Nature Research Center to expand museum's astronomy offerings

Friday's 24-hour grand opening of the Nature Research Center (NRC) at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences will significantly expand the museum's astronomy offerings.

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Galaxy Zoo
Tony Rice
Friday’s 24-hour grand opening of the Nature Research Center (NRC) at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences will significantly expand the museum’s astronomy offerings.

Dr. Rachel L. Smith serves as the new director of the Astronomy & Space Observation Research Laboratory. She also serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Appalachian State University in Boone.

Smith’s specialty is observational astrochemistry, which she uses to help gain an understanding of the evolution of our Solar System and others like it that are currently forming. With her collaborators at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Smith observes and gathers data about the gas around forming stars using the Keck Telescope in Hawaii and the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Smith is passionate about sharing the laboratory’s work in a visually engaging way that will captivate visitors.

The NRC opening will feature a number of guest speakers from across the sciences, including UCLA’s David Jewitt

Jewitt is known for his study of comets and other primitive bodies of the Solar System. Comets have been called the “refrigerators of the solar system,” keeping the remnants of the material that formed planets fresh for researchers to study. His discoveries include the Kuiper Belt comets beyond Neptune’s orbit, as well as the Main Belt Comets between Mars and Jupiter. Main Belt Comets are particularly interesting to researchers because of theories that an icy collision millions of years ago could have seeded Earth with its oceans long before life appeared.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to make their own contribution to galaxy research using an interactive display on the Galaxy Zoo project. Drawing from Hubble Space Telescope imagery of hundreds of thousands of galaxies, you can join more than 250,000 people worldwide in learning about and helping classify galaxies by their shape. This is a task that is far better done with the human eye and brain than even the most state-of-the-art computer.

“NRC Opening Galaxy Team” efforts will live on not only in Galaxy Zoo project but also in a beautiful collage to be displayed in the Astronomy & Space Observation Research Lab.

Other NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassadors and I will be lending a hand in the laboratory at the grand opening. Please stop by and say hi.

Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on Twitter @rtphokie.

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