Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Museum=A Muse eum=Amuse eum

I just finished my article for next Sunday's Edmond Sun and got excited all over again about the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. My plane arrived in Albuquerque at 7:30 in the morning and there were no scheduled press tour activities until afternoon so my time was my own. I planned to visit the NMMNHS, the art museum and the atomic energy museum -- and I did -- but almost didn't. I couldn't get myself away from the science museum! What a treat to have leisure time in a great museum. Usually we're limited to about 45 minutes before we're on to the next venue. I spent HOURS there and could have spent longer. This museum is really best for elementary school ages and up -- lots of hands-on things but such great information and graphics that adults won't get bored, I promise.

They have a model of the Mars Rover and a great exhibit on space. I spent a lot of time with a device designed to estimate the chance of intelligent life in the universe using Drake's equation - N=R(x)fp(x)Ne(x)fl(x)fi(x)L. R=the rate of formation of stars like our sun; fp=per cent of suitable stars with planets; Ne=number of planets and moons per star capable of sustaining life; fl=fraction of moons and planets on which life actually develops; fi=fraction of planets or moons with intelligent species developing interstellar communication; and L=the typical lifetime of advanced species on a planet. Of course, there are no definitive numbers for any of the variables! Putting in my guesses (influenced by the range of guesses by scientists) I came up with 375 advanced alien civilizations in our galaxy. Makes you feel less alone, doesn't it?

I loved the display of minerals -- kind of stuck in a corner and not as large and impressive as the exhibits in Dallas and Houston -- but there were some really unusual and beautiful specimens which I hadn't seen before.

As much as I enjoyed these exhibits, the Walk through Time blew me away. From the Big Bang to the Big Freeze, I moved from room to room past great exhibits -- a fabulous tour of geologic change and biological evolution. New Mexico was home to some of the coolest dinosaurs -- T. rex, Pentaceratops, Brachiosaurus, Parasauralophus! Exhibits on the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction were fascinating.

WARNING: Soapbox ahead. I really worry about our education system kowtowing to fundamentalists who insist on injecting religion into science. I happen to believe that God created the heaven and the earth -- and the amazing information scientists have been and are discovering confirms this for me. My problem is with literalists who insist that these discoveries must be denied or contorted to conform with their interpretation of the Bible. Questions of the big Why? are for philosophers -- leave the How? to the scientists.

Photos: This turquoise nugget weighs 152 pounds -- parts have been polished. The museum was given permission by the Jet Propulsion Laboratories to build an exact copy of the Mars Rover. In the "Age of the Super Giants" -- the Jurassic Period -- huge animals like the Saurophaganax and the herbiverous Seismosaurus roamed ancient New Mexico.

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