Friday, May 14, 2010
“For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.”
— Captain Donald E. Williams, Commander of Space Shuttle Atlantis
Once the delight and privilege of astronauts alone, the perspective of Earth from space can now be gained through a visit to Point Reyes National Seashore. A new exhibit installed in the Bear Valley Visitor Center gives visitors a window on the Earth and the forces that shape life on our planet.
Known as “Science on a Sphere®”, this exhibit system was originally developed by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to show a diverse range of Earth Science data in an easy to understand, global setting. The educational possibilities of the “Science on a Sphere®” were quickly recognized and adopted by science and tech museums like the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Four, computer-linked projectors illuminate a six foot, spherical screen with a range of data sets as immense as earthquakes and ocean temperatures, weather patterns and climate change or the migration patterns of elephant seals and sea birds, to name just a few. Fiber optic connections allow information, such as world-wide seismic activity, to be downloaded daily and near real-time weather tracking with a lag time of only two hours from when a weather satellite takes a photo to the projection of that data at Point Reyes.
The Sphere installed at Point Reyes National Seashore is the first for the National Park Service and only the 48th in the world. Almost without exception, the reaction from visitors and staff alike has been an awed “wow!”
More than just beautiful, the Sphere provides opportunities for visitors to make connections in a new way – not just connections to the park and its resources, but to the world as a whole. It challenges them to think beyond the immediate and to see how our lives are shaped by global forces like ocean and wind currents or weather patterns, or how continental drift and seismic activity has shaped the world around us and continues to define life at Point Reyes.
Former Superintendent Don Neubacher recognized the potential an exhibit like this could provide for the visitors and staff at Point Reyes. Funding for the exhibit was made possible through a call for “shovel ready” projects through the Western Region’s 20% recreation fee program. The park’s auditorium was retrofitted to handle both the Sphere and continued use as an auditorium.
Like most good projects, this one was a partnership between the NOAA, BW Color Prints, and a wide range of NPS staff. Now the work will begin to incorporate the Sphere into the park’s interpretive line up and develop curriculum-based education programs for the fall season.