Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 3/14-3/20

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Landon (age: 5):

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Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Visit HMNS For Spring Break! 
Extended Hours at all HMNS branches:

  • HMNS Hermann Park (March 12-20) – Monday-Sunday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
  • HMNS at Sugar Land (March 12-20) – Monday-Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. & Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • George Observatory – The George Observatory will be open two extra days for Spring Break – Tuesday, March 15, and Friday, March 18, from 5:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.

New Special Exhibition Tourmaline Treasures Now Open!
The Houston Museum of Natural Science presents an intimate “jewel-box” exhibition of the world’s finest naturally crystallized tourmalines in the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals through September 1, 2016.
The exhibit is organized around the “Rose of Itatiaia” tourmaline from the Jonas Mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil. This special tourmaline is the highlight and centerpiece of the exhibition. Other “masterpiece” specimens from the most famous mines in the world include the Tourmaline Queen Mine, in California; the Paprok Region in Nuristan, Afghanistan, the Mt. Mica in Maine, the Stewart Mine in San Diego County, California; Anjanabonoina region in Madagascar, the Pedeneira Mine in Brazil; the Malkhan Mine in Russia, the Alto Ligonha region of Mozambique, etc.
This is a unique opportunity to see these famous tourmalines all under one roof for a limited time. Don’t miss it.

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 2/22-2/28

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Ahab:

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Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Film Screening – The Blood & The Rose (Spanish)
Monday, Feb. 22
6:00 p.m.
Filmada en locaciones en México y España, La sangre y la rosa ofrece fascinantes entrevistas con grandes expertos en los campos de la ciencia, historia y teología, explorando el misterio de la tilma de San Juan Diego y la milagrosa imagen que lleva. Más que una historia sobre un evento distante, este documental también muestra cuántos emulan hoy a San Juan Diego, ampliando el mensaje de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Emperatriz de las Américas y Patrona de vida, en la cultura moderna.

Film Screening – The Blood & The Rose (English)
Tuesday, Feb. 23
6:00 p.m.
Shot on location in Mexico and Spain, The Blood & The Rose offers riveting interviews with top experts in the fields of science, history and theology, exploring the mystery of St. Juan Diego’s tilma and the miraculous image that it bears. More than just a story about a distant event, this documentary also shows how many today emulate St. Juan Diego today, broadening the message of the Virgin of Guadalupe-Empress of the Americas and Patroness of Life-into modern culture.

Class – An Overview of the Energy Industry
Thursday, Feb. 25
8:00 a.m.
This course is led by experts in the fields of upstream, downstream and energy economics in the 21st century, including energy alternatives. Breakfast, lunch and a tour of the Wiess Energy Hall are included.

World Trekkers: Peru
Friday, Feb. 26
6:30 p.m.
Bring your family to HMNS and you can travel the globe with World Trekkers! The perfect family outing, these events highlight a diverse set of cultures from around the world through food, entertainment, arts and crafts and more. This February we’re heading off to Peru. But no need to pack your bags – HMNS brings the world to you with World Trekkers!

Class – Minerals and Rocks of the Ancient World
Saturday, Feb. 27
9:00 a.m.
Go behind-the-scenes in the Museum’s staff training lab where hundreds of specimens are uniquely presented in a hands-on road maps.
Fossils, minerals and rocks have been around since before human civilization, yet the sciences to study them have only been established for about two hundred years! Learn how the balance between natural resource abundancy and human ingenuity gave rise to the greatest monuments in the ancient world.

Class – Introduction to Paleontology: Decoding the Fossil Record
Saturday, Feb. 27
1:00 p.m.
Go behind-the-scenes in the Museum’s staff training lab where hundreds of specimens are uniquely presented in a hands-on road maps.
Covering specimens from the earliest life-forms to advanced invertebrates and vertebrates alike, this workshop focuses on the origin of the fossil record as well as the various methods of fossilization. To complete your understanding of the topics covered, you will be encouraged to touch and examine a variety of specimens composed of actual fossils, models and images.

Family Space Day at the George Observatory
Saturday, Feb. 27
Multiple mission times available
Blast into outer space on a simulated space flight to the Moon! The Expedition Learning Center at the George Observatory will be open for individual children and adults to sign up for missions. No danger is involved! Astronauts are assigned jobs aboard the Space Station Observer and work together as they solve problems and have fun. Volunteers who work at NASA will run the missions and visit with the participants. Don’t miss this special opportunity to participate in real astronaut training!

 

13 Freaky finds at HMNS

Tentacles, bodies and skeletons, oh my! No matter how beautiful or how vital to the history of natural science and life on Earth, some things are just a little freaky. Check out this short list of our top 13 strange, weird and scary artifacts housed in the permanent halls of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

13. Stone hands

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Sculptor Harold van Pelt carved this hand from a solid block of a special mineral. The sculpture is an exact replica of his wife’s hand.

12. Stone skull

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Pelt also carved this, a life-sized replica of the human skull, identical to the real thing inside and out. That includes the brain case. The jaw is removable from the skull.

11. Cambrian sea creaturescreep09

They’re soft and squirmy and have strange, meat-eating mouthparts. These guys aren’t around anymore, but you can get up close and personal to these models based on fossils discovered in Cambrian rock layers. Watch a CG video of them swimming in action alongside trilobites and orthoceras in the Morian Hall of Paleontology.

10. Fossilized sea scorpion pincerscreep06

Sea scorpions didn’t always get this big. But when they did, their claws were brutal! Sea scorpions were the apex predator in the Cambrian seas, with a poisonous stinger and these toothy pincers. These in our collection measure about six inches long. Imagine getting pinched by those puppies!

9. A shark that could swallow an elephantcreep07

Megalodon, the largest shark to have ever existed, could swallow platybelodon, a mastodon ancestor, in a single bite. Good thing they’re extinct, or whole ships might go missing.

8. Stuffed bird specimensCreep02

Our preserved specimens of extinct, rare and modern life can be a fascinating walk through taxonomy and the diversity of life on earth. But they’re still treated skins stuffed with cotton. In these specimens, cotton holds the eyes permanently open.

7. Feeding lion

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The glass eyes of this preserved lion seem to challenge all who pass. And the severed leg lets us know he means business. What can you say? Life’s hard on the savannah. Keep it real.

6. Floating model orthocerascreep05

This prehistoric mollusk was an ancestor of the modern squid and octopus. In Cambrian rock, their numerous conical shells make this one of the most successful species of the era. And this model, looming overhead, calls to mind that Lovecraftian god of the apocalypse, Cthulhu. (Click the link for Google images if you’re not cool enough to be familiar…)

5. Wall of skullscreep08Nearing the end of the fossil record we find a who’s who of hominids. Homo erectus, australopithecines and Neanderthals included. But it’s pretty disconcerting to stroll around the corner and be confronted by a skull collection of human ancestors staring you in the face.

4. The mummy of General What’s-His-Name

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Better than hominid ancestors are those famously well-preserved Egyptian mummies that draw crowds from around the world. This one was a man said to have been a general of the New Kingdom Pharaoh Thutmose III, dating back to 1450 BC. Now that’s an old corpse.

3. The mummy of Neshkhons

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I find it more creepy that we know who this body actually was for some reason. Don’t you? This is the mummy of the noble lady Neskhons, who lived during the 21st Dynasty of Egypt, between 1070 and 945 BC. Like many mummies, she was discovered with her most important organs preserved in canopic jars, not including the brain, of course. To ancient Egyptians, the brain was some worthless head-goop.

2. Disembodied head

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This mummified head was discovered with a gold-leaf mask, its eyes painted on the outside looking up to the heavens in a symbol of reverence for the gods. The head dates back to between 200 BC and 100 AD.

1. The Aztec god of human sacrifice

creep01In pre-Columbian Mexico, the Aztec empire stretched for thousands of miles with modern-day Mexico City at its heart. Millions were sacrificed to the god Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (pronounced tlah-wheeze-call-pan-teh-coot-lee) at the top of the Templo Mayor, the great temple in the middle of the city. Sacrifices were beheaded at the top of a tall flight of steps, and the skulls rolled hundreds of feet down to the city floor. The Aztecs believed the sacrifices kept their food and water plentiful, but the scare tactics also made them the most powerful empire of their time.

Come see the freakshow before Halloween, or come in costume to Spirits and Skeletons Halloween night!

#ChillsAtHMNS

HMNS changed the way I think about Earth, time, humanity, and natural history

After 90 days working at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, here’s the verdict:

I love it here!

Through research required to compose and edit posts for this blog, I have learned about voracious snails, shark extinction, dinosaur match-ups, efforts to clean up ocean plastic pollution, Houston’s flooding cycle, a mysterious society in south China, and the inspiration for the design of costumes for Star Wars.

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Look at the size of that T. rex! My love for the Houston Museum of Natural Science began with an affinity for dinosaurs.

I’ve learned about many, many other things, as well, and I could feasibly list them all here (this is a blog, after all, and electrons aren’t lazy; they’ll happily burden themselves with whatever information you require of them), but the point of this blog is to excite our readers into visiting the museum, not bore them with lists.

Coming to the museum is a grand adventure, and it’s my privilege to be here every day, poking through our collection and peering into the the crevices of history, finding the holes in what humanity knows about itself and speculating about the answer. That’s what science is all about, after all. Learning more about what you already know. Discovering that you’ve got much more left to discover.

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As a writer, I identify with the oldest forms of written language, like this tablet of heiroglyphs. You can even find a replica of the Rosetta Stone in our collection!

When I took this job, I was a fan of dinosaurs and Earth science. I could explain the basic process of how a star is born and how the different classes of rock are formed. Igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary. Now, I can tell you which dinosaurs lived in what era and the methods paleontologists use to unearth a fossilized skeleton. I know that a deep-space telescope owes its clarity to a mirror rather than a lens, and I can identify rhodochrosite (a beautiful word as well as a fascinating mineral) in its many forms. And there are quite a few.

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Rhodochrosite. My favorite mineral. Look at that deep ruby that appears to glow from within, and it takes many other shapes.

I have pitted the age of the Earth against the age of meteorites that have fallen through its atmosphere and have been humbled. The oldest things in our collection existed before our planet! How incredible to be that close to something that was flying around in space, on its own adventure across the cosmos, while Earth was still a ball of magma congealing in the vacuum of space.

Time is as infinite as the universe, and being in this museum every day reminds me of the utter ephemeralness of human life. It advises not to waste a moment, and to learn from the wisdom of rock about the things we will never touch. Time and space reduce humanity to a tiny thing, but not insignificant. Our species is small and weak, but we are intelligent and industrious. We have learned about things we don’t understand from the things we do. The answers are out there if you know where to look for them.

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Everything turns to stone eventually, even this gorgeous fossilized coral.

I was a print journalist for three years, and I am studying to become a professional writer of fiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (Don’t worry. It’s a low-residency program. I’m not going anywhere.) I am a creator of records of the human experience, according to those two occupations, and in some ways I still feel that as the editor of this blog, but there is a difference.

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This epic battle between a sperm whale and a giant squid recalls scenes out of Herman Melville.

Here, rather than individual histories — the story of one person or of a family or of a hero and a villain — I’m recording our collective experience, our history as a significant species that participates, for better or worse, in forming the shape of this world. We were born, we taught ourselves to use tools, we erected great civilizations, we fought against one another, we died, those civilizations fell. We have traced our past through fossils and layers of rock and ice, we have tested the world around us, and we have made up our minds about where we fit into the mix.

We are a fascinating and beautiful people, and through science, we can discover our stories buried in the ground, often just beneath our feet. To me, this is the real mission of our museum. To tell the story of Earth, yes, but to tell it in terms of humanity. In the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, we wonder what makes certain minerals precious to us when they’re all spectacular. In the Morian Hall of Paleontology, we trace the fossil record back in time and wonder how things were and could have been had dinosaurs not gone extinct. In the Cockrell Butterfly Center, we connect with the little lives of insects, compare them to our own, and fall in love with our ecosystem all over again. In the Weiss Energy Hall, we learn how life and death create the fossil fuels that now power our society. We find both ingenuity and folly in the values of old civilizations in the Hall of Ancient Egypt and the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas.

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These chrysalises, a powerful symbol of personal growth and change, teach a lesson in natural cycles and big beauty in tiny places.

I have often wondered how we justify placing a collection of anthropological and archaeological artifacts under the heading “natural science.” Why don’t we consider our institution more representative of “natural history?” In my first 90 days, I think I’ve found the answer. It’s not just about the story of humanity; it’s about the story of the science we have used to learn what we know.

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The Houston Museum of Natural Science, including the Cockrell Butterfly Center, is truly one of a kind.

Our goal at HMNS is to inform and educate. To challenge your assumptions with evidence and bring the worlds and minds of scientists to students and the general public. It’s a grand endeavor, one that can enrich our society and improve it if we pay attention.

A ticket to the museum isn’t just a tour through marvels, it’s a glance in pieces at the story of becoming human. After 90 days here, by sifting through the past, I feel more involved in the creation of our future than I have ever been.

And that feels pretty great.