Sunday, May 1, 2011

Beyond: Visions of our Solar System

Where: National Air and Space Museum

When: through May 2, 2011

This is a beautiful exhibit - the photographs of the planets (and other objects in the solar system) are stunning. This show focuses exclusively on the pictures of outer space, and not on the technology that created the photographs, which is fine with me. I find "rocket science" boring, so the fact that there was none of it was a plus in my book.

There were a lot of little pieces of information along with the photos in the exhibit, and I'm now much more informed about other planets than I was when I entered. The Great Lakes make up 22% of the Earth's fresh water, for instance, and the sun constitutes 99.8% of the mass of the solar system. I also found out that Venus is actually hotter than Mercury due to the cloud cover that traps heat on the planet. Mercury, which I had always thought of as a red planet, actually looks like our moon, but larger. Mars (the actual red planet) is red due to the iron deposits in its deserts. It reminded me of the soil on Prince Edward Island, which is also red and full of iron. Martian desert landscapes are quite similar in appearance to deserts on Earth - not that either one seems terribly hospitable... And who knew there should have been a planet between Mars and Jupiter, instead of the asteroid belt that exists there?

Jupiter's Red Spot is twice the size of Earth - it's really hard to conceive of something so enormous, particularly when you think that it's merely a spot on the biggest planet in the solar system. Saturn is gorgeous, rings and all, no surprise there. The photos of Uranus and Neptune were a lovely shade of blue, and Uranus has faint rings around it - although they get none of the attention of Saturn's much larger rings. Of course, there were no pictures of Pluto - eventually, no one will even remember it was a planet! Oh well, science moves on, and we must move with it.

Verdict: if you have time on Monday, check this out. It's not as crowded as some of the more spaceship-oriented exhibits at the Museum, and the photography is stunning.

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