For teachers planning a student tour to New York City, one of the best choices for a truly educational experience is the American Museum of Natural History, located at Central Park West at 79th Street.
Among the many exhibits of the museum, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., are Dinosaurs Alive!, a large-format film narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Michael Douglas. The film shadows museum paleontologists in a hunt for dinosaur remains in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. The adventure includes the uncovering of evidence that the descendents of dinosaurs still walk (or fly) among us.
The 40-minute film, which includes footage from the museum, features the earliest dinosaurs of the Triassic Period and the creatures of the Cretaceous Period. Realistic computer-generated animation helps bring these ancient creatures to life.
Museum paleontologists Mike Novacek and Mark Norell travel with graduate students on an expedition to the Gobi Desert. They follow in the footsteps of museum scientist and adventurer Roy Chapman, believed to be the inspiration for the Indiana Jones character. Andrews and his team uncovered hundreds of dinosaur remains, including the first Velociraptor and dinosaur nests with eggs.
Another good reason for including the American Museum of Natural History in a student tour is the Cosmic Collisions, a space show narrated by award-winning actor, director, and producer Robert Redford.
This theater experience launches visitors on a thrilling trip through space and time to explore cosmic collisions, hypersonic impacts that drive the dynamic and continuing evolution of the universe.
The show includes visualizations based on cutting-edge research developed by museum astrophysicists, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and other international colleague. Cosmic Collisions shows the dramatic and explosive encounters that shaped our solar system, changed the course of life on Earth, and continue to transform the galaxy.
Viewers will witness the violent face of the Sun, imaged by NASA satellites, that produces enormous ejections of material, with the resulting subatomic clashes producing the eerie glow of the aurora borealis and the aurora australis.
Cosmic Collisions also shows the creation of the Moon some five billion years ago when a wandering planetoid struck Earth.
Other collisions depicted include the violent meeting of two stars at the edge of the galaxy and the future collision of the Milky Way galaxy with Earth's closest neighbor, the Andromeda spiral galaxy, a cosmic crash that scientists predict will produce a new giant elliptical galaxy billions of years from now.
Students and their teachers visiting the American Museum of Natural History will also be able to take in the display of a spectacular mineral specimen, a 1,000-pound stibnite with hundreds of sword-like, metallic blue-gray crystals sprouting from a rocky base. Stibnite (Sb2S3), a compound of the elements antimony and sulfur, occasionally forms nests of delicate, six-sided crystals, but examples this large and intricate are exceedingly rare.
The unique specimen on display was found by alert miners in an antimony mine in Jiangxi Province of southeastern China. Stibnite is most commonly pulverized and heated to extract the antimony and make flame retardants and engine bearings, so the fact that it survived is considered a miracle.
The museum's stibnite specimen, the largest on public display in the world, was likely formed some 130 million years ago when water heated by volcanic activity dissolved antimony and sulfur from surrounding rocks and flowed between layers of limestone, leaving a dense band of stibnite and occasional pockets containing long, elegant crystals. Complete stibnite crystals as long as the ones this specimen exhibits are rare - they are typically found broken because of their extreme fragility and the industrial nature of modern antimony mining.
Other highlights of any tour of the American Museum of Natural History are the habitat group dioramas that are located throughout its halls. Featuring precise depictions of geographical locations and the careful, anatomically correct mounting of specimens, the dioramas are windows onto a world of animals, their behavior, and their habitats. Many of the environments represented have been exploited or degraded, giving students and teachers taking in the Museum as part of a student tour the ability to travel not only across continents, but through time
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