Celebrate Planets Near and Far This April

Learn more about the diversity of life on Earth, missions to Mars and much more this month at the National Museum of Natural History

A - Elizabeth Cottrell - EarthRise_Apollo8_CreditNASA.jpeg
Apollo 8 pilot Bill Anders took this iconic photo of Earth from lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968. NASA

With spring in full swing and Earth Day on the horizon, join the National Museum of Natural History this month to appreciate our unique planet’s biodiversity — including everything from bioluminescent sea creatures to amphibians! Visitors can also learn about ongoing efforts to explore Earth’s planetary neighbors directly from an astronaut.

Spend an evening learning about the mental strength it takes to go to Mars
April 11, 6:30 p.m. ET

The film ‘Space: The Longest Goodbye’ follows several astronauts as they grapple with the tension between their dream of reaching new frontiers and their basic human need to stay connected to home. NASA/Bill Ingalls

As NASA prepares to send humans to Mars for the very first time in the next decade, every single step of the ongoing operation is being carefully planned. Every last detail, from tiny screws to lines of computer code, is being optimized to ensure the success of this mission. However, there’s one aspect of the mission that can’t be as carefully fine-tuned: the astronauts themselves.

Mars is so far away from Earth that the astronauts will be completely shut off from the rest of humanity and unable to communicate in real-time, experiencing a level of isolation that no human has ever experienced before. The mental toll of this isolation is a challenge for these astronauts, and one that a NASA psychologist is trying to combat.

Filmmaker Ido Mizrahy’s documentary Space: The Longest Goodbye follows NASA psychologist Al Holland as he helps prepare astronauts for the most arduous mission of their lives. Featuring former astronaut and museum board member Cady Coleman, the documentary follows Holland, Coleman and other astronauts as they grapple with the prospect of being separated from their loved ones and the rest of the world for the sake of science.

Join Mizrahy, Coleman and museum director Kirk Johnson on April 11 for a discussion about the film as part of the After Five lecture series. The panel will discuss the issues presented in the documentary and screen clips from the film.

Discover the dazzling science of bioluminescent sea creatures
April 16, 10:30 a.m. ET

A sea cucumber displays bioluminescence as it swims at a depth of around 3200 meters, or 2 miles. NOAA Okeanos Explorer

Explore the underwater world of glowing sea animals with educators from the museum and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at this month’s Play Date at NMNH. Designed for children five and under, this program will introduce young learners to bioluminescence through art and play.

Play Date at NMNH is a drop in program, so no prior registration is required. Caregivers are welcome to bring their children under five and any other family members.

Learn from leading experts on biodiversity and natural science for Earth Day
April 18, 10:30 a.m. ET

A view of the museum’s Kenneth E. Behring Family Rotunda from below the iconic African bull elephant. James Di Loreto, Smithsonian

With Earth Day right around the corner, the museum is hosting a number of events as part of the Earth Day Biodiversity Summit. On April 18, former fellows from the museum’s Peter Buck Fellowship will present their work and science journeys at the Life on a Sustainable Planet: Exploring and Understanding our Natural World symposium. These experts will touch on research examining topics ranging from biodiversity and climate change to understanding Earth’s origins.

The event is free and open to the public. Attendees will have the chance to network with these up and coming scientists and learn more about their work examining all aspects of nature.

Explore career possibilities in natural science research and museums
April 19, 10:30 a.m. ET

With Earth Day bringing an increased focus on the natural sciences and graduation looming right around the corner, NMNH will host a Natural Sciences Career Workshop for undergraduate students on April 19. Students will have the chance to learn about careers in natural sciences and what it’s like to work at a large research institution like the museum. They will also be able to network with museum professionals and learn about internship and fellowship opportunities.

Registration is required and the deadline to apply for the workshop is April 12. Space is limited, so get your registration in as soon as possible.

Celebrate Earth Day with dance, music and science
April 20, 10:00 a.m. ET

A ruby spotted swallowtail in the museum’s Butterfly Pavilion. Brittany Hance, Smithsonian

Celebrate Earth Day at the museum by enjoying a special The World & Me day of programming celebrating the biodiversity of our planet. The day will feature a performance, Letters to Earth, from Company | E dance company and Sound Impact that honors the diversity of the world we live in while reminding us how we can protect the natural world. Programming will also include hands-on learning activities with museum educators and science students from local colleges. The event is free and open to the public, no prior registration is required. 

In Search of Denisovans in the Altai Mountains
April 25, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. ET

Denisova Cave, located in the Altai Mountains of Central Asia, is where researchers found fossils from an ancient species of humans known as the Denisovans. Samantha Brown

The discovery of the first fossils from the Denisovans — a sister population to the Neanderthals — in 2010 identified a previously unknown hominin population. It also highlighted a major challenge in studying our ancestors — finding their physical remains in the archaeological record. Bone breaks down into small fragments over time and the vast majority of bone fragments found during excavations can’t be identified to species.

Tune into this month’s installment of the museum’s Human Origins Today series to learn how paleoanthropologists make sense of these scattered clues. Archaeologist Samantha Brown, a scientist and Junior Group Leader for Palaeoproteomics at the University of Tübingen, will discuss the use of a technique called ZooMS in the search for new human remains amongst vast assemblages of bone fragments. She will also discuss the discovery of Denisova 11 (nicknamed “Denny”), the only known ancient hybrid with a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.

This presentation will be moderated by museum paleoanthropologist and educator, Briana Pobiner.

Kick off Amphibian Week 2024 with the USDA Forest Service and friends
May 4, 10:00 a.m. ET

A fire-bellied toad at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Smithsonian Institution

Continue celebrating Earth’s biodiversity by welcoming educators from the USDA Forest Service, US Geological Service and more to celebrate Amphibian Week at the museum. This special event will feature educational programming about some of our favorite cold-blooded friends like frogs, toads and salamanders. Visitors will even have the opportunity to see some living amphibious critters up close!

The World and Me: Amphibian Week Kickoff Celebration with the USDA Forest Service and Friends! will be held at the Whitney Science Education Center. No prior registration required, drop in anytime between 10:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

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