Paper No. 41-11
Presentation Time: 4:15 PM
21ST CENTURY NATURAL HISTORY: PLANETARY GEOLOGY IN MUSEUMS
Museums have been in the forefront of presenting and interpreting new geoscience topics from the early “cabinet of curiosities” to the 19th century dinosaur-mania. In the 21st century, many museums have taken advantage of a new and unique opportunity to excite the public by including discoveries in a new field of geoscience, planetary geology. We are the first generation of humans to see all of the classical planets or their moons in our Solar System, including our own planet from space; and natural history and science museums are uniquely qualified to excite the public with this new geology frontier. It is now possible and appropriate to teach geologic processes with examples from many planets and to bring this knowledge “home” to more effectively teach geoscience. Museums are once again influencing a new way of thinking about geology. Planetary missions in the news spark interest and questions and provide a natural link and ready-made audience for successful museum programming. But it is difficult for the public to get a concise, factual, and reliable information. There is too much information of unknown validity on the internet, too little in the news media, and local universities can seem intimidating. Natural history museums have an advantage in presenting and interpreting this new geology. They are already experienced sources of basic geological/paleontological information. Most include a planetarium, observatory, or astronomy gallery. A growing number have curators or researchers with on-going space science research programs that can inform and impact exhibits. Advantages include: (1) graphics/display expertise, object-based learning; (2) flexible programming; (3) pre-K through Senior Citizen visitors and family learning; (4) reliable resources for K-12 teachers; and (5) accessible, visitor-friendly, non-threatening site for the entire community. The addition of planetary geology to exhibits, programs, and research enables museums to continue their evolution as relevant sources of science, offers museum visitors the excitement of the 21st century equivalent to those epic 19th century natural history expeditions on Earth, and provides museums with a new way to teach geology.