Towson library patrons explore final frontier in Discover Space exhibit

NASA, Space Science Telescope Institute and Smithsonian have hand in interactive displays

  • Discover Space is a three-part, interactive learning exhibit presented by the Space Science Institute.
Discover Space is a three-part, interactive learning exhibit… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
September 07, 2014|By Kym Byrnes, For The Baltimore Sun

If a bus-sized iron asteroid traveling at approximately 12 miles per second hit New York City, would Baltimore be spared?

The answer to this and other space questions can be found in Discover Space, an interactive learning exhibit on display at the Baltimore County Public Library's Towson branch through Oct. 29.

Lisa Hughes, manager of the branch on York Road, said the exhibit will appeal to patrons from elementary aged kids to seniors.

"We had some adults here while we were setting it up and they were using the kiosk that shows what happens when asteroids hit Earth," Hughes said. "It was fun to see their reaction when they saw the tremendous impact it would make if it hit their town.

"The adults were as engaged and excited as young children would be," she said.

The Discover Space exhibit, which formally opens Monday but had a preview on Sunday, is being presented by the Space Science Institute and has three separate components.

Visions of the Universe is an exhibit developed by the Space Science Telescope Institute, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the American Library Association with funding from NASA. Hughes described it as part of an initiative to celebrate astronomy, recognizing the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo.

A second part of the exhibit, Space Rocks: Asteroids and Comets, utilizes two computer kiosks and Google Earth to show users the damage that would occur if an asteroid landed in their neighborhood, as well as a risk comparison activity and a physics-based asteroid deflection game.

The third piece of the display, Planet Families, includes a 42-inch touch screen table on which users can play a game where they create their own solar system and explore its gravitational stability.

"Not only should the public understand what these objects are and how they behave, but also how they've played a role in our history," said Paul Dusenbery, director of the National Center for Interactive Learning at the Space Science Institute, in a statement about the exhibit. "We can even help them understand what risks they actually pose to life on Earth."

The impetus behind creating the traveling exhibit, which was on display in Alexandria, Va., prior to coming to Towson, was to "create awareness of astronomy's impact on society and culture, and stimulate young people's interest in astronomy and science," according to a library news release.

Hughes said she didn't hesitate when asked if she wanted the display at the Towson branch.

"We jumped at the chance because we are joining with schools to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs," Hughes said. "Additionally, our summer reading program was called 'Fizz, Boom, Read,' so it's a nice continuation of that theme."

Hughes said the American Library Association often partners with educational initiatives coming out of Washington, from organizations like the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. She said the libraries present an ideal location for such exhibits and displays because they are accessible, the hours are good and there is no cost to get in.

"We're excited to have this here because we know it will appeal to a lot of different ages," Hughes said. "It will be interactive and fun and there is something for everyone in the family. We thought it would be a perfect place for it to be available to the public."

By the way, there would be minimal, if any, impact in Baltimore if that bus-sized iron asteroid hit New York City, according to the interactive exhibit. Impacts of that size hit Earth every 1,000 years or so, the exhibit states.

Discover Space is accessible during the Towson branch's regular hours. For more information, go to bcpl.info. 

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