HMNS Expansion Update: Finishing Touches From 2011

The push to finish the construction of the Duncan Family Wing is getting underway, and for the most part the visible progress starts to happen on a smaller scale than it has thus far.

View of the west façade of the new wing, fully visible from San Jacinto now that the tower crane has been removed!
View of the west façade of the new wing, fully visible from San Jacinto -
now that the tower crane has been removed!

One big exception to that statement was last month’s removal of the tower crane from the west side of the building. The task required the use of another giant, but mobile, crane to lift each piece of the tower crane up and over the new building, into the delivery driveway for additional disassembly, and finally onto several flatbed trucks to be carted back to the crane’s winter home in Florida, Arizona, or South Padre.

Hundreds of feet of pipe circulate chilled and hot water throughout the new wing, including these pipes taking water to and from the rooftop air handling units.
Hundreds of feet of pipe circulate chilled and hot water throughout the new wing,
including these pipes taking water to and from the rooftop air handling units.

Throughout the rest of the building, final finish details are being completed.

Mirrors have been hung in the restrooms. The stairwells are getting coats of warm gray paint. Door handles and light switch covers and illuminated exit signs are being installed. Sensors for lights, sink faucets, and toilet flush valves are functioning, albeit at times a bit over-sensitively. (I involuntarily flushed a toilet from a distance of five feet earlier this week.) All are going in now so the contractor can fine tune the details so they really shine when the building opens to the public.

The third floor is almost ready for exciting new exhibits… and maybe some Saturday Night Fever?
The third floor is almost ready for exciting new exhibits…
and maybe some Saturday Night Fever?

Much of the detail work this month is happening in the three areas where the new wing will connect with the existing museum at the Wiess Energy Hall, the Herzstein Hall of Special Exhibits, and the McGovern Hall of the Americas. The finishes, meaning wall and ceiling materials and flooring even lighting, are a little bit different at each “tie-in” area because the spaces in both the new and old wing are a little bit different on each floor. The design team and contractor have worked to carefully coordinate the varying field conditions with distinct operational requirements to make each of the tie-in spaces both functional and beautiful.

The site on the west side of the project is being graded in anticipation of landscaping in the coming months.
The site on the west side of the project is being graded
in anticipation of landscaping in the coming months.

I can’t wait to share the finished product in the coming weeks.

Be sure to check out this month’s flickr set for more details on the project’s recent progress.

Save The Date: GEMS on February 11, 2012!

We had a terrific time at the Girls Exploring Math and Science event last year on Saturday, February 19, 2011. The Museum was buzzing with lots of learning – songs about kinetic and potential energy, buzzing instruments made with straws, Popsicle sticks and rubber bands, and lots of “ah-hah” moments throughout the day!

We had a fabulous presenting sponsor in KBR and two of their engineers were our featured speakers, Rachel Amos and Elaine Jimenez. Rachel and Elaine shared with the GEMS attendees a bit about their careers in Mechanical Engineering with KBR, their education, some tips for aspiring young engineers and scientists, and even a little about what they loved about math and science as kids. Interactive booths were hosted throughout the building by students, girl scout troops and local organizations and companies - there was so much to learn everywhere you turned!

Girl Scout booths have just been accepted for GEMS 2012 and there are some exciting topics and new ideas I’m very excited to see.

We’re still accepting applications from School Groups for booths and if you’re just now considering hosting a booth with your friends or opening it up to your class for extra credit it’s time to get some brainstorming going!  

What is a topic you’d like to know more about? What have you recently learned that you would want to share with your peers?

Here are a few links to sites that might inspire you for your awesome GEMS booth! Applications for school booths can be found online here at the HMNS website.

The Library of Congress – Everyday Mysteries

PBS.org’s Zoom for kids  - this link is to the engineering section but they offer lots more if you click around

How Stuff Works - go ahead – ask how it works!

Penn State College of Agricultural Science – Food Science

Exploratorium.edu - so many cool things to explore!

I’m also including some fabulous outcomes provided by some of our super star 2011 presenters, the “Truth in Numbers” group and the Rice University Association for Women in Mathmatics both presented booths on the topic of statistics and asked visitors to participate in their experiments pulling samples and recording results!

We can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with for GEMS 2012!

Visitors were asked by the Rice University Association of Women in Mathmatics to open a funsize bag of M&M's candies and chart how many candies of each color were included.

 

 

 

Go Stargazing! December Edition

Jupiter is well placed for observing on December evenings. Face east at dusk and look for the brightest thing there—that’ll be Jupiter.

Venus has fully emerged from the Sun’s glare.

After Sunset (Moon & Venus & Jupiter)
Creative Commons License photo credit: scyllarides

Look for it low in the southwest at dusk. (Venus is slightly higher in the evening sky each night this month). We are still near the beginning of Venus’ apparition as evening star; it gets higher and easier to see for the rest of this year and is spectacular for about the first half of 2012.

Mars rises around midnight and is now high in the south at dawn. Although not nearly as bright as Venus or Jupiter, Mars has brightened enough to rival the brightest stars in the sky, and will keep brightening all winter as Earth approaches it.

Saturn remains in the morning sky this month.

Look low in the southeast at dawn, near the star Spica. (From the Big Dipper’s handle, arc to Arcturus and speed on to Spica).

The Summer Triangle sets in the west. Watch for the Great Square of Pegasus almost overhead at dusk now and in the west by Christmas. Facing north, you’ll see five stars in a distinct ‘M’ like shape—this is Cassiopeia, the Queen. Her stars are about as bright as those in the Big Dipper, and she is directly across the North Star from that Dipper. In late autumn, as the Big Dipper hugs the horizon and actually sets for us in Houston, Cassiopeia is high in the north. Taurus, the Bull rises in the east. Look for the Pleiades star cluster above reddish Aldebaran. Dazzling Orion, the Hunter rises shortly after dusk (by month’s end, it is already up at dusk). As Orion enters the evening sky, we transition from the relatively dim evening skies of autumn to the brilliant stars of winter.

Orion nebula: M42
Creative Commons License photo credit: Alessandro S. Alba

Moon Phases in December 2011:
First Quarter December 2, 3:52 am
Full December 10, 8:37 am
Last Quarter December 17, 6:48 pm
New December 24, 12:07 pm

The Full Moon of Saturday morning, December 10, enters the Earth’s shadow, causing a total lunar eclipse.

Unlike last year’s event, however, this eclipse heavily favors western observers in North America; we miss most of it here in Houston. However, the Moon does nick the edge of Earth’s umbra at 6:46 am that morning, when it is a scant three degrees above our horizon in Houston. If you have a northwest horizon utterly clear of trees or buildings, you might try to observe the very beginning of the eclipse before moonset.

At 11:30 pm on Wednesday, December 21, the Sun is directly overhead as seen from the Tropic of Capricorn, the farthest point south where this is possible. That makes December 21 the winter solstice, the date when the noon Sun is lowest in the sky, and when we have the fewest daylight hours of the year. However, the earliest sunset of the year here in Houston is not on the solstice, but approximately on December 2! That’s because the Earth speeds up on its orbit as it approaches perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) next month. This acceleration shifts sunrise, local noon, and sunset slightly later each day this month and next. The effect is smaller that that of the Sun taking a lower path across the sky, which normally dominates in causing earlier sunsets and later sunrises. But the Sun’s apparent path varies very little near the solstice itself, allowing the secondary effect of the Earth approaching the Sun to predominate. For most people, then, (those who witness sunset but sleep through sunrise), days will seem to lengthen throughout December, although they don’t really begin lengthening until December 21.

We are making improvements to the main telescope at George Observatory! Visitors on Saturday, December 10 and December 17 will find the 36-inch Gueymard telescope closed for repairs. Our 14-inch east dome telescope and 18-inch west dome telescope will still be open to the public, however, so we hope you’ll join us anyway! Also, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on Saturday this year; the observatory will be closed on December 24 and 31.

Visit www.hmns.org to see the Planetarium’s film Schedule.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.

A Short Biography of the Foucault Pendulum.

When you walk into the Wiess Energy Hall, the very first thing you see is our Foucault pendulum.

It is a metal ball suspended by a cable that swings back and forth encircled by pegs. Children and adults will run through the rest of the museum, reach the pendulum, and wait with baited breath to watch a peg topple. When one of the pegs finally falls, you can hear a cheer erupt from the area. It is one of the most memorable parts of the museum. As the pendulum swings, it moves clockwise knocking down pegs as the Earth turns. It swings back and forth, back and forth (you are getting sleepy).

Foucault Pendulum
Foucault Pendulum at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

It is interesting to sit around the pendulum and listen to people try to explain it.

Some will talk about how it is a clock.  Others will put the time between pegs being knocked down between 10 minutes and 1 hour.  Our pendulum knocks down a peg on an average of every fifteen minutes. While the pendulum looks like it rotates around the circle, it is the Earth that is rotating and the pendulum that just swings. The pendulum is a visualization of a rotating Earth. To describe it in a different way, T = 24/sin q where T equals the amount of time to make one complete revolution and q is the latitude of the pendulum. At least that’s what Foucault said.

Star TrailsCreative Commons License photo credit: monkeymanforever

Leon Foucault was born in Paris (France, not Texas) on September 18, 1819.

As a young boy he did not show an inclination towards science or study.  In fact his teacher considered him lazy because he did not turn in his work. He did, however, enjoy building mechanical devices, such as a small steam engine and a telegraph, and tinkering.  He entered medical school to become a surgeon, but found that he fainted at the sight of blood.  Instead of becoming a blindfolded surgeon, he switched to physics. 

At the age of 25, not having learnt anything at school nor from book, enthusiastic about science but not about study, Léon Foucault took on the task of making the work of scientists understandable to the public and of passing judgment on the value to the work of leading men of science – J Bertrand, Éloge historique de Léon Foucault.

Foucault proved his worth in being able to take mathematical proofs and construct a mechanical proof, his pendulum being one of those.

He also constructed a device to prove that light moves slower through water than air. The mathematics describing the proof had been around for over a decade, but Foucault was the first to prove that it worked. His first pendulum on public display opened on February 3, 1851 in the Paris Observatory (again France, not Texas). Instead of knocking down pins as the pendulum moved, the first Foucault pendulum drew in sand.  He also invented the gyroscope, which stays in place as the Erath moves around it. This invention has proved essential for planes, space craft, and even the Hubble Telescope.  

Hubble Space Telescope
Creative Commons License photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

After he came to power, Napoleon III, an amateur scientist, created a job for Foucault at the newly named Imperial Observatory. There, Foucault developed his knife edge test to measure the conic shape of mirrors. This led to a more constant quality of lenses for use in telescopes.  He died on February 11, 1868 from multiple sclerosis.  His legacy lives on today.  He has an asteroid named in his honor. But he is honored around the world by his plethora of pedula that swing to and fro, showing people that the Earth keeps on spinning.