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Outside the Circle

Museum of Nature Opens in Dallas

How would you fare against a monstrous Tyrannosaurus Rex or a ferocious mountain lion? Would weapons like foul smells, tentacles, or poisonous spray protect you? What would it be like to soar above the clouds like a bird in flight? How exactly are volcanoes formed? A brand new museum, opening in Dallas, Texas, will answer all of those questions and many more.

Set to open on Saturday, Dec. 8, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science will feature a high-resolution video tent that allows for a personal experience with each of the planets as well as a history of cosmology. Three-dimensional glasses allow participants to stand right beside a realistic mountain. In the engineering hall, circuits can be created with diodes, transistors, and switches, among other things.

The museum will also boast an impressive mineral crystal display. Among the collection is a 1.5-ton geode. Visitors will be able to use computer screens to sort gems into categories based on their properties or characteristics. Also on display will be human cadaver slices that are mounted under glass, an exhibit where participants can use their brain signals to make a table-tennis ball fly across a table, robots that can be programmed to move through mazes, and a 55-foot long “running wall” that shows a cheetah, Tyrannosaurus Rex, or certain athletes running.

Another interactive opportunity for museum-goers is the ability to change the way the wind currents move over a virtual ocean. They can even learn information about the history of oil mining in Texas, including examples of the drill bits used in hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.”

The 10-story structure housing these exhibits is characterized by large concrete cubes that make up the outer walls. Transparent portions jut out from the sides of the building, one of them containing an escalator that is 54 feet long. All of these features, along with a sharp gouge in the middle of the building, cost approximately $185 million, according to the New York Times.

The building was designed by Thom Mayne from the firm Morphosis Architects. It boasts 180,000 square feet taken up by 11 exhibition halls, one of them a children’s museum. In these exhibition halls, there will be information, photos, and activities relating to space, fossils, birds, geology, weather, ecology, health, engineering, and much more.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is one in a long line of Dallas museums. The Dallas Museum of Natural History was created in 1936, and combined with two other institutions, the Science Place and the Dallas Children’s Museum, in 2006. The museum’s name arose from Ross and Margot Perot, whose children donated $50 million towards its production.


2012 Heat Means Dangerous Weather is Coming

This year has been recognized as one of the ten warmest years in 160 years of record keeping. The past few years have gotten continuously warmer, which United Nations meteorologists suggest greatly increases the danger of extreme weather.

Michel Jarraud, head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at the UN, gave a provisional assessment of climate change at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar. In his speech, he spoke about the implications of the global warming, saying, “[The increasing temperature] confirms the trend towards a warmer planet.” Jarraud continued, “Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records.”

Many experts became concerned earlier in the summer when the 2012 melting rate of the Arctic ice surpassed 2011’s rate, as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to the New York Times, by September 2012, Arctic ice was at its lowest levels ever recorded. Jarraud commented, “The ice will reform in the winter, but will be thinner than before and more vulnerable to further melting. The trend is not only continuing, but accelerating. The more it melts, the faster it will melt.”

According to Jarraud, the excess melting ice has increased the sea levels by approximately eight inches in the past ten years. Higher sea levels lead to an increased chance of extreme weather conditions. The UN speculates that the destruction that Hurricane Sandy caused in New York would not have been nearly as traumatic if sea levels had been lower.

According to the WMO, temperatures from January to October 2012 have been an average of 0.81 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average temperatures from 1961 to 1990. Record temperatures have also been found in Greenland, Siberia, and central China. Many other areas, including the United States and parts of Europe, Russia, and China, have experienced severe droughts. Conversely, severe flooding was seen in portions of Africa.


Some States Increase School Hours

Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee announced Monday that they are joining an initiative that plans to add at least 300 hours of school time starting in 2013. The goal of the initiative is to use the increased school hours to increase the chance of student success in order to make United States schools more competitive.

The pilot program will last three years and affect nearly 20,000 students in 40 schools, according to Fox News. The initiative hopes to grow to include schools that serve low income communities. It is yet undecided as to how the hours will be added. Administrators of the participating schools are talking to their districts, parents, and teachers to come up with the best plan. School hours could be added to days, more school days could be added to the year, or a combination of both.

The cost to put the initiative into action will be covered by a combination of federal, state, and district funds. The Ford Foundation and the National Center of Time and Learning also plan to help finance it. Education officials believe that more classroom time will allow students to have a more well-rounded curriculum that does not cut out arts and music. More hours also means more opportunities for students who need extra help to receive it, and for chances to support critical math and science skills.

Education Secretary Arnie Duncan said in an interview, “Whether educators have more time to enrich instruction, or students have more time to learn how to play an instrument and write computer code, adding meaningful in-school hours is a critical investment that better prepares children to be successful in the 21st century.” Accompanying this initiative is student testing, teacher evaluations, charter schools, and voucher programs, all of which aim to better the education of tomorrow’s youth.


NASA Finds Ice on Mercury

Scientists working with NASA’s Messenger spacecraft reported on Thursday that Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, possesses between 100 billion and one trillion tons of ice. Sean C. Solomon, the principal investigator for Messenger, reported that there was enough ice on Mercury to cover Washington D.C. in a block of ice two and a half miles deep.

The ice discovery was surprising due to the fact that temperatures on Mercury can reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit. However, deep inside craters at the planet’s poles, temperatures can drop as low as -370 degrees. The ice, according to the New York Times, could be interesting for future robotic landings or possibly even future astronauts.

Messenger settled into orbit around Mercury in March 2011. Its primary mission was to count neutrons that fly off of the planet. When Messenger orbited over areas that had ice, the number of neutrons dropped, which sparked curiosity. The composition of the ice is almost entirely water, meaning that it formed on the planet within the last few tens of millions of years.

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