Thursday, April 30, 2009

NC Center focuses on moon, astronomy

Laura McFarland
Rocky Mount Telegram

The moon is coming to Rocky Mount.

At least a part of it is. A piece of moon rock is one of the features of the NASA Exploration Experience, an interactive traveling exhibit open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 7 — 9 at the Rocky Mount Children’s Museum & Science Center, said Leigh White, the museum’s curator of education.

Visitors will learn about NASA’s ongoing efforts to explore the moon and the rest of the solar system, White said. This exhibit has a simulated visit to a planned lunar outpost, interactive displays and information on the development of NASA vehicles.
“I think it is a good way for folks to learn a little bit more about what NASA does, the potential for space travel and how NASA’s space explorations have already developed things that we use in our everyday life,” White said.
One point of the exhibit is to inform the public about NASA’s efforts to return to the moon for the first time since the 1970s, said Steve Schmidt, the museum’s space science educator.
“The other point of the exhibit is to illustrate some of the spin-off technologies that have been either inspired by or a direct result of NASA’s exploration of space. Examples of that would be medical technology, miniaturization. ... There are examples like that in everyday life that people take for granted,” Schmidt.
NASA personnel will be available to answer questions and discuss the thousands of technologies used on Earth as a result of years of space-based research, Schmidt said.
There also will be a surprise guest speaker from NASA at 7 p.m. May 7 in the museum, Schmidt said. He does not know who it is.
For those who can’t wait until next week to get their fill of outer space, the museum will have Astronomy Day activities from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Schmidt said.
The event will feature planetarium laser light shows and activities. Volunteers from the Tar River Astronomy Club will help visitors safely view the surface of the sun through filtered telescopes, Schmidt said. Hopefully, people will able to see prominences, which are bumps around the edge of the sun that look like erupting volcanoes, and solar flares, which have detached from the huge disc.
“Those flares or prominences can be larger than the entire Earth,” Schmidt said.
Entry to the NASA exhibit and Astronomy Day is free with paid museum admission.
Museum tickets are $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and children ages 3 to 15 and free for those younger than 2.
For information, call (252) 972-1167.
Along with the NASA visit, the Cummins Planetarium will feature “Astronaut,” narrated by actor Ewan McGregor, which prepares audiences for space travel by examining the hazards faced by humans.
The planetarium’s main feature, “Stars of the Pharaohs,” looks at the special connection ancient Egyptians had with the night sky, which led them to construct the great pyramids.
Admission is $3.50 per person.

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