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

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 façade 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!

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