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'Earthquake' opens at the Academy of Sciences

Ostriches are a living example of plate tectonics
Ostriches are a living example of plate tectonics
@California Academy of Sciences

Prepare to shake, rattle and roll or in other words, experience the power of earthquakes. "Earthquake: Life on a Dynamic Planet," a new exhibit and planetarium show about the power of earthquakes, just opened at the California Academy of Sciences and it's everything about earthquakes that you didn't know and might have been afraid to ask.

Entry into the exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences
@California Academy of Sciences

"San Francisco—and California too—are no strangers to the awesome power of earthquakes,” Dr. Greg Farrington, executive director of the Academy, said in a statement.

“By showing visitors the science that underlies these natural events, we want to encourage preparedness and help visitors understand how the great movements of the continents have produced the landscape we call home today and the life around us.”

"This institution's history was touched dramatically by two earthquakes," Farrington added.

"The 1906 earthquake and fire basically destroyed the original academy in downtown San Francisco--it was then moved to Golden Gate Park, and was rebuilt," he said.

Some 80 years later, the academy's facilities had grown in need of modernization, and the events of October 17, 1989, would eventually help bring about the impetus for the complete overhaul and reconstruction of the museum.

Visitors enter the exhibit through a replica of a huge crack in the crust of a 25-foot model Earth. The Academy has created touchable specimens, interactive stations and even a game, designed by high school children, about how to prepare for the big one.

One section focuses on the diverse life forms that evolved and spread out across Gondwana (present-day southern continents), showing visitors that the same processes that cause destructive earthquakes can also provide constructive conditions for non-human life.

Adorable fluffy baby ostriches, ancient fossils and mounted marsupials illustrate the shared geological history of India, Antarctica, Australia, South America and Africa.

The Academy will be hatching live ostrich chicks to illustrate this story. The chicks grow fast and when they reach six weeks old, they are too large for their pen. At that time, they will be farmed out to zoos and various ostrich farms.

But in the meantime, they have bonded with the museum personnel who enter the pen on regular intervals to feed the chicks and make sure that the temperature controlled mats, underneath the sandy surface, are hidden and functioning properly.

Visitors can also enter an earthquake simulator designed to look like an old Victorian home in San Francisco, complete with a china cupboard and paintings on the wall.

Inside, simulated views of the downtown skyline and sounds of the World Series baseball game will bring guests back to 5:04 p.m. on October 17, 1989--the date and time of the infamous Loma Prieta earthquake.

But the experience doesn’t end there. For a second simulation, guests will travel farther back, to 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906, the date of the most devastating quake in San Francisco’s history. About 32 times stronger than Loma Prieta, this event brought the city to its knees, and the ensuing fire destroyed thousands of buildings.

That simulator is so scary that visitors are well advised to hang on for dear life to the railing located in the center of the room.

A breathtaking show in the planetarium, narrated by Benjamin Bratt, takes visitors on a journey through space and time, flying over the San Andreas fault before diving into the planet's interior to witness the breakup of Pangaea, some 200 million years ago.

Simulations recreating the structure of San Francisco's City Hall and the clock tower at the Ferry Building pull the viewer into a third dimension.

"Our hope is that visitors who come to see "Earthquake" will realize that these seismic phenomena are just one part of a much larger story, and that story is the story of plate tectonics, and the fact that we live on a remarkably dynamic planet," said Elizabeth Babcock, dean of education at the academy.

"It really helps explain how the continents and the oceans are constantly on the move, and how that has impacted life and sustainability on our planet," Babcock said.

Opened May 26th

Where: California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, S.F.
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $24.95 to $29.95
Contact: (415) 379-8000,


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