In 1897 author H.G. Wells imagined a different way to see Mars in his short shorty, “The Crystal Egg." Writing around the same time as his famous novel, “War of the Worlds,” he introduces us to two humans who discover a mysterious egg-shaped crystal that allows them to view the surface of Mars – and the strange creatures that inhabit it.
On February 11 of this year, when scientists announced that they had detected gravitational waves, I was among the thousands of people who were so excited we couldn’t sit still. This news was literally Earth-shaking! Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time, and they’re created by events like the collision of massive objects, such as black holes. So of course, being an astronomy educator, I took the first opportunity to talk about this news with visitors at the Museum. The day after the announcement, I set up our black holes Discovery Station, which uses a rubber sheet to demonstrate how space-time gets warped by massive objects. I created my own “gravitational waves” by tapping on the rubber sheet to make it vibrate, like ripples on a pond.
One of the many threads in our Explore the Universe gallery is the changing role of women in astronomy over the past two centuries. In the present gallery, opened in September 2001, we examine how the role of women as astronomers has changed over time from assisting family members to leaders of research teams.
It’s a tall order to sum up the past year at the National Air and Space Museum in a simple list. We’ve hosted astronauts and record breakers, we’ve moved and conserved dozens of artifacts as we transformed the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall (and discovered some incredible things in the process), and held programs that illuminated the impact of aviation and spaceflight on our everyday lives. Where would I even start? I propose a compromise: I’ll summarize ten of my favorite events of this past year, then I’m relying on you to suggest yours. Did you have an experience at the Museum this past year that should be on our list? We’re asking you to share your favorite Air and Space moments in the comments.
One of the most common questions we get at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory is about what kind of telescope to buy, whether for a gift or for personal use. In the height of the holiday shopping, we’re here to help answer that question.
I’ve done a lot of “cool” things as an educator at this Museum: performed a solar system dance with Miss America, chatted with astronauts, and given people their first awe-inspiring views through a telescope. But I have to say, my most recent experience was truly out of this world. On Monday, October 19, 2015, I participated in the second Astronomy Night at the White House. This event is designed to get youth excited about astronomy, space exploration, science, and engineering.
You may have heard about the “supermoon eclipse” that will happen this Sunday, September 27. Sounds pretty exciting! But what does it mean? Let’s start with the “supermoon” part. The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle; it’s an ellipse, which means that the distance between the Moon and the Earth changes over the course of a month. When the Moon is in the part of its orbit that brings it closest to Earth, the perigee, it appears larger in our sky.
If you live in North America or western South America, you have a treat in store for you tonight or early tomorrow morning: a total lunar eclipse! If you live elsewhere in the world, or if it’s cloudy in your location – as it probably will be tonight at our location in Washington, DC – you can still see the eclipse online. Several websites will host live streams. Some of their locations will be clouded out, so we recommend that you search for “lunar eclipse live stream” and browse the results. You can also participate in a live web chat during the eclipse with NASA astronomers.
As our northern hemisphere days begin to lengthen, I like to think about the many ways people have marked the Winter Solstice throughout human history. Like Summer Solstice (the longest day), the equinoxes, and motions of the planets and Moon through the sky, Winter Solstice has long been observed, recorded, and used to construct special buildings. Some of these buildings were erected so long ago that no written record of their use is available today, but they clearly point at cultures that valued the knowledge of precisely when the longest night of the year occurs. Two ancient cultures in the northern hemisphere whose monuments I’ve visited come to mind: Celtic and Anasazi.