July 20, 2011
Calling all Martians from across the galaxy: celebrate Mars Day this Friday at the National Air and Space Museum. The annual event pays homage to the red planet with a variety of fun and educational activities for extraterrestrials and humans alike.
Perhaps no other planet in our solar system is surrounded with as much mystery as Mars, so we have put together a list of facts to help you prepare for the party:
1. Mars features the largest volcano in the solar system. Olympus Mons is located in the Tharsis Montes region, which is the largest volcanic region on Mars, and is approximately 2,485 miles across. Volcanoes in the Tharsis region are up to 100 times larger than those anywhere on Earth.
2. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, and both are shaped like potatoes. Named after the mythological sons of Ares, the Greek counterpart of the Roman god, Mars, the moons are among the smallest in the solar system. Because Phobos is spiraling inward and coming 3 feet 2 inches closer to Mars each century, it will either crash into Mars or break up and form a ring in about 50 million years.
3. Scientists have found proof of water on Mars. NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft found water in the form of ice below the surface of the planet. Due to the planet’s lack of an atmosphere, water simply cannot exist for very long. Channels can be found all over the planet where running water used to be.
4. Mars appears red because its surface is consists of iron-rich minerals that oxidize. That dust is kicked up into the atmosphere and gives the planet its reddish hue. Discovered in ancient times, both the Romans and Egyptians named the planet because of its color. Mars was the name used by the Romans for their god of war because of the planet’s bloodlike color. The Egyptians named the planet “Her Desher,” which means “the red one.”
5. The annual event marks the July 20, 1976 landing of Viking 1, the first spacecraft to operate on Mars. Since the first landing, many missions to Mars have failed for a variety of reasons leaving some to speculate that a “Mars Triangle”—similar to the “Bermuda Triangle”—exists.
Check out the Mars Day celebration on this Friday, July 22 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the National Air and Space Museum where NASA will announce the landing site for their next Mars rover, and where you can see an actual piece of Mars!
April 12, 2011
The space shuttle that has flown more missions than any other is coming to the Smithsonian.
Announced just moments ago, Discovery will be coming to the National Air and Space Museum to be preserved in the collections with the 1903 Wright Flyer, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 5B Vega and the Spirit of St. Louis. Before Discovery can kick off its shoes and relax in space shuttle retirement, scientists must first inspect the aircraft and gather valuable information from its many trips into space. It may take months before Discovery is ready to go from highly dependable space shuttle to museum exhibit.
“An acquisition of this importance happens rarely in the life of a museum,” says Air and Space curator Dr. Valerie Neal in an email interview. “It is an honor and privilege to welcome Discovery into the national collection, where it will be displayed, preserved, and cared for forever.”
Discovery accomplished numerous milestones during its 27-year career and 365 total days in space. It was flown by the first African-American commander, Frederick Gregory in 1989, as well as piloted by the first female spacecraft pilot, Eileen Collins in 1995. The space shuttle also served as a return-to-flight vehicle after the Challenger (1988) and Columbia (2005) tragedies.
The design of the Discovery was unique for its time and made these achievements in space travel possible.
“The shuttle orbiters were the first vehicles to launch into space like a rocket, return on wings and wheels to land like an aircraft, and fly over and over again,” says Dr. Neal. “They made an entirely new style of spaceflight possible and greatly expanded the scope of human activity in space.”
From its design, history and crowning achievements, Discovery will make a great addition to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. Be sure to check back with Around the Mall for future updates on when you will be able to see Discovery in person. In the meantime, check out the video below of Dr. Neal as she highlights Enterprise and its impact on manned space flights.
March 23, 2011
College athletics feature some of the most unusual mascots in all of American sports. Take the teams in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament for example. Mascots included the Peacocks (St. Peter’s), Sycamores (Indiana State), Zips (Akron) and Gauchos (University of California, Santa Barbara). With the Sweet 16 upon us and all our brackets in complete disarray, the Around the Mall crew combed through those remaining mascots with a Smithsonian connection.
1. San Diego State Aztecs
The Aztecs are relative newcomers to the tournament but the men from the land of 70 and sunny are into their first Sweet 16 in team history. For casual fans filling out their brackets the Aztecs were a mystery, just like the crystal skull sent to the Smithsonian Institution in 1992. An anonymous letter accompanied the skull stating it was from the Aztec empire. Even though this myth preceded the Indiana Jones film, Natural History Museum anthropologist Jane Walsh took it upon herself to debunk the anonymous letter when she discovered the skull was made with modern tools.
2. Richmond Spiders
One of two teams from the city of Richmond left in the tournament—the other being Virginia Commonwealth University—the Spiders are proud of their unique mascot; the only school who feature the eight-legged arachnid on their uniforms. The Smithsonian prefers to keep their spiders behind glass but there are a couple places to get up close and personal with them. The National Zoo’s Invertebrate Exhibit and the Natural History Museum where you can watch a live tarantula feeding.
3. Connecticut Huskies
Connecticut, more commonly known as UConn, can credit their mascot to the actual Yukon where huskies are native. Next door to the Yukon is Alaska where mail carrier Ed Biederman used a dog sled to deliver mail (on display at the National Postal Museum) along the 160-mile route between Circle and Eagle, Alaska.
4. Florida Gators
When you create Gatorade, you kind of have to be good at sports. The Gators are the last team to win back-to-back national championships and they even made their typical mascot special by taking the official state reptile and dressing it in a bright orange turtleneck sweater. The National Zoo’s alligator isn’t nearly as fashionable, but fascinating, nonetheless.
5. Butler Bulldogs
Fresh off of last year’s run to the national championship game—where they lost to Duke—the Butler Bulldogs are poised to make another run down the road to the Final Four. Another bulldog that is all to familiar with roads is Bud the bulldog whose goggles are currently on display in the American History Museum. Bud accompanied H. Nelson Jackson and mechanic Sewall Crocker in 1903 as they made the first transcontinental automobile trip. Jackson acquired Bud in Idaho and as they traveled Jackson bought goggles so the dust from the rugged western terrain wouldn’t irritate Bud’s eyes.
That’s our list. Are there other mascots left in the tournament with a Smithsonian connection? Let us known in the comments.
March 14, 2011
The Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park needs your help in naming its newest anteater.
Polls are currently open on the Zoo’s web site and you can vote for your favorite name until noon on March 28. Once the polls close, the top three vote-getters will move to round two, where things get interesting. Maripi, the anteater cub’s mom, will then choose the winning name of her pup. How does a giant anteater pick a name for her cub exactly? Well, the three top names will be coupled with different enrichment objects (meaning things that an anteater finds interesting) and placed in the anteater yard. Maripi will be let loose in the yard and whichever object/name she goes to first will become her pup’s new name.
There are a total of five names selected by staff members and each have a specific meaning they felt would fit this particular anteater or the species in general. The giant anteater species can be found in the wild from Central and South American. This particular anteater cub has the reputation of being confident and tough. “During one of his first forays into the yard he was spotted off Maripi’s back, checking out all the new and exciting scents,” said Marie Magnuson, an animal keeper at the National Zoo.
Listed below are the possible names for the anteater cub and why that name was selected. After you’re done “aww-ing” at the photo, head over to the Zoo’s site and vote!
Pablo: One of the most popular boys’ names in South America, this would suit the playful pup perfectly. Famous Pablos include artist Pablo Picasso and movie director Pablo Ferro.
Termito: Meaning “termite.” An anteater’s diet is heavily based on ants and termites. Anteaters use their keen sense of smell to detect termite mounds and anthills and tear them open with their strong claws. They gather their prey using a two-foot-long tongue covered with very sticky saliva.
Demetrio: Meaning “of the earth.” Anteaters live in grassland savannas, swamps, humid forests and wetlands. Almost everything they eat is “of the earth.” In addition to ants and termites, giant anteaters also eat ripe fruit that has fallen from the trees and the eggs of ground-nesting birds.
Fausto: Meaning “lucky.” This anteater pup had somewhat of a rocky start, and his survival is due to strength and luck. Just hours after he was born, keepers found the baby outside of the nest box with a low body temperature while his mother was asleep in the nest. The newborn was taken to the Zoo’s vet hospital, where he received a complete medical evaluation that included a controlled raise of his body temperature. Luckily, he rebounded quickly with the aid of keepers and veterinarians and was soon reunited with his mother where he continues to thrive.
Valerio: Meaning “to be healthy or strong.” This anteater is one tough guy. He and his mother have settled into a nice routine of eating, sleeping and going out in the yard when it is warm. He continues to grow as expected and is right on target for his age in growth and health.
February 15, 2011
Towering over viewers at an astonishing 107 inches, Viola Frey’s Lady in Blue and Yellow Dress commands your attention.
Currently on view at the Renwick Gallery, Lady in Blue and Yellow Dress exemplifies what made Frey—who died in 2004 at the age of 70—unique as an artist. She was a classic artist who worked in many mediums—painting, drawing, bronze and photography—but she is best known for her monumental scale ceramic sculptures. “They’re tour de force in the field of ceramics,” says Fern Bleckner, the Renwick Gallery’s deputy chief for operations.
Frey studied at the California College of the Arts in Oakland with the abstract expressionist artist Richard Diebenkorn, who had a major influence on her work. As an adult she would frequent flea markets—a trait she picked up as a child from her family—and collect random objects such as Japanese porcelain figurines. “She combed the Alameda flea market looking for things that spoke to her,” said Bleckner. “This very much was an integral part of her working process.” Frey deliberately reconfigured these diminutive objects and “giganticized” (her word) them up into a sculpture that depicted an archetypal “Every man” or “Every woman.” In her large pieces, Frey frequently explored the themes of control and power.
“She’s thinking of people and their place in time and history and their culture,” says Bleckner. “She’s looking at the average every day man in our time and how he fits in and what does it mean for the individual.”
While Frey may have been trying to capture ordinary people living their lives, there are noticeable instances where Frey chose to let her artistic expression run wild. For instance, one hand is larger than the other in Lady in Blue and Yellow Dress. According to Bleckner, this exaggeration was deliberate and is a reference to historic sculptures. It’s an indication of showing power. The face is also not structured like a normal face. “It is more cubist in its depiction,” said Bleckner.
With monumental scale, exaggerated features, a forward leaning stance, and a free form spontaneous painting technique, Frey’s work has the uncanny ability to turn the viewer into the figurine. To learn more about Frey and her work stop by the Renwick Gallery February 16 at 12 p.m. for a free gallery talk led by Bleckner.
Updated: This post was updated to include some additional information from curator Fern Bleckner.