Yikes! Is it May already? Time has flown by and now your child is about to turn another year older. Between work, school, dinner, errands, and that never-ending laundry, who has time to plan a party? Lucky for you, that’s what we’re here for! Not for the laundry (you’re on your own with that), but the Houston Museum of Natural Science is the place to call for giving your child a birthday experience he or she will never forget. We have hosted over 3,000 birthdays here at the museum, so we know a thing or two when it comes to parties. This year we are excited to announce that we are offering three new Party Smarty themes at our Hermann Park location: Shark!, wildlife, and Mars expedition!
Sharks have always fascinated us land-dwellers, and they continue to hold millions of people across the nation in thrall each year in July. If you have your own shark-lover at home, now’s your chance to become the coolest parent around by throwing your kid a birthday party with real sharks! Not only will they get to learn about great white sharks, see the jaw of a megalodon, and actually get inside a shark cage, but they will also get the chance to touch live sharks in our Shark! touch tank experience. As an added bonus, each kid will get a one-of-a-kind button declaring that they touched a shark. Shark! will be leaving our museum in September, so make sure to grab this chance before it swims away!
Did you know that a ringtail cat is not a cat? Or that a bald eagle has 7,000 feathers? With our Texas wildlife theme, your birthday group will get the chance to hop along with robins and howl with coyotes as you explore the diverse habitats and wildlife that our great state has to offer. From soaring falcons to roaming American buffalo, there are more than 250 types of animals in the Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife! Will you be able to find the flying squirrel? Now you and your guests can experience the American wild from dawn to dusk as you listen to the calls and sounds of our animals with the rising and setting of the sun.
Looking for something special for your pre-teen or teenager? Our Expedition Center theme is a great way to get them away from their video games and into a thrilling simulated flight to Mars! This is no pleasure cruise: your teen and friends will have to work together to successfully complete their mission to land on Mars. From piloting and navigating to building probes, experiments, and so much more, everyone will have a blast on this voyage into uncharted territory.
For more information about all of our basic and deluxe Party Smarty themes and packages, visit us here.
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!
Lecture – Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences Of A Hotter Planet By Gernot Wagner Tuesday, May 12 6:30 p.m. Demonstrating that climate change can and needs to be dealt withánd what could happen if we don’tåconomist Dr. Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund will give an authoritative call to arms for tackling the defining environmental and public policy issue of our time. Wagner will present the likely repercussions of a hotter planet, drawing and expanding from work previously unavailable to the general public. He will show how economic forces along with sensible climate policies can help prevent a catastrophic future. A book signing of Wagner’s new book Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet will follow.
Cultural Feast – Samurai Fusion Thursday, May 14 7:00 p.m. The power and prestige of the samurai warriors are reflected in their cuisine-a fusion of tradition and innovation. Literary and historical records reveal the significance and symbolism of food and drink served at their tea ceremonies, banquets, and other events. Our inspiration for this Cultural Feast will be menus and recipes from surviving culinary treatises which featured both native and imported ingredients and a variety of techniques that later influenced the evolution of modern Japanese cuisine. Chef Rocco Nankervis of Oceanaire and culinary historian Merrianne Timko have collaborated on this history-inspired menu with a modern twist. This event will be hosted at The Oceanaire Sea Food Room in The Galleria.
Family Space Day At The George Observatory George Observatory Expedition Center Saturday, May 16 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! Missions in the Expedition Learning Center are usually only open to groups with reservations. Don’t miss your chance to participate as an individual during this special event!
The earth is 4.54 billion years old. That’s a big number to wrap your head around. Spending time among very old things helps, but even then it’s easy to forget that not only the fossils themselves are ancient; so is the rock they came out of, the planet circling a sun that has been around a long time.
Since my childhood, dinosaurs have arrested my imagination like nothing else in science, and what better place to witness the majesty of these ancient animals than the Houston Museum of Natural Science, displaying some of the oldest things on Earth? When I walk through the Morian Hall of Paleontology, I see the bones of creatures that lived millions of years ago, preserved naturally by the processes of geology, like mummies, but embalmed by mud, pressure, and minerals. These aren’t bones, really. They’re rocks, no different from petrified wood or the crystals in the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals. They were once creatures of flesh and bone, but the organic molecules and chemicals that made up their bodies, if they didn’t decay, were replaced atom by atom while the rest of life on Earth developed.
Lane, the most complete fossil specimen of Triceratops in the world. 65 million years old.
Mine is a problem of scope, I think. It’s a strange feeling to understand that Lane the Triceratops, the most complete specimen of this dinosaur, was under our feet during the fall of the Roman Empire, was still buried in the time of King Tutanhkamen, and remained undiscovered while Shakespeare wrote his sonnets. This animal died, and life went on as it always does. Its life among presumably millions of others like it was common. Undistinguished. But that specimen is no longer a Triceratops; it’s a skeleton made of rock. Not even a skeleton, but an impression of it. A three-dimensional photograph dug out of the album that is the many-layered dirt of our planet. This animal has become a symbol of history. Now that is rare.
Icthyosaurus mother. At least 146 million years old.
It’s remarkable, this action of preservation that the Earth is capable of. And it’s remarkable that we have developed the science to identify and understand these stones. We had to consider both the life cycle of rock and the taxonomy of life before we could begin to speculate what these samples could mean. But really, so what? They’re just rocks.
It’s the feeling of humility they deliver that makes them fascinating. It’s like walking through modern Rome after living in developing Houston, surrounded by buildings a thousand years old that stood before the United States was even imagined. We’ve been walking around these seven continents for millenia, in the dark about what was under our feet until the birth of paleontology in 1666, when Nicholas Steno identified “tongue stones,” known then only as triangular rocks, as fossilized shark teeth. Dinosaurs were around whether we knew they existed or not. They are as old as the rock we walk on.
Impressions of Icthyosaurus pups in the rib cage of this rare specimen suggest this animal died in childbirth.
Now consider this. In 2011, biologists identified 20,000 new species, a large number of them beetles, and most of them invertabrates. That was in a single year. Now take that diversity and multiply it by the age of the Earth. I’m not going to do the math, but that’s the number of species paleontologists have yet to discover. That’s the amount of life we potentially have yet to search for in the rock.
After early hominids, fossils of the first humans date back 1.8 million years, along with mammoths, mastodons, and saber-toothed cats that appear in the rock alongside them. Triceratops lived in the late Cretaceous, discovered in rock at least 65 million years old. Icthyosaurus swam the oceans and gave birth to her young between 245 and 146 million years ago, in the Jurassic and the Triassic. (Their era lasted 100 million years. Again, we’ve been around for 1.8.) Trilobites in our collection have been preserved for between 540 and 360 million years, and the stromatolites, layered rocks formed by ancient bacteria, date back to 3.4 billion years. Not million. Billion. They appeared in the Archaeozoic Eon, about a billion years after Earth solidified out of molten space-rock.
One of the best preserved and most intricate trilobites in the world. At least 360 million years old.
What will the occupants of this planet find after the next million years? We’ve been around for a while, but not nearly as long as these fossils. What will paleontologists of the future, if they still exist, find in another 65 million years? 146? 540? 3.4 billion? The Earth will still be here by then; humanity is another story. Will we still cling to the crags in a different form, the maps unrecognizeable to the once-dominant species of 2015 CE, if they could see them? Will we have preserved our history as well as the rocks have preserved the dinosaurs?
Stromatolite formed by layers of ancient bacteria preserved in rock. At least 3.4 billion years old.
In another 3.4 billion years, the sun will be nearing the end of its life, having expanded into a red giant and swallowed Mercury and Venus. According to many estimations, by the time the sun is 7.59 billion years old, it will engulf the Earth. We are living in our planet’s middle age. It took half the Earth’s life for humanity to arise and build its cities. For the United States to claim its sovereignty.
Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis, the most complete skeleton of this hominid in the world. 3.18 million years old.
The Earth is old, dude! We never pay this age any mind until we identify something to date it against. Here we have Triceratops, say, a creature that lived in the time when this rock was young, just a pile of sediment on the floor of the ocean or a river. Paleontologists owe a lot to the power of speculation and theory. We may never know for sure what life was like in the era of these ancient creatures. But if we have anything in common with the dinosaurs, ancient mollusks and archaebacteria, it’s that we all grew on this same rock.
In a way, we’re just as old as they are. Our bodies are made up of the same elements that have always been here in some form or another, buried under the crust in a molten mantle, or exposed to the light of the sun that has fueled life on Earth for as far back as the imagination will stretch. As Carl Sagan said, “We are all made of star stuff.”
A rousing game of “Will it Float?” occasionally played on The Late Show with David Letterman was really just an impressively popular density guessing game. In our recently added Science Start Outreach Program, Discovering Density, we play a similar game, predicting and testing to see what happens when you toss things into a tank of water. The Science Start program is for grades K-2 and travels to schools, daycares, scout groups, and more to educate students with hands-on learning experiences.
Sahil tests the hypothesis that a tiny metal car is denser than water and will sink.
The most fun results are the ones that surprise the young students, like a whiffle ball that will not sink even though it is full of holes, a Lego brick (you’ll have to test that one out for yourself), or liquids that can float on or sink through other liquids in a density column.
Carolyn points out to a class at Passmore Elementary that an object that is floating must be touching the surface of the water in a presentation of the new Discovering Density program.
Making the distinction that density isn’t just about weight or mass or size but instead the comparison between the two can be a tricky concept at first. Similarly, very small and very large numbers, distances, and time scales can be difficult to grasp, so to make it a little easier, you could try holding a planet like Jupiter or maybe Neptune, if you prefer, as we model the vast distances of our solar system and think about scale in Space: Going the Distance.
Carolyn points out the different types of liquids forming four distinct layers in the density column that she made during the presentation. The density column was given to the group’s teacher after the show so that students could watch it change over time.
Volunteers spread out with their planets to see the relative spaces between their orbits and explore what a model is, why it’s helpful, and what about the model isn’t quite as it is in real life. For our model to be to scale for both the sizes of the planets and for the distances between them is tricky—in a classroom-sized solar system, it’s going to be almost impossible to see most of the planets from most seats, and even the sun seems petite!
Carolyn holds up a three-foot board that models the planet Jupiter. If Jupiter was just three feet across, the Sun would have to have a diameter of 23 feet!
Book Science Start for your school or scout group today by contacting Greta Brannan at (713) 639-4758 or email@example.com. For more information on HMNS outreach programs, click here.