The Maryland Science Center (MSC) in Baltimore opened its latest original, permanent exhibition, Life Beyond Earth, on November 2, 2012. Developed by MSC staff as part of a $723,250 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the 1,400 square foot exhibit introduces visitors to the conditions that sustain life on Earth and invites them to consider the quintessential question, "Are we really alone in the Universe?" Accompanying the exhibit is a phone app developed by the Maryland Science Center, special features providing support to visually-impaired visitors, and a new production in the Davis Planetarium.
In Life Beyond Earth, visitors are introduced to our planet's extreme environments that support life and can explore tiny models of microbes, considered to be Earth's first living things. They will learn about our planet's relationship to the Solar System and our place in the Milky Way, and begin to compare these conditions to other worlds, including detecting planets outside our Solar System.
Among the exhibition highlights are tactile models of bacteria, the Milky Way, and the terrains of worlds in our Solar System; a gallery with views of our Solar System; meteorites on loan from the Smithsonian Institution; and a touch-table with interactive activities exploring methods of detecting planets in distant solar systems.
Components of the exhibition, located on the Maryland Science Center's Second Level at the entrance to the Davis Planetarium, were developed with the guidance of teachers and students from the Maryland School for the Blind. Over the past year, teams of students and their teachers have been testing each of the exhibit's tactile components so that they would be fully accessible to visitors with reduced vision. Labels with Braille direct visitors to Braille guides with information about exhibit components.
An accompanying smartphone application, "Planet Mania," is an interactive quiz and card game through which "winners" can earn discounts at the Maryland Science Center's Science Store.
As part of the grant, the Maryland Science Center also premiered a new planetarium production, We are Aliens, that explores the hunt for life elsewhere in the Universe.
"Life Beyond Earth illustrates what the Maryland Science Center does best," said MSC president and CEO Van Reiner. "We address the fundamental questions that people have about our world, and give them a fun, interactive way to ask more questions and seek their own answers. We want them to explore and investigate."
Life Beyond Earth was developed through the participation of an Advisory Panel with representatives from The Johns Hopkins University, NASA, The Carnegie Institute of Washington, The Space Telescope Science Institute, the Maryland School for the Blind and Maryland Sea Grant.
The material contained in Life Beyond Earth is based upon work supported by NASA under grant award Number NNX10AK15G.
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