By Pete Zamplas
Hendersonville – A touring interactive science exhibit about the sun and earth is in Downtown Hendersonville for over a month, joining forces of NASA research with STEM curriculum.
This is one of merely 52 identical The Sun, Earth, Universe exhibitions — distributed for free to museums nationally, via competitive applications. Team ECCO Aquarium and Shark Lab is the local museum handling the educational aspect.
The National Informal STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education (NISE) Network developed the exhibition, in collaboration with NASA research and funding. Arizona State University led the project.
The exhibition amplifies NISE’s Explore Science: Earth & Space toolkits for students, and thus appeals to school groups. There are nearly a dozen interactive stations in the local exhibition. Its writings are in English and Spanish.
The City of Hendersonville helped greatly with funding the exhibition locally, ECCO Exec. Director Brenda Ramer noted. A crew assembled installations, and ECCO volunteers added smaller pieces. Ramer lent space-themed tapestries, to adorn walls and later be sold for ECCO fundraising.
The exhibit is in the former Shelley’s Jewelry building at 429 N. Main St., with space provided by Stan Shelley.
Admission is $3 per person, with children younger than five let in for free. Sanitary masks must be worn at the exhibition. Decorative masks are sold at the door, for merely $1 while supplies last.
The exhibit is open Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 24, 1-3 pm. Groups or families can reserve visits to the site at 429 N. Main. This exhibit stays there and is not mobile.
Team ECCO is a block north, at 411 N. Main. ECCO reopened Saturday and also had interactive exhibits outside. There were a few street vendors and many people strolling downtown, in a LoveHendo mini-festival for Labor Day Weekend.
The exhibition launched last Friday. That was the first-day museums and aquariums were allowed to reopen statewide, after a half-year ban during the pandemic. The number of people in at once must be half-capacity. Playgrounds also reopened. Business reopening is now in Phase 2.5, to at least Oct. 2, according to Gov. Roy Cooper
Hands-On! Children’s Museum of WNC is working to reopen within a few weeks, its officials note. The Henderson County Heritage Museum remains closed for now and is the other museum in Downtown Hendersonville.
The Sun, Earth, Universe exhibition is supervised mainly by ECCO Asst. Director Katlyn Kanupp. The UNC-Charlotte psychology major and North Henderson alumnus was there Saturday when The Tribune visited. She has volunteered with ECCO for six years.
Sanitary and distancing precautions are taken at the exhibit. It was created pre-pandemic, Kanupp noted. It includes vinyl tiles/flip cards, wooden pieces and other items that people handle. Kanupp said that between clusters of visitors, such surfaces are sprayed with disinfectant then wiped clean. Also, the limit is 12 people (including staff) in the single-room exhibit at a time.
NASA missions through the years made many scientific discoveries about earth and space. Some of these are in the exhibition.
One installation shows before and after photos shot from space. Shanghai, China is shown lit up in 1984, and when much more populous in 2016. The images are on flip cards, with two per image.
That is also the case for viewing less intense and more intense versions of these light ray types — x-rays, ultraviolet, infrared and visible light. That display notes a solar maximum occurs about every 11 years, as the sun gives off intense heat and energy, then calms in a solar minimum while resetting energy.
Light types come into play again across the room. There, projectors show images invisible to the human eye but visible under a special light. This has enabled space researchers to see normally invisible particles in outer space.
Next to that display is the electromagnetic spectrum of radiant energy — from radio waves to nuclear gamma rays. Such installations appeal to adults and elder youths.
Others are geared toward younger children. Right behind the front desk, children can assemble pieces (orange is steepest) into a puzzle to match an image of Venus’ elevation. To the left, the first activity is playing with beads representing 10,000 stars. Violet Summey, 4, spent a while there before her family toured other stations.
In back are two related stations. One has many wooden pieces, with which children can assemble toy spacecrafts. A few feet away they can put the craft on a circular base, then see it be tested for durability in simulated rocket launch force.
Cami Cunningham on Saturday portrayed an astronaut. She was just outside the exhibition, to draw people to it. The Hendersonville High alumnus, now an A-B Tech student, is among ECCO interns helping with the exhibit. To reserve a private visit to the exhibition, call ECCO at 692-8386 or email Brenda Ramer at email@example.com.