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Friday
Sep072018

The American Museum of Natural History Looks to the Stars with Exhibits Full Moon and Dark Universe

By Mark Rhodes

Alan Bean at Sharp Crater with the Handtool Carrier. Michael Light, from the project FULL MOON, 1999 Photographed by Charles Conrad, Apollo 12, Nov. 14-24, 1969It is likely that most associate The American Museum of Natural History with dinosaurs, the jaw- dropping habitat dioramas, and the 94-foot-long blue whale that looms in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. There is good reason for this, as these are iconic treasures in the museum’s collection that have helped educate and fascinate museum goers about the natural wonders of this world in generations past and no doubt for generations to come. 

What some might be unaware of is the fact that the museum also celebrates wonders beyond  this world. At present, the American Museum of Natural History has an exhibit entitled “Full Moon: Apollo Mission Photographs of the Lunar Landing.” In this exhibit, Artist Michael Light has curated and digitally processed photos that the Astronauts took during the Apollo missions. The public is aware of only a handful of the more than 30,000 photographs taken as part of the scientific exploration that was the Apollo program. The result is moving and the most striking and intimate images of space exploration the public has ever seen.  

Another current program that looks toward the stars at the AMNH is the film, Dark Universe,screening at the museum’s Hayden Planetarium. The film, a history of the discovery and study of the origins of the Universe, AKA “The Big Bang” is scripted by Timothy Ferris, directed by Carter Emmart, and narrated by Hayden Planetarium Director and Celebrity Intellectual Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. The film clocks in at a brisk 25 minutes and jumps from the Mount Wilson Observatory in California where in the early 1920s, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding (which also paved the way toward learning how the universe was formed) and how it is evolving. From here, the audience is whisked away past the space station through the clouds of Jupiter via the Galileo probe to attempt to get confirmation that the universe in its entirety was once hotter than the center of the sun.  

While much of the film concerns itself with scientific discovery, past, present, and possibly the future, much of Dark Universeunderlines the inherent mysteries of the universe still undiscovered and/or not understood. For instance, the film theorizes that the universe is composed of only five percent of “ordinary matter.” In other words, this five percent is atoms that are identifiable. A quarter of the universe is made up of “dark matter” that is invisible and unknown in nature. 

As might be imagined, Dark Universeis pretty heady stuff for the layman. The filmmakers make great use of visual touches to explain the theories and move the narrative along without getting mired in science that is complicated even to physicists and astronomers. 

For more on the American Museum of Natural History and their exhibits, see www.amnh.org.

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