Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

WOAH...Look at the time!

Holy moly, has it been two weeks already!?!

Okay, well I'm going to make this quick, as we are in our busiest season here at the Virginia Living Museum.  Summer is a-comin'...and we are all working like crazy to be ready!'s a primer on what you'll find here if you come visit this summer!

The big news is our big exhibition - Bodies Revealed - a fascinating exhibition of specially preserved human specimens of the kind usually reserved for medical students.  The exhibit will take you on an incredible journey through the various systems of the body, plus allow you to see exactly what happens to a body afflicted with various kinds of diseases.  It is truly incredible - the human body is a marvel to behold, and this exhibit really brings out the incredible complexity of our inner workings.  The exhibit opens to the public on Saturday - members only can visit on Friday!

In the Abbitt Planetarium, you can explore the inside of the body with a fanciful look into the future of medicine with Microcosm - a fantastic voyage into the body as only a fulldome theater can bring it to you.  The show makes an excellent companion to the Bodies Revealed exhibit and will be offered at 11:30am and 2:30pm every day beginning on Friday.

Journey inside the human body with Microcosm.  We'll also explore the parallel history of astronomical and medical advancements.

For those with a more historical bend, we'll also be featuring a program to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address later this year.  Before he was president, Abraham Lincoln was a well respected lawyer.  In his most famous case, he successfully defended a man against a murder charge by introducing scientific evidence about the Moon.  For many years, historians have argued over whether Lincoln actually had science on his side, or whether he faked his "evidence" to free his client.  Discover the answer with our new program Abraham Lincoln: The Case of the Missing Moon, showing every day at 12:30pm beginning this Friday.

If you're hoping to learn about what's going on in the evening skies, you'll really enjoy our Virginia Skies program.  This live discussion of the current evening skies will be shown every day at 1:30pm, starting this Friday.  One of our staff astronomers will take you on journey through the current constellations, planets, and other celestial objects appearing in your night sky.  Don't forget to bring your questions!

Finally, if you're looking to just kick back, relax, and rock out for summer, we've got you covered at our 3:30pm laser show.  Beginning this Friday and running through June 30, enjoy an eclectic mix of movie tunes, rock and pop with Laser Mania.  Celebrate our magnificent country all through the month of July with Spirit of America.  From August 1 through Labor Day weekend, get dancy with a wild selection of electronic dance music in ElectroLaze.  All our laser shows feature amazing laser light splashed all over our 30 foot dome to accompany excellent music selections.  You can check out playlists for our shows on our website.

Of course, summer also brings summer camps, and we are really excited about our offerings this year.  We do classes for kids having completed kindergarten up through grade 5 - and each week is packed full of incredible science, fun, games, activities and planetarium shows!  We do have a few spaces remaining in some of our camps - check online for current openings, or call (757) 595-9135 and our lovely ladies in reservations will help you out. 

Well, the unofficial start of summer is this weekend, and I plan to spend it with friends and family.  I'm really looking forward to checking out the new Star Trek movie! 

Ah, the reboot of Star Trek.  I confess I much enjoyed the first one, despite my best efforts.

All right, my time is up!  Back to work.
Until two more weeks have long and prosper!
Carpe noctem!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

So...why are you here?

I get asked that question a lot.

Well, okay, not really.  Most people are not so bold as to ask that question directly.  They tend to come at the idea with comments like "Oh...I had no idea there was a planetarium at this museum."  Or perhaps, "Wow, when did you guys build this?"  Or the ever-popular "How long has this been here?"

But the looks on their faces and the tone of their voices say "What's a space science thing doing at an animal museum?"

We do have a lot of animals.  They are awesome and amazing, and I completely understand why people love them, because I do too!  (personal favorites: the bobcat and the otters)  But the Virginia Living Museum is about more than just adorable animals.  We are a nature and science center.  We aim to showcase the natural wonders of Virginia - all of them.  Plants, animals, mountains, trees...and yes, even the sky.

More than this, we are hoping to inspire in our guests a passion for the world that surrounds them.  It's a world worth saving.  Not only the playful otters and the majestic bobcat, but also the brilliant stars of night, the delicate flowers, and so very much more.  And even more than this...none of what makes Virginia the incredible place it is exists separate from the planet on which we find ourselves.  And our wondrous Earth cannot exist without the solar system of which it is a part.  And that solar system resides in the Milky Way island universe within a vast cosmos...all of which makes up "our environment."  To understand our own little world, we must understand the universe.

We as humans like to compartmentalize things.  We categorize, sort, subdivide and organize.  This helps us to understand where we are in the universe, and to deal with the mundane aspects of daily life.  But we forget at our peril that we are all citizens of the cosmos.  Ask anyone who has had the great privilege to see the Earth from space.  They understand.

Our wonderful planet as seen from Apollo 17.  Courtesy NASA.

I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified fa├žade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.
— Michael Collins, Gemini 10 & Apollo 11 astronaut

That's why we're here.  To transport you, even for just 30 minutes or so, into the cosmos and show you just how precious and wonderful is your environment.

Until next time,
Carpe noctem!