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Going to Graduate School at the Museum

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For an extraordinary group of New York City students, going to class means passing a Neanderthal skeleton, a 94-foot-long model of a blue whale, and a family of brown bears — and that’s just on the first floor.

These are the 13 students now enrolled in the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History, which in 2006 became the only American museum—and the first museum in the Western Hemisphere—with the authority to grant the Ph.D. degree. In 2008, the Museum made history by enrolling its first class. Just last year, the New York State Board of Regents granted full institutional accreditation to the Richard Gilder Graduate School, a landmark decision that recognized the strength of the new program and the Museum’s long track record of training graduate students in partnership with leading institutions that include Columbia University, New York University, Cornell University, City University of New York, and Stony Brook University.

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Podcast: SciCafe: Reality is Broken

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Hundreds of millions of people globally — 174 million in the United States alone — regularly inhabit virtual worlds because they provide the rewards, challenges, and victories that are often lacking in everyday life.

In this podcast from a recent SciCafe, Jane McGonigal, who studies games that require and harness the power of collective intelligence, talked about how games can change and influence life in the real world.

The next SciCafe, “Know Your Roots,” takes place on March 2, 2011. Learn more about this popular after-hours series featuring cocktails and conversation about cutting-edge science topics.

The talk was recorded at the Museum on February 2, 2011.

Podcast: Download | RSS | iTunes (1 hour, 3 mins, 75 MB)

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Romance Under the Stars

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On Monday, February 14, astronomer Ted Williams will lead a romantic tour of the night sky as part of Romance Under the Stars, a special Valentine’s Day program that begins with a cocktail hour and concludes with the tour in the Hayden Planetarium. Williams recently answered a few questions about winter stargazing and shared his favorite constellation story.

Can you share a few tips for stargazing in February?

Although the nights are cold, sometimes the air can be the steadiest. February offers up some of the brightest stars of the year. A good variety of colors can be seen in those bright stars, even in the skies above New York. Due to the colder weather, consider looking at the winter sky with binoculars. You can easily pick out a few brighter star clusters in the winter sky with the assistance of low power binoculars.

Tags: Hayden Planetarium

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Revisiting Akeley’s Gorillas

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Each of the 28 extraordinary dioramas in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals offers visitors a chance to travel not just in space but in time. The views are of specific habitats at particular moments, painstakingly recreated from paintings, photographs, data, and specimens collected in the field by the explorer and taxidermist Carl Akeley and his team on expeditions in the 1920s.

Tags: Mammals

NASA’s Kepler Astronomer Geoff Marcy Discusses Latest Exoplanet Discoveries

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Astronomers associated with NASA’s Kepler observatory have announced the discovery of more than 1,200 new candidate exoplanets. Michael Shara, a curator in the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics, writes about the significance of the findings below.

Does life exist anywhere in the universe except on Earth?  “Star Trek” may have convinced much of the public that the universe is teeming with technological civilizations, but the correct answer is: We don’t know for certain if life–even bacterial life — exists anywhere except on Earth.  A critical challenge in answering this question is determining whether planets — especially Earth-like planets — orbit other stars.

The search for Earth-like planets has just taken a giant leap forward, thanks in part to the tireless work of the dozens of astronomers associated with NASA’s Kepler observatory.  Their quest to find exoplanets — planets orbiting stars other than our Sun — has been a stunning success.  It is now certain that planets are as common stars.

Fifteen years ago the University of California, Berkeley’s Geoff Marcy and a handful of colleagues began an almost quixotic quest for exoplanets.  Dozens, and then hundreds of astronomers joined the quest after Geneva’s Michel Mayor, Marcy, and their colleagues began reporting the first discoveries.  Herculean efforts led to the cataloguing of 500 exoplanets by the end of 2010.  Now the Kepler team has announced the discovery of more than 1,200 new candidate exoplanets, and enough details about each of these new worlds to begin to draw far-reaching conclusions about abodes for life in the universe.

Tags: Astronomy Live!, Exoplanets, NASA, Rose Center for Earth and Space, Space Exploration

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