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A brilliant topic

A peacock’s tail is actually brown. But it possesses structural surface properties that create a bright rainbow of hues. The colorful display is due to iridescence.
    The simplest example of iridescence is the colorful shine of a drop of oil floating on water. When the oil film is thin enough, light gets bent as it hits the oil-water interface in a process called refraction. That light may be only one wavelength, one color, as determined by the thickness of the oil. The thinner the oil, the shorter wavelength of light that bounces back. The thicker spots are reddish and the thinner bluer.
    Animals of all sorts have created structural coloration not from pigments. In some, like a snake called the rainbow boa, it is from a thin film that changes thickness and color as the snake stretches and compresses while moving. Other colors are created by a static bio-coating or structures that create refraction of a particular wavelength, as with the peacock or the throat patch of a ruby-throated hummingbird.
    The angle of the light hitting the throat patch sometimes hits that sweet spot where the refraction amplifies the bounced light. In the photos presented here —taken within two minutes — the light was too bright for my camera’s sensor. 
    Iridescence is used for coloration by many plants and animals. It is, however, uncommon in mammals. 
    Look around and decide if the color you see is due to pigment or to light-bending iridescence.

The many buckeye trees are ­pleasing to the eye, too

The most magnificent horse chestnut is Aesculus parviflora: the bottlebrush buckeye. This native shrub attracts pollinators extraordinarily. I planted it several years ago along a sunny fence; it now takes up an area about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide.
    It blooms June to July with beautiful candelabra-like white flower spikes that are abuzz with all kinds of native bees and beneficial flies. The peachy-pink pollen exudes a delicate fragrance into the air.
    The flower spikes are followed by smooth red-brown chestnut-like seeds. Beautiful but not edible for humans, the seeds are valued by many small mammals and insects. The horse chestnut’s native range is southern Virginia to ­Georgia and eastern Alabama and Tennessee, but it does very well in Maryland.
    Aesculus sylvatica is the painted buckeye. It likes partial shade to sun and has similar growth habits to the bottlebrush buckeye. The flowers have shades of yellow, red, green and pink and are four- to eight-inch-long clusters in mid-spring.
    Aesculus pavia is the red buckeye. It likes moist, well-drained soil in sun to shade. It has a shrubby habit, forming a rounded mound about 20 feet high and wide. The red flowers are an inch and a half long, tubular and form four- to eight-inch-long terminal clusters in mid-spring. The fruit has a smooth husk, splitting open to release one or two glossy brown seeds. In flower, this plant is a hummingbird magnet. Its natural range is the coastal plain from North Carolina to Florida and Texas.
    Aesculus glabra is the Ohio buckeye, which is a large tree up to 75 feet high that grows in sun to partial shade. The flowers are greenish yellow and tubular in a four- to seven-inch-long terminal stalk. The fruit is a prickly husk that splits open to release seeds that are glossy and rich brown. Its natural range is western Pennsylvania throughout the middle states.
    Don’t confuse these native species with Aesculus hippocastanum, the medicinal horse chestnut that is native to the Balkans and western Asia. The Turks used those nuts to treat respiratory ailments in horses. Today, extracts are made into standardized horse chestnut pills used to treat hemorrhoids and varicose veins. It is anti-inflammatory, astringent and internally strengthening to the blood vessels.
    The seeds of all Aesculus species are poisonous.


Maria Price-Nowakowski runs Beaver Creek Cottage Gardens, a small native plant nursery in Severn.

Live-lining Norfolk spot sacrifices a fish to catch a bigger fish

The Chesapeake tide was ebbing to almost placid. Rockfish prefer their dinner be swept to them by moving water. But in this case the stalling currents allowed them more freedom to gather around the structures where we were fishing. Our bait was their favorite snack this time of year, Norfolk spot.
    Tom Schneider and I were drifting on just the slightest of current, aided by a mild southern breeze just off of one of the Bay Bridge’s more complex, eight-legged supports. Pinning 6/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks lightly just in front of small spots’ dorsal, we both flipped our fish over the side. The little guys jetted toward the bottom 20 feet down.

Fish Finder
    The rockfish bite is excellent for every type of technique. The one fly in the ointment, particularly on the Eastern Shore, is that the fish are concentrated in just a few areas. Commercial hook-and-liners in the same locations as recreational anglers can wipe out entire schools of fish with their mass live chumming and combined quota tactics.
    As Maryland Department of Natural Resources is financed largely by recreational funds and as recreational anglers outnumber commercials by almost 1,000 to one, it’s surprising to find the two factions in the same areas.
    White perch are here and there, but no one is bragging this season. Norfolk spot have arrived in good numbers but are mostly live-lining size. Croaker are generally missing this year. Crabbing in the mid-Bay is lackluster.

    Using medium-action casting rods with small Abu reels spooled with fresh 20-pound mono and even fresher 25-pound fluorocarbon leaders, we could feel the spot, unencumbered by weight, pulsing down. We had to be careful not to give them too much slack or they would circle the nearest column and foul the line.
    The most serious activity for the baitfish was evading the stripers that lurked among the concrete piers awaiting any small fish, crab or morsel of seafood. We already had two fish in the box, 22- to 23-inch specimens, a perfect size for dinner. But we were hoping for some larger adversaries and had moved a number of times seeking them.
    Aside from location, a number of factors can tweak the game in the favor of the angler. Sometimes shifting the hook location in the bait can change things up by making the baitfish’s actions more enticing. A nose- or mouth-hook position on the spot triggers an attack by rockfish. A more rearward hook placement, such as behind the dorsal fin or on the underside, can also affect their swim movements.
    The best live-lining presentation is always weightless. But if it becomes necessary to add weight, the absolute minimum that will get the bait to the level desired is always superior. I prefer to use split shot or rubber core sinkers well up on the leader. When the tide is really roaring, I’ve found switching to a heavier soft plastic or metal jig is more productive than attempting to present a live bait.
    On this outing last week, our problem seemed to be simply a preponderance of barely legal fish eating our baits. We kept moving from pier to pier, thinking that the bigger fish would be by themselves or in small groups and not hanging out with the little guys. Eventually we blundered onto them.
    My spot suddenly stopped its wiggling swim and morphed into slow and powerful acceleration. Lifting the rod tip, I stopped my line and hoped that the circle hook would find its place in the predator’s jaw. A hissing drag and an arcing rod indicated that it had.
    Next the beast altered its direction and headed back across the nearest pylon. Putting my motor into gear, I nudged the skiff forward to lessen the line’s bearing on the structure, thanking my stars that there was little current to complicate things. When my rod tip and line cleared the column, the fish really began a run. But now its path was toward open water beyond the column. I snugged the drag down and added thumb pressure.
    The fight was brutal, but within a few long and strenuous minutes, the fish was alongside the boat. But it evaded the net. Catching a glimpse of the hook firmly in the corner of its jaw, I relaxed.
    Eventually worn out, the big fish slid into the net. The handsome 32-incher came onboard and into the box, making the two keepers already in ice seem mighty small.
    Within a few minutes both Tom and I were hooked up, again with powerful fish.
    Tom’s 30-incher eventually went into the box, and my 27 was set free to swim another day, hopefully educated to the treachery of a free meal.

Eight activities to keep you busy this summer … and that you can bring indoors when it rains

      Hosts of Memorial Day gatherings pray that the rain gods will stay away. Maybe their prayers will be answered. Or maybe not. So it’s a good idea to have activities that can be moved inside if need be. Best not to use a room with a crystal chandelier or a fish tank. These games can quickly be moved back outside when the sun returns.
 
Cornhole
     Everyone knows this game, though some know it as Bean Bag Toss. Invented in 1883 as a way to bring horseshoes indoors, it uses a gentler missile, bean bags, tossed by players at a slanted board 24 inches away for fun and 27 inches for tournaments. The object is to get your bags onto the board (one point) or in the hole (three points) without spilling your beverage. All ages. https://americancornhole.com
 
Ladder Ball 
     This game turns cornhole on a vertical axis and adds a cowboy lasso! Cowboy Cornhole? You toss a bola — two balls connected by string — at a three-rung ladder. The goal is to wrap your rope around the rungs. The top rung scores one point, the middle scores two points and the bottom three points. All ages; no horses required. https://ladderball.com
 
 
 
Beer Pong
     With or without alcohol, the goal is to toss a ping pong ball into a mug. The Paul Bunyan-style outdoor version uses volleyballs and trashcans. You don’t have to get drunk to play, but it helps in understanding the staggeringly convoluted and regionally diverse rules. https://bpong.com/wsobp
 
Spike Ball
     If volleyball and four-square had a child, it would be named Spike Ball. Slap a lightweight but bouncy plastic ball, a little bigger than a softball, onto a tiny trampoline and wait for the other team to slap it back. Most active of all games mentioned with acrobatic diving for balls. Indoor rules — no diving, play off walls, ceiling out, definitely cover the windows. You can also get Spike Buoy for the pool. https://spikeball.com
 
Kubb
     Pronounced coob — not cub or cube — Kubb is an ancient Scandinavian game nicknamed Viking Chess. First, you take a sword and slice your way through … no wait, that’s not it at all. Actually, you toss wooden batons to knock down an opponent’s wooden army (blocks) and ultimately wooden king. After the Vikings chopped down all the trees, they had to play the game by throwing femur bones at their enemy’s decapitated heads. Talk about a sudden-death playoff. Hugely popular in the Midwest. www.usakubb.org
 
KanJam
     KanJam is Corn Hole for the athletic, combining Frisbee-type tossing with taking out the trash. Throw the disc and hit the can for two points. If your partner deflects the disc and it hits the can, you still get two points. If your partner deflects the disc into the can, you get three points. A smaller version is available for indoor use.  www.kanjam.com
 
Flicken Chicken
     Flicken Chicken is one of the newer old games to come around, chicken tossing being one of the oldest professional sports next to Mongolian dead-goat chucking. You and a partner take turns trying to toss the rubber chicken into the pot. It is harder if the chicken is alive. All ages; no clucking or plucking required.
 
Mini-Foot Golf
     Foot Golf, played outdoors by kicking a soccer ball into a hole, is the second fastest growing game in the nation behind Pickleball. Both games are a little large for indoor play, but mini-foot golf, like putt-putt, will work with a smaller ball that doesn’t leave the ground. Despite the name, you don’t need small feet to play. www.footgolf.us

 

It’s a heavy order, but you need to do it

       It’s a mouthful. But you probably need to swallow the draft Phase III Watershed Implementation’s lumpy title for the sake of knowing what Maryland planners have in store for our Chesapeake.

         What we’re talking about, in case that title doesn’t tell you, is what’s coming to help us reach the 2025 “ultimate restoration deadline” the EPA set back in 2010. In essence, each state has gone on a pollution diet to keep from surpassing its Total Maximum Daily Load of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. 

         Dieting is always a long-term business, so each state had to develop its diet — here comes another mouthful — through three phases of Watershed Implementation Plans.

         We’ve moved with some success through Phase One and Phase Two to Phase Three. The job now is to “identify the strategies, opportunities and challenges in not only meeting the 2025 Chesapeake Bay Restoration targets, but also sustaining restoration into the future.”

         If that sounds vague to you, you’ll have to bite into the document itself to find specifics to chew on. Log on, and you’ll find the full plan and its six appendices plus summary guides in the Executive Summary and FAQs. Lots of graphs try to help you understand what words can’t seem to say in plain English.

         There you’ll learn that Phase Three focuses on reducing nitrogen because we’re on track to meet phosphorus and sediment goals. Wastewater treatment plants and farm fields are targeted to make the needed reductions.

         Climate change and population growth get a bit of attention. The Conowingo Dam, holding back the upper Susquehanna River’s huge pollution dump, gets a full three-point strategic attack.

         We’re asked to read, digest and report back by June 7, so the final Phase Three WIP (that’s Watershed Implementation Plan, as I’m sure you remember) can be issued by August 9.

         Public participation is key, so be a good Bay citizen and eat your spinach: www.tinyurl.com/MDE-phase-3.

Can Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method work for you?

      Do you dream of getting organized? Do you own a stack of books on organizing? Have you made attempts to declutter, only to be frustrated? Did you jump for joy when Netflix announced the Tidying Up with Marie Kondo series?
Marie Kondo has made a huge contribution to home organizing, and her concepts can be helpful to people trying to declutter.
 
Everyone needs to be responsible for their own space and things
       This principle doesn’t need adapting. It’s just what the doctor ordered for many households and for the women of the house who take on so much responsibility that planning, purchasing, storing, maintaining cleaning and disposal of all things belongs to her — whether or not she works outside the home. This Kondo rule means everyone learns how to do tasks like folding clothes and putting them away. Ideally, everyone in the household will be happier, having new life skills and an uncluttered house.
 
Keep only items that spark joy
      This one often causes eye rolling and jokes, such as what about my husband?
     Kondo recommends actually holding or touching each item, be it a pair of jeans or a book, and noticing if you have a zing of positive energy. If you have trouble applying this concept, find a few items that you recognize as joyful. Maybe it’s the rocking horse your father made you when you were a tiny child. The tail might be knotted and your teething marks on the ears, but you’ll never part with this.
      Remember: No judgment and no guilt. If the item you are conserving is high on joy, hooray! You have a keeper. If it feels like the opposite of joy, put it in one of these piles: donate, gift, recycle, trash and maybe sell.
 
Organize by category, not by area
      There is much merit to this concept. You can see all that you have in that category at once, and you are making progress toward storing like things in one place where you can find them (as opposed to all over the house).
     Take on areas that cause you the most angst. Does it take hours to get ready for work? Take on your dressing area. Are your kitchen counters so cluttered you are forced to clear a space to chop veggies? Take on the food prep area. Think of areas as the place where you do something, whether it’s office work or relaxing. Make the space work for that purpose.
 
About clothing
     Kondo directs all household members to make a pile of their clothing — all of it. Empty every closet, dresser and storage bin. Kondo wants each of you to be “shocked” at how much clothing you have. Then sort each item of clothing into piles, keepers first, then the other options.
     The goal is to have clothes together by type. All your shirts are hung together. All your socks are in the same drawer. Do you really need all 18 pairs of black slacks?
      I agree, by the way, with focusing more on the keepers and less on the things you are getting rid of. I like to use the word editing instead of purging. Purging feels like a loss; editing feels like enjoying your favorite things more.
     You say you don’t have a day or two (or more) to focus entirely on clothing? Instead, try taking on one storage place at a time, such as the coat closet or the kid’s closet. If you’ve only an hour or so, take a smaller storage area, such as one dresser drawer, and sort it.
 
Fold clothes in drawers so you can see them
      The beauty of this method is that when you open a drawer, you can see everything, and you can remove one item without messing up the others.
      Fold items in thirds lengthwise, then fold the bottom end up about one-third, then roll it up. Place in the appropriate drawer standing on end.
 
Place small boxes inside drawers
      Sorry, Marie, but for dividing up the space in drawers, dividers are the way to go. They leave no unused space and don’t slide around. On shelves, clear plastic bins that you can see into work better.
 
Thank discards for their service
     This one also gets eye rolling and jokes, like, Okay, I’m thanking these old, dirty socks with holes in them.
      Yet there is logic to it. It can help people with emotional attachment to let go of items. It also helps to teach respect for things.
      Kondo, who is Japanese, believes things have life energy, just as plants and animals do. You don’t need to believe this to understand that we all have a responsibility to only purchase things that we really like, need and use. Once we have them in our homes, we should care for them, storing them properly. Once the item is no longer useful or wanted, we should let it go. It does no good to purchase clothing that hangs in the closet, unworn, tags still on, year after year.
 
Thank your home
     To me, the message is to have gratitude, be mindful of what your home does for you and have a vision what your home could be. Work with your home so it supports you in what you want to become and so you are not held back or weighted down by things from your past.
 
 
 
Professional organizer Beth Dumesco has no choice but to live by these principles. She lives aboard her boat, M.Y. Compass Rose, in Tracy’s Landing.
Young Maryland voter maps women’s campaign to vote
       SUFFRAGE — In representative government, the right to vote in electing public officials and adopting or rejecting proposed legislation.
 
 
      In the year 2019, presidential hopefuls — including five women so far — are lining up like beauty pageant contestants to win our attention and perhaps our vote.
     With over 80 million women registered to vote, winning women’s votes is key to winning the election.
     One hundred years ago, no women ran for president. The male candidates — among them Warren G. Harding, James Cox, Eugene Debs, Parley Christensen, Aaron Watkins, Leonard Wood, Frank Lowden, Hiram Johnson, A. Mitchell Palmer, William McAdoo and Franklin D. Roosevelt — hardly bothered to appeal to women.
     At that time, just 19 states and territories gave women full or partial suffrage. Wyoming was the first state to grant women full voting rights. Back in 1869, the new state’s first legislature passed a woman’s suffrage bill, so by 1920 Wyoming women had voted in a dozen presidential elections.
     “One man thought it right and just to give women the vote. Another said he thought it would be a good advertisement for the territory. Still another voted to please someone else,” state historian Charles Giffin Coutant reported at the time.
     One hundred years ago, in March of 1919, Maryland women and many of their sisters across the country were protesting, marching, lobbying and going to jail for their right to cast a ballot.
     Every step of the way, woman met resistance.
     Opponents often argued that a woman’s place was in the home. At least some men worried they would be emasculated by sudden expectations that they should cook, clean and care for children. 
     The women faced opposition from their own sex, as well. In Baltimore, anti-suffrage women worked closely with national groups, saying that women were “not equipped physically or mentally to meddle with any degree of success in politics and problems of government.”
      Nonetheless, the women persisted.
      The suffragists among them campaigned peacefully; more militant suffragettes took direct and violent action.
      Suffragettes such as the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, founded by Alice Paul in 1913, organized demonstrations and picketed the White House. They used militant tactics including obstructing traffic and inciting riots. When arrested, they refused to pay fines and were sent to a workhouse. They then protested by waging a hunger strike. Officials, in turn, force-fed them through tubes. 
 
Women Prevail — Without Maryland
      Slowly, suffrage prevailed. In the summer of 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, the federal Women’s Suffrage Amendment. It made women voters in two short sentences: “The right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
      But until 36 states — three-fourths of the 48 states at that time — ratified the amendment, it meant nothing but the hopes of all those waiting. 
      Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan were the first states to ratify the amendment.
      “The timing was not ideal,” explains Kacy Rohn, Maryland historian of women’s march to suffrage. “Many state legislatures had already adjourned and were not due to reconvene for two years. Suffragists, therefore, began a major organizing effort to try to get governors around the country to call special legislative sessions to take a vote on ratification.” 
       With time running short for the amendment to be passed in time for women to vote in the 1920 presidential election, Maryland suffragists urged Gov. Emerson Harrington to call a special session. Suffrage organizers traveled statewide during the summer and fall of 1919, visiting legislators and raising public support to bring the Assembly into session. 
       Harrington refused.
       Thus, Maryland would have only one chance, the regular session beginning January 1920, to pass the 19th Amendment.
      The politically savvy suffragists rallied forces, lobbying, coordinating rallies and testifying in Annapolis in support of its passage.
      To persuade Maryland lawmakers — all men — to approve the amendment, women gathered on the steps of the State House in Annapolis on February 20, 1920. Statewide suffrage leaders spoke amidst an upbeat atmosphere that included a band.
      Despite the suffragists’ efforts, the Maryland legislature voted against ratification that day. Long opposed to the expansion of voting rights, most Maryland legislators — especially Democrats, who held the governorship and both houses — argued that it should be up to the states, not the federal government, to decide who should have the right to vote. 
      Indeed, they passed a resolution declaring the 19th Amendment an act of overreach by the federal government that Maryland would oppose.
     “They even went beyond this to pass an additional resolution supporting the travel of seven anti-suffrage legislators to West Virginia to try to convince their legislature to reject the amendment as well,” Rohn says “This delegation failed in their mission. West Virginia voted to ratify.”
     Tennessee, the 36th state, made the 19th Amendment the law of the land. A 24-year-old legislator named Harry Burn cast the deciding vote, crediting his mother with switching him to yes.
      Maryland’s anti-suffragists held out past ratification. In October of 1920, anti-suffragist judge Oscar Leser contested the legality of two women registering to vote in Baltimore. His case eventually landed at the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1922 ruled that the 19th Amendment had been legally adopted, closing the door for future challenges.
     Maryland did not vote to ratify the amendment until 1941 and did not certify it — the process whereby an archivist receives the required number of authenticated ratified documents and makes a formal proclamation — until 1958.
      Maryland’s recalcitrance mattered little on November 2, 1920, when some 28 million American women —about half the eligible number — voted in the presidential election.
 
Mapping Maryland’s Long March
     The 91-year campaign of Maryland suffragists and the intransigence of their elected representatives is a story as close as your fingertips thanks to the Maryland Historical Trust and the dedication of a graduate intern. 
      That’s Rohn, who got the job of locating the more than 50 sites of significance in Maryland’s campaign. The steps of the Maryland Statehouse where women protested for their rights remain. But many of the other sites no longer stand.
      While you may not be able to physically visit these spots, you can follow them online at ­bit.ly/SuffrageMap. That is the project Rohn took on in 2016 for the Maryland Historical Trust. 
      “I have a political organizing background,” said the University of Maryland dual community planning and historic preservation major. “So when I heard a hint that my project as a graduate internship would be women’s suffrage, I got excited.
      “My assignment was to find the specific sites,” she said. “I used available research: census documents, local newspapers, records, city directions and a PhD dissertation by Dr. Diane Weaver: Maryland Women and the Transformation of Politics.”
     The research of Augusta Chissell, a leader of the Colored Women’s Suffrage Club in Baltimore, stood out in particular. To prepare women to vote, Chissell authored the column A Primer for Women Voters in the Baltimore Afro-American. So impressed was Rohn that she has nominated Chissell to the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.
     To preserve the progress of suffrage, Rohn created a map highlighting the movement’s landmarks and historically important dates. It combines narrative text, images and multimedia content.
     The story begins with Margaret Brent, who in 1648 petitioned the Maryland Assembly in St. Mary’s City for the right vote. She was not granted her demand but earned herself the title of first woman suffragist in the country. 
      For two centuries, suffrage activity was stifled due to an unreceptive political climate. The tale resumes in the latter half of the 1800s.
      In Baltimore in 1867, Lavinia Dundore founded the Maryland Equal Rights Society. 
      In 1889, Caroline Hallowell Miller gathered members of her Sandy Spring Quaker community as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The group joined forces with the National American Woman Suffrage Association to send Maryland delegates to attend national suffrage events. 
      The National American Woman Suffrage Association held its annual convention in 1906 in Baltimore at the Lyric Theater, one of the places where history was made.
      At the convention, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton and Julia Ward Howe encouraged the next generation to take up the cause.
      “Some of these women died without seeing their goal realized,” Rohn says. “They urged the next generation to get involved.”
      “I am here for a little time only, and then my place will be filled as theirs [suffragists before me] was filled. The fight must not cease; you must see that it does not stop,” Susan B. Anthony, then 86, told the 1906 Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
      Many did take up the challenge, and their influence is still felt.
     “The League of Women Voters was born out of the women’s suffrage movement, and the realization that simply having the right to vote does not mean that you are innately prepared to exercise that right,” says ­Ashley Oleson, administrative director of the Maryland League of Women Voters.
       “The League was created to ensure that every voter, female and male, would have access to the polls and access to candidates’ positions on the issues so they could make informed decisions at the polls.”
      The League celebrates 99 years of Making Democracy Work this year, as women celebrate a century of suffrage.
      On Tuesday, November 3, 2020, honor the Marylanders who fought to ensure all citizens could vote: Cast your ballot.
 

Separated from Earth by four billion miles, the ­New ­Horizons spacecraft explores the outer limits

     Stakes were high and tension palpable New Year’s Day at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, as Sarah Hamilton and her colleagues waited for a long-distance radio transmission confirming either a successful mission or a failure.
      About 10 hours earlier, the New Horizons spacecraft — launched 13 years ago on a mission to Pluto and beyond — had flown past a 20-mile-long object called Ultima Thule (pronounced Ultima too-lee). From four billion miles away, it takes hours for the signals to reach earth. In Mission Control and in the auditorium at APL, people waited for New Horizons to phone home.
 
Space Science
       Hamilton, an aerospace and software engineer living in Crofton, had tended to the New Horizons spacecraft since 2005, a year before its launch.
      She knew from experience that the best-laid plans could go bust in an instant. 
      On her first assignment at the Johns Hopkins lab, the University of Maryland graduate worked in Mission Control for a NASA space probe called Contour. Its job was to gather data while flying by comets. Like the New Horizons spacecraft that would follow, Contour was designed to receive a set of commands from Mission Control, execute them, then radio back to confirm the commands had been followed.
      In August of 2002, nine weeks after Contour’s launch, the Mission Control team sent it a set of commands that would initiate an engine burn and send the spacecraft into a solar orbit.
      “You could feel the tension in the room,” Hamilton remembered, as the team waited for a call home that never came. Sometime after contact was lost, telescopes detected debris where Contour should have been. The mission was a near total loss.
      Missions into deep space remain, like Apollo 1 through 13, acts of faith. Humans from planners to designers to engineers, fabricators and programmers do everything they can to create machines to act as mobile eyes and ears millions of miles distant. Then they launch their creation. If the launch is successful, their baby travels far beyond human reach over huge distances of space and time where they can guide it only by remote-control.
      Four infrastructure subsystems control New Horizons and its seven onboard instrument systems, cameras and other sensors. All these systems need to be told what to do; Hamilton builds and tests the strings of commands to accomplish these goals. 
      Every couple of weeks, a new set of commands is sent to New Horizons; then comes the tense waiting out the hours it takes the commands to arrive, and the hours it takes the spacecraft to respond that all is well.
      New Horizons had survived 13 years and four billion miles in space, but disaster was never out of reach. 
 
Mission: Pluto
     In July of 2015, New Horizons approached its first mission objective, an encounter with Pluto. Ten days before the fly-by, a routine command sequence had been uploaded. Then listeners in Laurel waited for hours for the signals to make their round trip. 
      To paraphrase, New Horizons said, “my main processor is overloaded, I have switched to my backup processor, and I’m running in safe mode.”
      The spacecraft was communicating and functioning at a basic level. But in 10 days, when it reached Pluto, it would need to be fully functional.
      There was no such thing as turning around and going back for a second pass. If they weren’t ready when they flew by Pluto, the mission would fail.
       Memories of that fateful message are still vivid for Hamilton. 
       “When the processor overloaded on July 4, I was at home checking my work email for confirmation that the fly-by sequence was safely onboard the spacecraft, stored in memory,” she recalled. “I had a bad feeling when the email didn’t arrive. I was in shock as if time was standing still when I first heard the news. I said goodbye to my family as they headed to the fireworks.”
      “The team was amazing. It was July 4, but the mission was still priority one, regardless of any plans people might have had. Everyone did what needed to be done.”
      It took three days and nights, but the problem was fixed, the fly-by was a success, and we now know more about Pluto than we ever did.
      A bumper sticker on Hamilton’s car reads My other vehicle explored Pluto.
 
Onward to Ultima Thule
      After the Pluto mission’s outstanding success, the spacecraft remained in good health with ample fuel and power. A new target was needed, and though Ultima Thule had not been discovered when New Horizons was launched, it was now the choice, a billion miles and three and one-half years away. Hamilton went to work on the command sequence to send New Horizon to its new destination.
 
The Final Approach
      As the moment of the fly-by approached — 12:33am EST on New Year’s Day 2019 — the energy level at the applied Physics Lab ramped up. For Hamilton, it was the climax of 14 years of work. Longer still for some on the program.
      “This mission has always been about delayed gratification,” Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator, told the assembly at the pre-fly-by briefing on December 31. “It took us 12 years to sell the spacecraft, five years to build it and 13 years to get here.”
     On December 20, Hamilton uploaded the final command sequence for the fly-by. Twelve hours later, New Horizons responded that all was well. From December 26 to 31, the navigation team reworked their calculations for a critical parameter, the time of arrival at Ultima Thule.
      Hamilton and the Missions Operations team were sending this new data to the spacecraft. The corrections were only in the two-second range, but when you’re traveling nine miles a second and aiming to fly by an object only 20 miles long, that two seconds can make the difference between a perfect picture and a blank frame.
      On the morning of Sunday, December 30, the last command sequence was sent. Then Hamilton and her cohorts began to wait for the call home. 
     On New Year’s Eve, she brought her family to the main auditorium to celebrate the new year, the mission and — they hoped — success.
      That night, there were two countdowns: one to midnight, and the other leading up to the fly-by at 12:33am.
      It might have been hard for Sarah to explain to her daughters, ages seven and five, what all the excitement was about. But she gave them the key message: “I like my job, I love going to work. You can be anything you want to be and have a job you love, too.”
        Then most everyone went home to get some rest before the next morning revealed whether this 30-year quest was a failure or a success.
 
New Year’s Day
       The auditorium was subdued as the New Horizons team, their friends and families and reporters stared at the large screen focused on the Mission Control room, waiting for that phone call home. Suddenly, the auditorium went quiet as we sensed a change in the demeanor of the people in the control room. It was happening.
      At their computers, controllers narrated their reports — in technical jargon, of course. After one group reported its status as “nominal,” the crowd’s voice rose.
      “We have a healthy spacecraft,” Missions Operations Manager Alice Bowman reported. Then the crowd went wild. Me, too.
      Hamilton didn’t have to wait so long. “I was watching the telecommunications subsystems engineers,” she told me. “When I saw them smile, I knew we had data coming back, and the spacecraft was okay.”
      New Horizons had extended human reach four billion miles into the universe.
 
 
Learn more about the New Horizons mission and the Ultima Thule fly-by in the PBS science series NOVA; Season 46, Episode 1: Pluto and Beyond. Check your local listings or On Demand, or watch it online at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/pluto-and-beyond. 

Allison Colden tweaked oyster reef balls to help break up dead zones

      A fiction writer imagining a character destined to become a key figure in Bay oyster restoration could save much time by basing the depiction on real-life Allison Colden, a fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. 
     From an early age, Colden seemed destined for a role in Bay restoration. Growing up in Virginia Beach, she gravitated to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, learning about the Bay and the problems it is facing. She did her undergraduate work at the University of Virginia, majoring in biology while doing field work on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. For her PhD at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (part of William and Mary), she researched how to construct oyster reefs for maximum production. Next, foreshadowing the political aspect of Bay restoration, she spent a year on Capitol Hill as a NOAA fellow for a California congressman, advising on fisheries and natural resources policy. Then, in January of 2017, after a year with a Virginia nonprofit estuary restoration group, she joined the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as a Maryland fisheries scientist specializing in oysters.
     She does some work on other fisheries — notably crabs and striped bass — but most of her time goes to our favorite bivalve.
     “I’ve been fixated on oysters for a long time,” she told me as the 60-foot Foundation workboat Patricia Campbell, moved up the Severn River to begin an oyster restoration experiment.
     “Every research paper I worked on in college turned out to be about oysters. By the time I entered grad school I knew I wanted to work on bringing this important species back.”
     Joining Chesapeake Bay Foundation gave her opportunity for hands-on science. “As much as I respect and admire my academic colleagues, I realized it took more than publishing papers to effect change,” she said. 
      Now an Annapolitan, she’s never far from the Bay.
      “Every day my husband and I take our Australian terrier Bismarck on a walk along Back Creek,” she said. “Being able to work for positive change is important to me as a citizen of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.” 
 
Hands-on in the Field
      In April 2018, the Patricia Campbell was underway to drop concrete reef balls into the Severn River to test one of Colden’s oyster-directed hypotheses: Could “man-made oyster reefs with vertical structure agitate currents and break up dead zones?”
     It’s long been known that weather can affect dead zones; turbulent weather stirs up the water column, distributing oxygen-rich waters throughout. Could added structures do the stirring?
      The hope was this stirring would mix the oxygen-rich water on the surface with the oxygen-depleted water on the bottom, thus lessening the dreaded dead zones that plague our waterways every summer.
     These vertical structures were concrete half-balls about two feet across. The ship’s crane easily lifted the 240-pound balls and precisely placed them about a mile up from the Route 50 bridge in an area known as the Winchester Lump.
     This experiment was about water stirring, but reef balls make good oyster habitat, too. So why not try to grow more oysters at the same time? The balls were preloaded at the Foundation Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side with almost a million oyster spat. An instrument pod to measure certain key water parameters, like stirring, was also lowered to the bottom. The pod was to be retrieved in a few weeks. In the fall, Colden and the team of scientists would return to the new reef to check on the progress of the oyster spat.
 
Murphy’s Law
      Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Who hasn’t experienced it?
      In the biological and environmental sciences, Murphy’s Law can call on the forces of nature to humble up even the best-planned experiment. In this case, it was the record-breaking rain. All that fresh water pouring down lowers the salt content of Bay water. Fish can swim to areas of higher salinity. Oysters don’t have that luxury; they can be stunted or die if the water isn’t salty enough.
      The deluges also had other effects. Freshwater sitting on top of saltier water creates a boundary that discourages mixing of the water column, exacerbating dead zones. There was also a significant algae bloom, a mahogany tide, in the river this summer. Such blooms cause dead zones.
       The reef ball instruments recorded a four percent increase in mixing of the water column due to the reef balls. Still, the effect on the biology of the river was less clear; Colden suspected the algae and the fresh water would greatly affect the ecosystem of the river.
      To get the final word on that, she would have to wait for the return trip to the reef balls.
 
Return to Winchester Lump
      The April trip to place the reef balls had been a pleasant day on the water; the trip in late November to check the progress of the oysters was anything but. After several delays due to gale warnings and rain, the day of the trip was cold and cloudy. The only person who seemed properly dressed for the weather was the dry-suit-clad diver who would attach lines and floats to the submerged reef balls so they could be hauled up and examined.
       The balls emerged from their seven-month soak yielding expected but still disappointing news. There was plenty of life on the balls, but no oysters; rain and algae had done them in.
       All was not lost, however. The concrete was covered with false mussels. These are also filter feeders, which contribute to water quality, but they tend to be transient. Also present were worms and hydroids, a colonial animal like coral. We even found a naked goby fish.
      “We showed the reef balls can increase water column mixing and can decrease dead zones,” Colden explained in our followup interview. “We also learned that water depth matters, and in the future we might want to try the technique with a shallower bottom. We also learned that even with a low-oxygen, low-salinity environment, we can have life. It’s just different life.”
From electric to plug-in to hybrid, there are more ways than ever to drive clean
    By now, we all know about the ­Toyota Prius.
    I’m talking about the world’s best-selling gas-electric hybrid: a car that uses both an electric motor and a gasoline engine. You can drive it just like any other car yet use much less fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that today’s Prius gets 52 miles per gallon in a mix of city and highway driving, compared to 32 miles per gallon for the similarly sized, similarly powerful, gas-fueled Toyota Corolla.
     But if you’re aspiring to use less gasoline in the new year, the Prius is just one of many options. As an automotive journalist based in the Annapolis area, I’ve had a chance to try out a host of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles and other fuel-thrifty models. For nearly any automotive need, there’s a car that minimizes or eliminates gasoline consumption — in many cases, without even calling attention to itself.
     Let’s go over how these cars work, some important factors to consider about them and some of the best models to buy. 
 
Electric Cars
      Some people see electric cars as glorified golf carts. Others picture a $100,000 Tesla. But a wealth of electric vehicles, known as EVs, exists between these extremes. Most of today’s models accelerate with speedy silence and can travel well over 100 miles per charge. 
     The primary hurdle to an electric car is the range. Range has improved dramatically in just a few years. For example, today’s Nissan Leaf goes 150 miles per charge, more than twice the 73 miles for the original 2011 model, for a similar base price of around $30,000.
     Using a 240-volt car charger, available for home installation and in some public locations, you can achieve about 20 miles of range per hour’s charge in the Leaf. You can even plug into a standard 120-volt outlet to charge four miles of range per hour. That’s not going to help you on a road trip, but it means many commuters can easily recover overnight. Some public stations include fast-charging, which in the Leaf gets you 90 miles of charge in 30 minutes. (I use the Leaf as an example because it’s the best-selling, affordable electric car, but other models have similar specs.)
     Speaking of expense, purchase prices are another common concern. Even the least expensive EVs are often above $30,000, and these tend to be compact economy cars. Luxury models, meanwhile, combine sporty performance with eco-friendly fuel savings, but even the cheapest of those (the Tesla Model 3 sedan) starts at nearly $50,000.
      That said, a $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles removes some of the sting. Then there’s the operating expense: BGE customers typically pay about 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity, which works out to less than $2.50 per 100 miles on most all-electric cars.
     Among all-electric cars, the Leaf and the Volkswagen e-Golf stand out for blending range, comfort, and value, starting at about $30,000. The Chevrolet Bolt brings more interior space and a 238-mile range for about $5,000 more. Tesla’s lineup offers phenomenal performance and a high-tech vibe, and prices align with similarly sized, similarly powerful luxury vehicles.
 
Plug-In Hybrids
     If you just don’t feel comfortable with an all-electric car, or if you want a broader selection of models, a plug-in hybrid may be just the thing.
    With a plug-in hybrid, you charge up a battery with electricity from the grid, but you also have a gasoline engine on board to help if your juice runs out. Nearly every market segment offers a plug-in hybrid, everything from affordable compact cars to minivans to luxury cars.
     Plug-in hybrids don’t provide the same electric-only range as a pure EV, due to smaller batteries. Some also need the gasoline engine to accelerate speedily or cruise on the highway. But many plug-in hybrids offer enough range for all-electric commuting or errands, with a gasoline engine that can kick in when you need to go farther or haven’t had a chance to recharge.
     As with electric vehicles, the purchase price can be high. But also like electric vehicles, federal tax credits are available (up to $7,500, depending on the size of the battery).
    An outstanding new plug-in hybrid is the Honda Clarity midsize sedan, a model that combines space-age styling with everyday comfort and quietness, plus an EPA-estimated 47 miles per charge. Prices start at $33,400, and it’s eligible for the full $7,500 tax credit.
     If you need more space, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is another standout. This seven-passenger minivan can carry your family an estimated 32 miles before burning any gasoline. Prices seem high at $39,995, but here, too, you can claim the $7,500 tax credit. Factor in the tax credit and the hybrid’s many standard luxury features, and it’s roughly the same price as a comparably equipped gas-only Pacifica van.
     Brands from Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi and Toyota to BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo all offer plug-in hybrids. Check them out. 
 
Hybrids
     Maybe all this talk of plugging in your car seems like a hassle, or your home doesn’t have a plug within reach. Or maybe you’d like to spend less.
     You wouldn’t be alone. That’s why standard hybrids (such as the Prius) remain more popular than their plug-in counterparts. The Prius and several strong competitors all start below $25,000 and can top 50 miles per gallon.
     In a standard hybrid, the electric motor helps propel a hybrid car so that the engine doesn’t need to work as hard — and therefore burns less gas. The gasoline engine also helps recharge the electric batteries when they get low, which is why you never have to plug it in. On the other hand, you’ll burn some gasoline on every trip.
      A wide variety of vehicles are available as hybrids. Toyota and its Lexus brand alone offer 12 distinct models, ranging from the subcompact Toyota Prius C ($21,530) to the Lexus LC 500h luxury sports coupe ($96,710). Price premiums for hybrids have also decreased over the years, making them sounder decisions for your wallet along with the environment. 
     The Prius has a useful blend of roominess and fuel economy, while several competitors — the Honda Insight sedan, Hyundai Ioniq hatchback and Kia Niro crossover-wagon — bring quieter rides and more user-friendly interiors for even less money. 
     Among larger models, Toyota and Lexus often make the most economical options. The midsize sedan class, though, has an uncommon number of excellent options.
 
Efficient Gas-Only Cars
     If your budget doesn’t support a hybrid, or you’re not finding one that you like, numerous gas-only cars also offer standout fuel economy.
     A popular trend pairs a small engine with a turbocharger, which kicks in with extra boost if you need to accelerate hard. That means that you get the efficiency of a small engine when you drive gently, but sufficient power when you need it. Many Honda vehicles, among others, do quite well with this approach — provided that you avoid aggressive driving with a lead foot.
    While that advice applies more to turbocharged cars and to hybrids, it’s an easy way to save fuel whatever you’re driving. The more you can stay off the gas pedal, the longer you’ll go before you need to buy some more. 
 
 
Brady Holt, of Riva, is an automotive reviewer and journalist.