The focus of the exhibit is on interactive explorations of objects and phenomena visible in the sky, encouraging families to "look up" not only when they visit the exhibit, but as a practice they adopt in their everyday lives. My Sky introduces children and their parents (or children and adults) to foundational science skills such as observation, pattern recognition, prediction, estimation, and creative thinking. These skills are fundamental to science, and serve as building blocks to later, more complex STEM thinking and doing. "Boston Children's Museum has a long history of creating hands-on, interactive exhibits designed to engage and inspire children," said Carole Charnow, President and CEO of the Museum. "We are delighted to align with NASA and partner with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory on the My Sky exhibit. This exhibit presents a great way for families to learn and be inspired by the natural world just looking up at the sky." My Sky has three primary areas of activity: a skate park, in which children explore the Sun; a child's room, where visitors investigate the Moon and the stars; and a backyard that provides experiences about the Sun, the Moon and the stars together.
In the skate park, visitors encounter the "Sun" tracing its path overhead in a matter of seconds, rather than hours, and observe how their shadows shift and dance as a result. The skate park includes a human Sun dial, enabling children to become a part of the exhibit. Alongside this Sun dial is a screen displaying stunning imagery of the Sun as seen by Solar Dynamic Observatory satellites, inviting visitors to observe movies of the Sun rotating, undulating and ejecting matter. Children are challenged to find solar events like flares, coronal mass ejections, transits, eclipses, solar tornados and more.
This section exposes visitors to foundational concepts of astronomy such as the Sun appears to move across the sky, which is the result of the Earth rotating; when we face the Sun it is daytime, when we face away from the Sun it is night; the Sun is active and constantly changing; and the Sun is not actually on fire.
In the child's room families encounter a loft bed, underneath which they are challenged both to find familiar constellations, and to invent their own new constellations using recognizable star fields. On a nearby desk, families are introduced to a blind astrophysicist who analyzes data by "sonifying" them, or turning them into sounds. Children can then create their own celestial music by sonifying their own data. At a second desk families can explore the phases of the Moon by manipulating a mechanical Moon-Earth model that, while they turn the model, transforms the Moon phases as they see them through the bedroom window above the desk. The child's room introduces visitors to concepts such as constellations are pictures that people have imagined in the patterns of the stars; the same patterns of stars appear every night in the same relative positions; phases of the Moon are caused by the relative position of the Sun, Earth and Moon; the Moon looks a little different every day, but the same again about every four weeks; the bright part of the Moon is lit by the Sun; the dark part is facing away from it; and the Moon rotates in such a way that we only ever see one side of it.
In the backyard camping scene, families discover a 14-foot diameter dome in which they can get up-close-and-personal with a giant 5-foot diameter, fully tactile and topographically accurate model of the Moon. Next to this dome is a large-screen running time lapse of a day in the life of the sky, complete with rising Sun, rising Moon and stars and planets transiting across the sky. A nearby campfire (complete with subtle campfire smells) rests between two tents in which visitors hear (and see) the stories of scientists, researchers, artists and parents who are inspired by the sky above them in their work, their art and their lives. The backyard introduces visitors to facts such as the Moon is a 3-dimensional body with geographical features much like Earth's; the Moon rotates in just such a way that we only ever see one side of it; the far side of the moon is not "dark" - it is just always facing away from us; the patterns of stars in the sky stay the same, though they appear to move across the sky; the apparent movement of stars is the result of the Earth rotating; the Moon is sometimes visible during the day; you can see some planets with the naked eye; and the stars do not disappear during the day.
"The My Sky exhibition is so important because astronomy is an ideal vehicle for parents and children to experience wonder and curiosity together," said Mary Dussault, Science Education Program Manager at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "It's been our great pleasure working with the team from Boston Children's Museum. The project combined the Museum's expertise in childhood development and the creation of experiential learning environments with the resources of SAO's scientists and science educators. It's exciting to see the results of this partnership brought to life in the My Sky exhibition!"
There are four important messages in the My Sky exhibit:
- Looking up together is a practice that families can adopt into their everyday lives.
- The sky is a free learning resource available to all of us, all of the time.
- The sky is ever-changing – this constant flux provides an opportunity for parents to help kids observe, notice patterns, and make predictions.
- By practicing these skills of observing, predicting and recognizing patterns, parents are helping their child to develop as a scientific thinker and a doer of science.
Boston Children's Museum extends special thanks to CBS Boston's WBZ-TV and myTV38 (WSBK-TV) and the Fort Point Channel Operations Board grant supporting a series of family-friendly programs inspiring families with activities related to astronomy.*
My Sky will be at Boston Children's Museum through January 4, 2015 followed by two installations at other New England children's museums. For additional information, visit www.MySkyExhibit.org.