Great Balls of Fire
Comets, Meteors, Asteroids
Exhibition Closing Tuesday, Jun 11, 2013
Great Balls of Fire - Asteroid
Great Balls of Fire - Comet
Great Balls of Fire - DI Rawlings
Great Balls of Fire - Entry Fireball
Great Balls of Fire - eros reconstruct
The new exhibition, Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Meteors, Asteroids, will make its West Coast debut here at the Fleet January 19, 2013, through June 11, 2013. The threat of a catastrophic impact from an asteroid or comet is a staple of popular culture. If there was a dinosaur killer in Earth’s past, is there a human killer in our future? What are the chances and how do we assess the risks? For that matter, what are asteroids, comets, and meteorites, and where do they come from? Find out more in this 3,000 square-foot interactive exhibition.
With Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Asteroids, Meteors, the Fleet Science Center will bring recent discoveries and cutting-edge planetary science to our visitors. The exhibition is divided into four areas: Origins, Asteroids, Comets and Impacts/Risk. It includes a variety of interactive, multimedia experiences, ranging from straightforward computer-based activities to a larger scale, “pod” where visitors play the role of explorers-in-training—an important theme that threads throughout the exhibition.
This area of the exhibition presents the story of the formation and structure of the solar system. Planets and the “leftovers” of formation—asteroids and comets—orbit our massive Sun. The story embraces the way the asteroid belt, the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud formed and their location in dramatically different parts of the solar system. It underscores the ongoing dynamism of the system, creating a memorable impression of bodies in motion in the playground of space.
Discover more about bodies in space frequently heard about but rarely understood. The story of asteroids, the largest rocks in space, will encompass their place in the solar system, in the asteroid belt orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter and the Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) that cross the orbits of Earth and Mars. There are between 1 and 2 million asteroids in the main asteroid belt larger than 1 km in diameter, and millions of smaller ones.
Scientists do not know comets as well as asteroids. We know from the rate of outgassing of comets that at most a few percent of the surface layer is ice of any sort. What lies below the crust is largely unknown. As comets orbit closer to the Sun, their inner ices gradually warm and form immense tails that can grow to a length of 100 million miles or more. The story of our developing understanding of comets begins with sightings recorded throughout history and the interpretations humans attributed to them for thousands of years as harbingers of catastrophic events. Today’s comet hunters and missions into space are deepening our understanding of the origins and morphology of comets as products of a dynamic process of gravity acting on bodies in motion.
Impacts and Risks
Three major impact stories from different periods of history illustrate the impacts and risks of comets, meteors and asteroids. Explore the 65 million-year-old crater from Chicxulub—the impact is thought to be responsible for killing most of the planet’s species including the dinosaurs; the 50,000-year-old Barringer Meteor Crater made by a nickel-iron meteorite roughly 50–60 meters across; and the 1908 Tunguska Event, the explosion of a small asteroid about five miles (roughly the cruising altitude of a modern jet airplane) above the surface of Siberia. Anchored by the stories of these three earth-shaking (literally!) events, this area of the exhibition interprets the energy of impacts and the concept that their incredible speed is what makes them so destructive for their size. Also explore risk and low probability/high consequence events, making comparisons between the risk of asteroid or comet impacts and the risk of more familiar natural disasters such as tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Nierman Challenger Learning Center
The Nierman Challenger Learning Center at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is a part of a growing network of centers worldwide that are being established by the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in memory of the crew of Space Shuttle Challenger.