that. Twitter user Taber Andrew Bain made this map of fast food chicken joints that intersect with the path of totality. Bojangles' represents a healthy portion of the spots with 86 locations in the strip, but Zaxby’s is the most abundant by far with 117.

5. WATCH WITH WILDLIFE.

One of the more bizarre side effects of a solar eclipse is the reaction animals have to the sudden darkness. As most creatures time their habits to the rising and setting of the sun, totality can prompt different species to wake up, prepare for sleep, or just go berserk. We recommend watching this bizarre behavior with something separating you from the animals. NASA published a handy map of zoos that fall in the eclipse zone where you can do just that.

6. WATCH WITH SASQUATCH.

It’s not every day a solar eclipse occurs in your backyard, and it’s definitely not every day that you get to watch it in the company of Bigfoot. This map from cartographer and data visualization guru Joshua Stevens plots reported Sasquatch sightings in relation to the trajectory of the solar eclipse. It’s too bad that a bona fide Bigfoot encounter is a lot less likely to happen than a total solar eclipse—and even if you do spot the hairy guy on the big day, it might be hard to convince others of The X-Files-worthy coincidence.

7. WATCH FROM A LIBRARY.

Map of libraries hosting eclipse viewing events.
STAR_Net's NASA@ My Library initiative, Space Science Institute, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, NASA, and Google.

Your local library isn’t just a great place to pick up free protective glasses leading up to the eclipse. It can also be a fun spot to witness the event itself. Libraries around the country are hosting viewing events on the day of, where visitors will be provided with the proper equipment and information about what they’re seeing. Check out NASA’s map of libraries organizing such programs to find one close to you.

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