A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….

We all know what a Solar System is, right? It’s a collection of planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and other smaller bits (all held together by the gravity between them) that circles around a star — in our case, the Sun — that stands at the center of the whole thing. So, a solar system is where we live. But where does our solar system “live”? What happens when we zoom out and see the effect of gravity at a much larger level?

Our solar system and at least 100 billion other star systems are part of a larger grouping, also held together by the gravity between them, called a GALAXY. And just like the planets of our solar system tend to orbit in a flattened disk or plane around the sun, all the billions of stars that make up our Galaxy orbit the center in a highly flattened disk. In fact, our galaxy is pretty much as flat as a pancake; it’s disk is 1,000 times longer across from side to side than it is thick from top to bottom! If we could zoom out from our galaxy, the “Milky Way,” and see it from afar, it would look like a huge pinwheel or whirlpool of stars, which is why ours and many others are called SPIRAL GALAXIES.

There are something like 100 billion visible-to-us galaxies in the universe. When we look at them, each one is quite literally “a galaxy far, far away.” They are so far away that the light we see from them, traveling at a speed of nearly 6 trillion miles per year, takes millions of years to reach us. Because of that, we see each galaxy “a long, long time ago” — not as it is today, but as it was when its light first started the journey through space to get to us.

For the first time ever, the GSC now has a powerful new telescope which, outfitted with a sensitive video camera, lets us view live, real-time images of distant galaxies from right outside our front doors! Watch for us to offer public viewings in the months ahead. In the meantime, here are are some actual views of galaxies with our new scope…

May the Force be with you.

Happy Earth Day

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Photo courtesy of NASA.gov

1969 was our first walk on the moon with the Apollo 11 mission and the first chance for us to see Earth as a big blue planet from space. At the same time, global powers were struggling in the Vietnam War and the environment was suffering, with large cars driving on leaded gas and corporate progress (without a lot of the regulation we take for granted). After a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California this same year, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson spearheaded the idea of a national teach-in about the environment, set for April 22, 1970. This quickly became a bipartisan success story; thus, Earth Day was born. Earth Day 1970 gave voice to an emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns on the front page.

By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.

Today, Earth Day is the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year, a day of action that changes human behavior and provokes policy changes.

The fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency as the ravages of climate change become more evident every day. We invite you to be a part of Earth Day by taking steps, big or small, on a personal or professional level. We’ve only got one Earth – how are you protecting its future?

Find your local Earth Day event here.

 

GSC Volunteer Receives 2019 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award

by Kelli Crawford, Volunteer Coordinator and Curator of Collections

In partnership with The North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, The Volunteer Center of Greensboro has presented the 2019 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award to 10 recipients from Guilford County. The Greensboro Science Center is thrilled to announce that longtime volunteer Linda Kendzierski is among those honored. This award recognizes citizens who have shown concern and compassion for their neighbors by making a significant contribution to their community through volunteer service. The award was created in the Office of the Governor in 1979.

Linda has been a volunteer at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC) since 2011. When people talk about volunteer impact, they usually are quick to sum it up in terms of the hours they dedicate to their service. While the 3,000 hours Linda has selflessly served at the GSC are no small feat, they pale in comparison to what she has done during that time. Linda is a champion for the GSC, for conservation and for volunteerism.

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The GSC team surprised Linda with news of her award on April 1.

When I first started at the GSC as an intern seven years ago, I referred to Linda as a social butterfly. She had so much enthusiasm and energy when she joined the program, but there wasn’t an outlet for it just yet. Enter me, a young new volunteer coordinator who didn’t know what she was getting herself into. Volunteers like Linda presented an opportunity, because they wanted to do so much (and I wanted to give them the ability to do more), but I knew I couldn’t do it overnight. Through many conversations over the years, Linda has been a sounding board. She has been a source of good ideas and opinions as well as the heartbeat of our volunteer program. If I need to know how a change is being perceived by our volunteers, I always know I can go to her. She has helped shape our program. Along the way, she has helped shape me into the volunteer coordinator I am today.

As our social butterfly, Linda connects people like nobody else can. She is good at breaking down barriers that can sometimes exist between staff and volunteers. She is well-known by her peers and our staff. Part of that is because of how often she volunteers, but it is also because Linda is never afraid to ask a question nor reach out if she needs something. She always introduces herself to her fellow volunteers and isn’t stingy about sharing her email address. When we have events coming up, Linda likes to take the lead to organize them. From National Zoo Keeper Week celebrations to a surprise for our housekeeping staff, holiday social potlucks, birthday parties for staff members… you name it, Linda has planned it. She loves to bring people together.  

Linda is always taking care of someone – a family member, a friend, a foster animal that somehow finds a permanent home with her. She is such a caring person and always wants the best for those around her. It is what makes her such an amazing mentor for volunteers who are new to the GSC – she makes them feel at ease. Linda is a natural educator. Her genuine love for our animals and for the GSC is clear in every interaction she has with our guests. The fact that she has volunteered in almost every volunteer program we offer makes her an asset here. It is truly inspiring to watch Linda “in her element”, and we know our mission is in good hands when Linda is on shift. Linda loves her behind-the-scenes time with our animal staff, but she also values the impact she can make in her daily conversations with our guests. What a wonderful example for new volunteers to follow!

For all of these reasons, when Linda came to us a few years ago and sheepishly asked if the GSC would agree to host a business meeting for about 20 zoo and aquarium volunteers, the answer was an easy one. Within a matter of hours, I was able to let her know that our management team had given us the thumbs up to pursue it. Shortly thereafter, the request morphed into hosting a regional conference for almost 200 people. Again, the answer was “yes.” Our management team would not have agreed had Linda not proven herself to be such a talented and amazingly organized volunteer. We had never hosted a conference of this size before, but we knew Linda could handle this responsibility.

What did the conference entail? During the multi-year planning process, Linda was an absolute rockstar. Amping up her drive, she told me that she had finally found was she was looking for. The experience helped her understand more of the behind-the-scenes business logistics that volunteering with us in an animal capacity hadn’t always given her. She reached out to multiple facilities to arrange pre- and post-conference tours, negotiated tour bus contracts, hotel contracts, vendors agreements, speaker details, volunteer-led sessions, and more. It was a truly impressive undertaking.

The impact of Linda’s efforts was especially impressive. In October of 2017, the GSC hosted the Regional Conference for the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents and Volunteers (AZADV). The seven-day conference was attended by 266 volunteers representing 58 AZA facilities. The conference raised $10,069 for the Silvery Gibbon Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to save gibbons and their habitat. Linda received a standing ovation from her peers at the closing banquet.

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Linda received a standing ovation at the AZADV closing banquet.

Linda has proven that she is an amazing ambassador for the GSC. Beyond that, she is an ambassador for volunteers. She truly believes that no volunteer is “just” a volunteer. Their efforts are to be valued and they have much to share with one another. Through her work with AZADV, Linda is championing this cause. The GSC, our community and Linda’s fellow volunteers are so lucky to have her driving energy and determination behind them. Linda is now the Director of Public Relations for AZADV, and we are excited to see what she does in that role. It is the perfect fit for such a dedicated, accomplished volunteer as she!

All those recognized will soon receive a certificate with an official Governor’s Office seal, an original signature from Governor Roy Cooper, plus a gold pin with the inscription: North Carolina Outstanding Volunteer.

Conservation Creation: April Showers

In some way or another, we are all connected by water. Water is not only necessary for our survival, it makes our lives better in countless ways! To name just a few examples, water is used for our plumbing systems, growing the plants that become our food, and keeping our boats afloat so that they can transport goods all over the world. We even use water for recreation: when we kayak, swim or visit water parks! It’s safe to say that water is one of our most important resources.

So, how does water connect all of us? Through the water cycle! When the Earth heats up, water evaporates and begins to collect in the clouds. Once the evaporated water begins to cool, droplets form and return to Earth in the form of precipitation (think rain or snow). You can learn more about precipitation and weather in the GSC’s Weather Gallery on your next visit!

To see what the water cycle looks like in action, follow the steps below for this month’s Conservation Creation activity, Storm in a Cup.

What you’ll need: A glass, a small container, blue food coloring, an eyedropper, shaving cream, and water

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Step 1: Fill the glass with water, leaving about 1-2 inches at the top for the “cloud”. In the small container, mix water and blue food coloring. The resulting blue water will be your “rain”.

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Step 2: Add shaving cream to the glass of water, filling to the rim. This will form the “cloud”.

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Step 3: Use the eyedropper to drop blue water into the center of your cloud. It may take a while for the rain to break through the shaving cream, but once it does, your cup will resemble a storm.

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For an additional lesson, see how long it takes for all of the water in the cup to turn blue. This can serve as a model for pollution!

Since all water is connected through the water cycle, it’s important for us to do all that we can to keep our water clean. You can learn more about how to get involved in keeping our water clean through the City of Greensboro Water Resources website!

Volunteer Spotlight – Douglas L.

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As a graduate of one of our most recent Aquarium Docent classes, Douglas L. has become one of the Greensboro Science Center’s most frequent volunteers. “I have been a Docent at the Greensboro Science Center since May 2018. I volunteer exclusively in the Wiseman Aquarium, especially as a monitor for the Touch Tank. Generally, I try to work 10 shifts monthly and plan to pursue Tier 2 training in early 2019,” Douglas says. Individuals who are interested in our advanced programs, like the Tier 2 program, must be active Docents who have volunteered with either our Aquarium or Zoo Docent programs for at least six months, must exceed their shift minimums, and must apply and interview for a specific program before being chosen.

Although he’s stepped away from his career in the medical field, Douglas’s passion for learning and helping others remains. He says, “As a relatively recently retired physician, I was in search of a meaningful use for my otherwise newly empty hours. The ability to interact with the public in an instructional capacity while broadening my own education in aquatic biology attracted me to the GSC.” From very early on, Volunteer Staff noticed just how insightful and knowledgeable Douglas is and learned that his background has always involved science in one way or another. Douglas adds, “Prior to medical school I had majored in biology during college. Additionally I had just completed a master’s degree in bioethics in 2017, and saw the opportunity to use that newly acquired education via implementation of ethical principles of animal handling and environmental responsibility.”

When asked to name a meaningful memory he has from the GSC, Douglas mentioned, “As a parent of a now young man, observing children’s exuberant reactions to the animals brings back many happy memories of my son’s love for the Science Center. (He once served as a team member, and later coach for First Lego League here.)” This is a wonderfully common trend our Volunteer Staff is noticing with our adult volunteers: those who have children that grew up coming to the GSC want to give back to younger generations. And in many cases their children were, or are currently, volunteers themselves!

Douglas may be one of our newer Aquarium Docents, but he hit the ground running with his ambition and passion. He says “I look forward to the opportunity to further broaden my experience here as a Tier 2 Docent by working behind the scenes more directly with the aquarists and their marine charges. I am very proud of the GSC and grateful to have a small role in the delivery of public education and inspiration through volunteerism.”

Conservation Creation: Crafting Corals

Coral reefs are some of our planet’s most beautiful and vital ecosystems. Created by corals, reef systems provide both food and shelter to a large variety of animals. These amazing animals sustain around 25% of ocean life, even though they only make up about 1% of the ocean. Not only are animals able to live in the reefs, but the algae that grows on the corals is an important food source for several different organisms. Corals and algae are in what we call a symbiotic relationship – meaning they both benefit from each other. Corals provide algae with a place to grow; at the same time, corals gain energy through the algae’s photosynthesis.

So what are corals? Corals are tiny animals, called polyps, that group together to form a larger structure. Once an initial skeletal structure is formed, tissue can begin to grow. Once tissue has formed, some corals maintain a rigid appearance (like staghorn coral), while other corals are soft (like waving hand coral). As you could imagine, the appearance and traits of corals are incredibly diverse. As unique as corals are, they all face similar issues in the ocean. Corals have very specific environments that they inhabit. These environments are negatively affected by climate change, but we can help corals by reducing our carbon footprint and fighting ocean pollution.

 

Now, for our DIY activity: here’s how you can craft a coral reef of your own!

What you’ll need: Coffee filters, pipe cleaners, bowls, water, food coloring

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Step 1: Fill your bowls with about an inch of water and food coloring. You can have as many bowls and colors as you would like! Just remember that more food coloring = brighter colors.

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Step 2: Place your coffee filters upside down in the water. Be sure to allow the color to travel throughout the whole filter. (For younger kids, this can be a great opportunity to teach them about color mixing!) Once the color has made its way through the whole filter, set filters aside to dry overnight. Low on time? This process can be sped up with the help of a blow dryer.

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Step 3: Stack 2-4 coffee filters together, then push a pipe cleaner through the center. You will want to twist the end of the pipe cleaner into a small ball to keep the filters from sliding off. This will serve as the center of your coral.

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Step 4: Pinch the bottom of the filters around the pipe cleaner, then wrap the pipe cleaner around the pinched section; this keeps the coral together.

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Step 5: Repeat the process to create as many corals as you would like! In this way, you can create your own reef! Feel free to get even more creative by adding toy animals or whatever else you’d like to see in your reef. For an added challenge, research different types of corals and animals living together in the ocean and try to build your reef based off of that environment!

Conservation Creation: Jelly Jamboree

Without a doubt, jellies are one of Earth’s strangest animals. They have neither hearts nor brains but have managed to survive on our planet for over 500 million years! Often called jellyfish, they’re not actually fish – instead, they make up their own group of incredibly diverse animals. For example, the smallest jelly, the Irukanji, only grows to about the size of a thumbtack, while the Lion’s Mane Jelly can reach lengths of over 100 feet! Some jellies use stinging for defense and hunting, others can clone themselves, and others still can glow in the dark.

So, what do these diverse animals actually have in common? A jelly’s body consists of a bell (the round top of the jelly), a nerve net (instead of a brain), and a mouth organ.

At the Greensboro Science Center, we house three distinct species of jellies:

moon jelly 01Moon Jellies – typically found in Japan, they’re an aquarium favorite, primarily due to their hardiness and robust lifespan of approximately 12 months. Moon Jellies sting using the small, tentacle-like structures surrounding their bell. However, the Moon Jelly’s sting is so mild that most humans wouldn’t even realize it if they’d been stung. The long, thin structures that extend from the bell of the jelly, called oral arms, move foods such as brine shrimp and small planktons to the Moon Jelly’s central mouth.

blubber-jelly_3770.jpgBlubber Jellies – native to the Indo-Pacific regions and coastal Australia, these jellies have a unique way of acquiring their food. They ram their bodies into the sand to stir up tiny crustaceans and plankton to catch in their oral arms, which contain stinging cells and also act as a mouth. Tiny spaces along the arms process the food (rather than moving it to a central mouth, like the oral arms of Moon Jellies do). Blubbers come in three different color varieties – white, blue and maroon – and have a lifespan of around 10 months.

cassiopea-or-upside-down-jellyfish-shutterstock_173059469.jpgUpside Down Jellies – found in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea, these jellies are one of the world’s most unique jellies. They lay on their bells with oral arms pointing upwards towards the sunlight. Bacteria on the oral arms allow these animals to gain energy through photosynthesis… just like plants do! Upsides Down Jellies also eat plankton and small fish, which is warm, sunny waters make for a perfect environment for them to thrive.

At first glance, jellies may not seem to be up to much, but they’re actually doing a lot of good for our oceans! Not only do they provide a food source for many of our favorite animals, but they also help to stir the ocean, keeping it healthy. Unfortunately, climate change and plastic pollution are working against these amazing animals. If you’d like to help jellies and the animals that rely upon them, reduce your plastic usage and your carbon footprint. A couple of easy ways to do this? Switch from single-use plastic straws and bags to reusable options, and buy more local produce and products when available.

And now, it’s DIY time! Here’s how to make your own jelly slime:

DSC_5090For this activity, you’ll need:

– 1 bottle (4 oz) of Elmer’s school glue

– ½ teaspoon Borax (found in the laundry detergent aisle)

– Food coloring

– Plastic wrap

-2 bowls and 2 spoons

-1 cup of warm water

DSC_5093Step 1: Pour all of the glue into a bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_5100Step 2: Fill the empty glue bottle with warm water, then add it to the glue in the bowl and stir.

 

 

 

 

DSC_5101Step 3: Add the food coloring and mix well.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_5104Step 4: In a separate bowl, mix the Borax with ½ cup of warm water until the Borax is dissolved.

 

 

 

 

Step 5: Slowly add the Borax solution to your glue mixture.

DSC_5114Step 6: Stir and knead the mixture until you have a bowl of slime!
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DSC_5124To store, place your slime in the middle of a square of plastic wrap. Twist the wrap around the slime, then add a small rubber band or paper clip to keep this in place. Your slime will last about two weeks.

DSC_5126 (1)FUN FACT: After your slime is wrapped up, gently touch the top; it’ll feel very similar to a real jelly!

During the month of November, join us on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 and 2:30 in SciPlay Bay for a Jelly Jamboree!

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