If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the sun’s 10-billion year life cycle, don’t miss “Solar Fireworks,” an easy-to-understand new science exhibit about the sun and solar system, on view May 15, 2004, through May 29, 2005, at the Newark Museum.
The exhibit is a collaborative effort between astronomers at the museum and Haimin Wang and Carsten Denker, professors of physics, at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Wang and Denker designed and wrote the easy-to-understand display that includes installations, computer animations and even a touch-and-tell plasma globe. Wang obtained the show’s funding -- a $30,000 grant from NASA’s Office of Space Science Education/Public Outreach Program. The exhibit is open Wednesdays through Sundays, noon-5 p.m., in the Prudential Foundation Gallery of the Victoria Hall of Science at the museum.
“We created this exhibit because we thought it would be not only of value for NJIT students, but also members of the community, especially school children,” said Denker.
To Kevin Conod, leading astronomer at the museum, the sun is vital to life on earth. “This alone makes it an important area of research,” he said.
During the museum’s family day, Saturday, May 22, 2004, not only may visitors tour the display, but outdoor solar telescopes will be available for viewing live images of the sun. Fred Espenak, “Mr. Eclipse”, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, will make presentations. Youngsters will also be able to create make-and-take activities such as a sundial and lava lamp.
The exhibit, highlighted by an eye-catching trove of royal blue and fiery orange blown-up images of the sun, planets and more fills the planetarium’s 600 square-foot hall. Featured are 15 installations, three computer animated demonstrations, and 75 real photographs of the sun and solar system taken by researchers at NASA and Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO), California. NJIT has managed BBSO since it took over the facility from California Institute of Technology in 1997. The plasma globe demonstrates the fourth state of matter beyond gas, liquid, and solids. “We thought it was really important to help people understand more about plasma,” said Denker. Plasma is a gas that conducts electricity. The gasses inside the sun are in the form of plasma.
Greeting entering visitors will be an installation designed to help them visualize the magnitude of the solar system. Using local landmarks, the installation, helps viewers understand the distance of planets and their relative size to each other. “For example, we’re asking people to imagine that if they are standing next to the scale model of the sun at the museum, Earth would be located at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the planet Pluto would be as far away as Newark Liberty Airport,” said Denker.
Other installations explain how the sun works, what a solar eclipse is, how radiation and convection transport the sun's energy from its core to the surface. There will also be an explanation of the ultra-violet index, solar spectrum and 10-billion year life-cycle of the sun.
Also featured will be a hands-on experiment using a metal wire loop showing how the sun's electric and magnetic fields work. Another experiment will help students visualize magnetic field lines.
The three animated computer demonstrations will focus on flares, solar wind and space weather. Wang is a world-renowned expert on solar flares and currently creating a space weather station that will report on solar flare activity.
The idea for this exhibit grew from the long-time relationship between professors at NJIT and Conod, said Denker. For several years, Denker and other NJIT professors have taken classes to the museum. In the past, NJIT physicists have obtained other NASA grants and held workshops about the sun for high school teachers at the museum. Dale Gary, NJIT professor of physics, ran such a workshop in February 2004 for 24 New Jersey physics teachers at the planetarium. Another is scheduled for Newark science teachers this coming November.
The Newark Museum, located at 49 Washington Street in the Downtown/Arts District of Newark, New Jersey, is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from 12:00 noon - 5:00 p.m. Suggested admission: Adults, $5.00; Children, Seniors and Students, $2.00. Members are admitted free. The Museum Café is open Wednesday through Sunday, 12:00 noon- 3:30 p.m. Parking is available for a nominal fee in the adjacent lot. For general information, call 973-596-6550 or visit our web site, www.newarkmuseum.org. The Newark Museum, a not-for-profit museum of art, science and education, receives operating support from the City of Newark, the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State and corporate, foundation and individual donors. Funds for acquisitions and activities other than operations are provided by members and other contributors.