Saturday, April 30, 2011

Giant Worlds

Usually, we do a bit of research before visiting a known destination, such as Lafayette's (LA) Science Museum and Planetarium.

However, this visit was different.

We had been drawn to the building because of its newly-renovated exterior. So, after a Friday noon musical per-formance in the nearby park, we met a person who worked in the museum as we passed the building's rear staff entrance.

After a brief conversation, she urged us to consider coming in on a Wednesday afternoon for the planetarium show late in the afternoon.

Not until we arrived did we realize that the special traveling exhibit was entitled "Giant Worlds."

"'This exhibit answers questions like how did our solar system form and what are giant planets made of?' said Kevin Krantz, the exhibit's curator. The exhibit has three areas: 'Family of the Sun' teaches you about the formation of the solar system (photos left and below); 'Meet the Giants' explores the beauty and secrets of the giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus; and finally, you'll be able to discover 'New Frontiers' in a fantasy ride past the giant planets" (Jenise Fernandez, museum's web page).

In this exhibit, "Friend or Foe?", the person is asked to place two larger planets in orbit around the sun. The white masses are ice balls. Depending on the placement of the planets the gravitational pull of the planets on the screen can send the ice balls into space, can cause some of the balls to crash into a planet forming a source of water, or can absorb one of the other (smaller) planets.

When I did this, I received the following message: "Congratulations! The great worlds have cleared out the solar system. While collisions may still occur, they'll be less frequent, giving life a chance to evolve."

Quite a message in those few words. I wonder if they originators of this exhibit realize the implications of this "game" and its message.

Another game, a virtual pinball game, showed the effects of different forms of gravitational pulls on an object.

This exhibit (left) shows the picture of what can be seen if our eyes were able to process longer wavelength, i.e., infrared, light, which corresponds to heat energy. Infrared photos of Jupiter were also shown.

Displays of the giant planets and a video featuring photos of these planets taken from satellites and from the Hubble Space Telescope. This is a photo of Jupiter (above) from the video and I believe this is a photo (left) of one of Jupiter's moons, Io, which has continuously erupting volcanoes.

We missed a lot more information on The Giants in order to attend the planetarium presentation.

This photo is the only one that I took. I think holes had been drilled into the dome-shaped portion to show the night sky above us. Once the lights went out and the presentation on the constellations began, I was absorbed with the "skies."

The Planetarium presentation was excellent. Now the next step is to find an area away from the lights of a city to view the stars and constellations. But I still thought we missed a lot during our all-too-short visit. Even this photo of a beautiful Hubble Space Telescope picture of the Whirlpool Galaxy seems incomplete, because I have no other information about it.

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