Sunday, October 28, 2007

Travelogue: Planetarium in AMNH

It had to happen. It has happened very rarely in the past but it had to happen someday. And what a day it was!
It was a weekend and I was off in search of the Planetarium in New York – Hayden Planetarium which is part of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). I didn’t have any problem with identifying which metro train to take – had got used to the layout of New York city as well as the subway system.
The museum was within another park that was just as beautiful as the other parks I had seen in the city – lush green grass, clearly demarcated footpaths, tall trees and benches scattered in many places. I bought a ticket which covered everything – right from the regular exhibitions to the special exhibition on gold. I soon realized that even a full day might not be sufficient to go through everything in that building; it was just too much to cover – you can run through the exhibits but if you wanted to read interesting facts and improve knowledge, one day was just not enough unless you come when the museum opens.

Before I had even glanced through the section on space travel it was time for the first Imax show – it was about exploring Mars; about the development and deployment of two rovers – Spirit and Opportunity; about some challenges faces, stiff deadlines and eventual success. The two machines are still alive in Mars – which is way beyond their expectations; even the designers weren’t sure how long they would last. The most fascinating thing was watching college students contribute to the project along with their professors. It was inspiring and for a while I wished that I had pursued an MS; could have been part of something special. I hope that someday such opportunities will arise for students in Indian colleges.

It wasn’t long before it was time for lunch; I went for a pizza slice and a burger with a banana for lunch. The planetarium show was awesome; you feel just as if you are in the middle of the sky with nothing around you.

Then there was a special exhibition on gold; there were a lot of gold specimens inside and only there did I learn that the gold standard for regulating foreign exchange was abandoned in favour of the fiat system (wondering what is the gold standard? – any body issuing currency in that system has to redeem equivalent amount of gold for money – so if you had a dollar then you are actually entitled to claim gold equivalent to 1 dollar; foreign exchange was pretty straight forward in this system – everything is mapped to gold).

I also learnt about the karat system – it denotes the percentage of gold; 22 karat means there are 22 parts in weight of gold in a total of 24 parts (the remaining 2 parts will be some other metal). 24 karat means 100% gold composition. Why is jewellery not made of pure gold? Pure gold is too soft and so gold alloys are used in jewellery.

There was so much to learn in that museum but time didn’t permit – there were some interesting facts about volcanoes, the earth, atmosphere and just about everything. The museum wasn’t filled with static slides alone. There were also some practical models where you could see or feel a particular phenomenon. There was an earthquake alert system which was connected to an international earthquake monitoring system. There was also a audio headset available for free which one could use throughout the trip – each exhibit had a number – press the number in the audio remote and you could hear some expert views on the exhibit. There were also some scheduled guided tours in each of the galleries were museum personnel would guide you through each exhibit.
It was a fun place to be in – and if you could spend two days there then you can digest everything. Everyone was bound to find something or the other interesting.

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