AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 1. HAD I: Exhibiting the History of Astronomy
Historical, Oral, Sunday, May 30, 1999, 1:00-5:30pm, Adler Planetarium

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[1.01] Presenting Cosmology (and its history) to the Public

C.B. Stephenson (Adler Planetarium \& Astronomy Museum)

The twofold theme of this session is particularly appropriate to the host institution. The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum is both a science museum, with research astronomers on staff whose mission is to present current astronomy to the public; and a center for the history of astronomy, with the finest collection of historic instruments of astronomy to be found in the Americas. At times even an individual exhibition at the Adler captures both sides of this story. This paper is about the process of developing such an exhibition, currently installed right down the hall from where the HAD is meeting, entitled “From the Night Sky to the Big Bang.” Night Sky to Big Bang begins as a History of Cosmology exhibition. In order to fairly present medieval cosmology, it must try to challenge the absurd idea, indoctrinated into all of us in grade school, that the Earth beneath our feet rotates on its axis and flies through space. Later sections contain a fairly large dose of current cosmology, and must turn around and challenge the common-sense notions that have been disproved by 20th-century physics. Other themes are stirred into the pot as well. This is a turn-of-the-millennium exhibition, and hence must at least nod toward the utterly arbitrary notion that the year 2000 is somehow significant. It is (therefore) a temporary exhibition, with a correspondingly limited budget. It was developed in cooperation with other Chicago-area astronomical institutions, and has experienced the corresponding opportunities and perils. The Night Sky exhibition, moreover, is being exploited as a prototyping gallery for future Adler exhibits, some in the history of astronomy and others in cosmology.

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