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Global learning

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jeannie Allen has the world at her fingertips. With a slide on the screen of her iPad, she is able to jump from Earth to Mars – and it’s all possible by Science On a Sphere.

“Not many of us will be astronauts,” Allen said. “But this program gives us an opportunity to experience everything that astronauts get to see. In fact, I have friends who have been to space and they say it’s just like what they’ve seen.”

Allen is an educator who works for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., but is based in Albuquerque. She is in charge of the Science On a Sphere, which is on exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science through June 7.

The exhibit is a room-sized global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a 6-foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe. Researchers at NOAA developed Science On a Sphere as an educational tool to help illustrate Earth system science to people of all ages. Animated images of atmospheric storms, climate change, and ocean temperature can be shown on the sphere, which is used to explain what are sometimes complex environmental processes in a way that is simultaneously intuitive and captivating.

Some of the data that can be accessed include the paths to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Irene. There is also a segment that shows all of the flight paths of all the airplanes in the air at one time around the world.

“The globe is big enough and glows that it’s captivating to see,” she said. “Yet it’s small enough to wrap your heart and mind around it.”

Now that Allen is able to work from Albuquerque, she’s looking into getting a grant to keep the sphere at the museum. The cost to host the sphere is $150,000 for the first year and $40,000 a year after that.

“It would be great to have this available in the area,” Allen said. “It’s important that children can see this type of science and hopefully inspire them to pursue it.”

Jayne Aubele, museum adult programs educator/geologist, said it’s been a wonderful opportunity to have the sphere, which was developed 12 years ago, here through the generosity of NASA.

“We would probably not have been able to pay the costs involved, and NASA generously found a way to help us get it,” Aubele said. “It is an amazing high-tech way to show visitors all of the planets and moons as well as every topic imaginable relating to Earth (atmosphere, temperature, earthquakes, polar ice, ocean currents, the list is endless). It is very unusual that a single exhibit can open the door to so many sciences.”

Aubele said the reaction has been incredible and the display captures the imagination of visitors of all ages.

“They are drawn in and spend more time with the sphere than is usual for museum exhibits,” she said. “Since the Science On a Sphere exhibit opened, we have had continual crowds around the sphere. Families and school groups visiting the museum have spent time gathered around it for mini lessons.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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