By VINCENT F. SAFUTO, Guest Journalist
Aubrey Tackett might be just 3 years old, but she knows a lot more about the moon now than most kids her age.
She’s even seen a piece of the moon up close, and gotten to hold it.
“It’s neat,” she said.
Her parents Stacy Tackett and Hunter Sparkman of Nashville, Tenn., and Palmetto, stopped by the South Florida Museum in Bradenton on their last day in the area to take in the manatee exhibit, the planetarium show and “A New Moon Rises,” an exhibit of photographs taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) between 2009 and 2015.
“There’s mountains and craters,” Sparkman said.
“And toys,” Aubrey added.
Elisa Graber, communications director of the museum, said she finds the pictures amazing.
“It’s awe-inspiring,” she said. “I don’t have any other word for it. I had no idea how incredible it would be until I actually saw the exhibit and the photos and the resolution. It’s just amazing.”
Humans last flew above low-Earth orbit and to the moon in December 1972, when NASA’s Apollo 17 mission landed in the mountainous Taurus-Littrow region. Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent more than three days on the lunar surface and made three separate excursions outside their Lunar Module while Ron Evans orbited in the Command Module.
On the same day that Stacy Tackett and Sparkman were visiting the exhibit with Aubrey, the Chinese announced that they landed a probe on the side of the moon we cannot see. The day before, the first picture of New Horizons’ latest encounter with an object of the solar system revealed a snowman-like body, and more data will be coming soon.
Other countries have sent probes to the moon, including Russia, China and India.
Recent U.S. lunar missions have focused on taking high-resolution photographs, and those are the subject of “A New Moon Rises.”
The exhibit began in October and runs through Jan. 13, and it is included in the regular museum admission price.
In the Bishop Planetarium, “Lunar Landscapes” simulates a flight across the moon to see some of the best sites from “A New Moon Rises,” including a reenactment of the Apollo 11 landing using actual film from the movie camera that photographed the descent next to a high-resolution movie of the same site.
Jeff Rodgers, provost and chief operating officer of the museum, said that different generations react differently to the planetarium show. Older people, who remember the landing, often burst into applause as they hear Neil Armstrong declare, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
“I hear the cheers when they land,” said planetarium director, Howard Hochhalter. “They’re reliving it.”
Younger people usually are quiet, he said.
“People absolutely adore it,” Rodgers said of the collection of photographs, which include views of all the Apollo landing sites and some of the major features of the lunar surface, including the very bright crater Tycho, which is best seen when the moon is full, and more subtle features such as Hadley Rille and Mount Marilyn, named for astronaut Jim Lovell’s wife, and a major landmark for the Apollo 11 astronauts on their descent to the lunar surface.
Carolyn Fournier, of Cape Cod and Sarasota, said she was enjoying the exhibit because it brought up memories of a cousin of hers who, as a sixth-grader in the 1950s, not only built his own telescope but also took photos of the moon and developed them himself.
“He was one of those nerds in the ’50s,” she said. “I was blown away by how much resolution he had in his photos,” she said. “He had incredible detail even then.”
He worked in the moon program, Fournier said, and now is retired and living in California in a house with an observatory for looking at the night sky.
“People are enjoying it from an artistic perspective, from a historical perspective and some from a scientific perspective,” Rodgers said.
Among the visitors has been the family of the late Jim Irwin, who walked on the moon on Apollo 15. “They were looking at his landing site,” he said. “His family lives down here, and we’ve done a few programs with them.”
They pulled up some chairs, sat down, “and looked at dad’s stomping grounds.”
If you go:
What: “A New Moon Rises”
When: Through Jan. 13
Where: South Florida Museum, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton
Admission: Adults 18-64, $19; seniors (65+), $17; youths (12-17) $14; child (5 to 11) $10; 4 and under, free with paying adult. Details at website.
Hours: Closed Monday; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Image libraries: links to the image libraries, both from LROC: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/images/nasm/45 and Arizona State University http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/about