Peabody explores universe

Amid crowds of boisterous 10-year-olds, anxious chaperones and college students, the secrets of the universe will be divulged daily at the Peabody Museum of Natural History until May.

The Peabody’s new “Alien Earths” exhibit may sound like a foray into the world of E.T. and Star Trek, but it is actually a traveling exhibit about the solar system created by the Space Science Institute of Boulder, Colo. The mixed media exhibit, which has been on display at the Peabody since September, uses interactive activities — featuring everything from computer screens to blocks with which to play — to teach people of all ages about the solar system.

These planetary models are part of the “Alien Earths” exhibit, on display through next May at the University’s Peabody Museum.
Ryan Galisewski
These planetary models are part of the “Alien Earths” exhibit, on display through next May at the University’s Peabody Museum.

“Alien Earths” was designed to bring a knowledge of the solar system to kids and adults and features four viewing clusters: “Our Place in Space,” “Star Birth,” “Planet Quest” and “Search for Life.” The exhibits are based on research performed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s “Origins Program,” a 20-year effort to understand the origins of the universe and the conditions necessary to support life using space- and ground-based observatories. The exhibits are also based on work conducted by Yale astronomy and geophysics students and researchers, a statement released by the museum said.

On Tuesday afternoon, an elementary school student appeared to be particularly entranced by a rotating model of the solar system, which includes moons and Pluto. Another demonstration let visitors lift up three same-sized blocks of different weights to compare the densities of Jupiter, Saturn and Earth.

Elizabeth Steele, a resident of Branford, Conn., said the block activity was her favorite part of the exhibit.

“The thing where you had to recognize the weights was interesting,” she said. “You had to trick your eye to measure it.”

The interactive aspects of the exhibit are especially interesting for children because they give them hands-on ways to understand difficult concepts, said Janae McMillian, a student at Albertus Magnus College.

The exhibit also explores microbes that live in extreme habitats such as Antarctica and deep floor sea vents.

Kirk Hughes, an English and humanities professor at Albertus Magnus and Yale, was leading his class through the museum and said he thought the exhibit was well designed.

“I’m teaching freshmen at Albertus how to use the museum as a research tool,” he said. “I think this exhibit is suitable for children, including freshmen.”

But a few museum patrons said while “Alien Earths” did have many interesting activities for children and adults, they were disappointed because some of the demonstrations may have been too delicate to use as toys and were broken.

“Alien Earths” will run in the Peabody through next May. Admission to the Peabody is $5 for Yale students.

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