Friday, January 23, 2015

Science museums in Baltimore and Philadelphia create extraterrestrial and "Fantastic Voyage" experiences

It may be a stretch to consider a visit to a science museum like a “stage event” for this blog, but for me the effect is the same.  I missed the visit to Epcot (and the “Mars trip”) in December and hope to do it in the spring, but I found some of the same materials in the science museums in Baltimore and then Philadelphia.  These contain material not found in the Smithsonian in Washington.
Baltimore’s (the Maryland Science Center, link in the Inner Harbor, not too far from the stadiums for the Orioles and Ravens) best exhibit is “Life Beyond Earth”.  I see I covered it Dec. 17, but I'll summarize again today for some comparison. There are many artistic renditions of what other extrasolar planets and other moons and surfaces in our own Solar System look life.  Furthermore, there is a globe upon which the museum can project the surfaces of (besides Earth in various seasons) many planets and moons in our own solar system with surprising detail (this includes Titan, Io, Triton, and Europa as well as planets like Mars and Venus) as well as several hypothesized extrasolar planets (as in the Gliese systems).  There are regular showings of these projections.  There is also a biology exhibit: “Cells, the Universe Inside Us”.
But even bigger (and a little more expensive) is the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (link), within long walking distance of the 30th Street Station on Amtrak.  (It’s about two miles from the City Center.)  The museum occupies three floors in a 1930’s art deco building, and when I visited it yesterday there were hundreds of kids on field trips.  I felt like a sub again.  They were certainly having a good time. 
Franklin doesn’t have as much about alien worlds in its exhibit areas as does Baltimore, but it does have a lot about the NASA Apollo and various other missions, and furthermore it may have the best big-screen film right now showing the surfaces of other planets in the Solar System, “Wildest Weather in the Solar System”, oddly shown on a planetarium screen.  It also has an Omnimax and a regular 3-D theater.  When you buy an admission ticket, extra movies are “extra” but reduced in price.  But the best exhibits at Franklin are the biological.  There is a “maze” (or "Fantastic Voyage", as in the 1966 movie) in walking through a big model of heart and lungs (with a large amount of stair climbing) that actually takes some time to get through.  (NBC Washington has had a smaller such exhibit at its health fairs.)  There is an even more impressive “maze” of the neural circuits in the human brain, simulated in a number of nets that you climb around it. 

Visitors can also try the Virginia Air and Space Museum in Newport News (in the Tidewater, SE of Williamsburg), which offers some extraterrestrial landscapes.

And a nice surprise is a museum at the Meteor crater in Odessa, Texas, with its globes of Mars and Venus. 

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