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NASA Earth Science Exhibits Open in Smithsonian Museum

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Tue Apr 11, 2006 8:14 pm
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NASA has announced two new exhibits, “Atmosphere: Change in the Air” and “Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely,” opening April 15 at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington. The exhibits, part of the museum’s “Forces of Change” series, feature scientific data from NASA and other agencies on the Earth’s changing climate.

Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., contributed movies, interactive computer data, and stunning satellite images to launch the two exhibits.

“Atmosphere: Change in the Air” focuses on the Earth’s atmospheric composition and chemistry. The latest results from NASA’s Aura satellite, the third in series of large Earth-observing satellites, are featured.

Ernest Hilsenrath, atmospheric scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington, said, “The ‘Atmosphere’ exhibit highlights the research NASA is conducting to better understand the connection between atmospheric composition and climate change. We hope this exhibit will enhance the public’s awareness of how unique our atmosphere is and the impact humans can have on our global environment.”

Visitors can learn about these changes through several movies. The first movie takes the viewer from space through the solar system, highlighting the atmospheres of each planet. It ends on Earth in Washington, D.C. with a zoom in to the National Mall. The second movie is a lighthearted description of oxygen’s tendency to oxidize, or react with other molecules, which is how fires, rust and the ozone in air pollution are generated. Ground-level ozone also acts as an oxidizer and is harmful to human and ecosystem health. A third movie takes the viewer on a journey over 20 years to see how the ozone hole over Antarctica has changed.

The exhibit features an interactive computer, where visitors learn how changes in oxygen, carbon dioxide and ozone amounts can affect the Earth. Visitors see how carbon dioxide and ground-level ozone are associated with fossil fuel combustion and affect the air we breathe. Ozone near the Earth is a pollutant and a component of smog. Ozone high in the atmosphere protects life on Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. Amounts of this ozone have been in decline due to the release of ozone-destroying chemicals.

Satellite images from NASA’s Aura satellite show visitors how pollution travels around the world. The images show how great dust storms crossing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans can affect air quality far from their sources. The exhibit also includes specimens from the museum’s paleobiology and meteorite collections.

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) both contributed information to “Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely,” the second exhibit in the “Forces of Change” gallery. This exhibit shows how a changing climate has affected Arctic temperatures, sea ice and area life.

Much of the data and material for the images were provided by scientists at NASA and those in academia whose research is supported by NASA. “Satellite capabilities provide an important perspective for understanding how the Arctic is changing,” said Dr. Waleed Abdalati, head of the Cryospheric Sciences Branch at Goddard, who reviewed materials for the exhibit. “By providing new views of the entire Arctic against the backdrop of the larger Earth system, we provide a new appreciation and context for how this cold and remote region fits into the global picture.”

NOAA offered support for the exhibit and worked closely with the Smithsonian Institution to frame the content and develop specific topics and materials. The exhibit also explores how changes in the Arctic are monitored by scientists and polar residents. Visitors will see the challenges scientists face while working in extreme conditions and some of the technology that helps gather critical data to monitor changing conditions.

Visitors will also see objects from the Smithsonian’s anthropology collections, photographs, scientific data such as the Arctic temperature record from 1900 to the present day, and a 2-3 minute video, “Eyewitness to Change.” The video takes visitors to the Inuit community of Sachs Harbour in the Canadian Arctic. Residents discuss climate changes and how they have affected their lives. The exhibit is also funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

For more information about this exhibition the Web, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit:

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