A new exhibit at Norman's Sam Noble Museum teaches the difference between asteroids, meteors and comets 

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Have you ever caught yourself considering the potential consequences of a comet’s collision with earth? What about an asteroid or a meteor?

Look no further for the answers to this question and plenty of others than the Comets, Asteroids, Meteors: Great Balls of Fire! exhibit on display until Sept. 10 at Sam Noble Museum, 2401 Chautauqua Ave., in Norman.

“At the heart of it, what [this exhibit] does is differentiates between comets, asteroids and meteors,” Morgan Day, the museum’s PR and marketing officer, said. “A lot of the time, people don’t really know the difference between the three of those, so it really drives home those definitions and gives you real life examples of what they are.”

This is a traveling exhibit presented through the Space Science Institute National Center for Interactive Learning with funding from the National Science Foundation and NASA. It’s broken up into four areas for visitors to explore: origins, asteroids, comets and impact.

“We get a lot of exhibits here that are really geared towards kids,” Day said, “but with this one, you have a kid aspect where children are fascinated by what’s in the sky, and I think the same goes for adults too.”

This exhibit is approachable for any age group and demographic but will be of special interest to those who like to debunk the things they see on the silver screen.

“A particular piece of this really has to do with pop culture and the things we see when we go to the cinema and when we’re watching Netflix,” Day said.

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The exhibit takes examples from popular movies and TV shows and sets the record straight in regard to what would actually happen in the event of a collision between Earth and a hunk of iron, carbon or ice from our solar system.

“The thing that comes to mind for me is Gravity,” Day said. “I see a lot of stuff that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are going through, and you wonder, ‘Is that just movie magic? Are they just trying to tie things together for us in a pretty bow, or could that really happen?’”

One display has visitors watch a short Simpsons clip in which a meteor is heading straight for the town of Springfield. After watching the clip, visitors take what they learned about asteroids, meteors and comets from the rest of the exhibit to determine whether or not the town could have been saved in the way it was portrayed in the clip.

The exhibit explores other real-life aspects and also includes a display that shows visitors how a crater is made as well as one that enables users to enter their ZIP code to see what would happen if something were to strike where they live.

“We’re really focused on finding the exhibits where kids and adults alike can get hands on with these displays,” Day said. “Things get real when you start talking about if it were to happen right here, right now, whether it would be devastating for all of humankind or whether that object would be small enough to burn up in the atmosphere.”

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Overall, Day hopes that this exhibit will spark an interest in people to go out and learn more and believes that it’s helping shape our children’s futures. Day pays attention to what visitors write in the guestbook and was pleased to read one entry in particular.

“Somebody had written, ‘I’m going to become an astrophysicist,’ and it was written in such a way that you knew that child wasn’t in high school or college, but they were just young enough to be shaped by what they were seeing here,” she said. “I just think that’s really special, and that’s something we also keep in mind when we bring an exhibit. We want people to be inspired by them and to want to learn more.”

Sam Noble Museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free-$8. Visit samnoblemuseum.ou.edu.

Print headline: Amazing space, A new exhibit at Sam Noble Museum explores the science of comets, asteroids and meteors.

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