Planet Adirondack

  • By Gordie Little

You don’t need to board a rocket ship to see the earth as you’ve never seen it before. Just take a trip to the Wild Center in Tupper Lake and prepare to be amazed. Pay the modest admission price and a visit to Planet Adirondack with its floating, interactive Earth is included. The Wild Center boasts a “tradition of revealing the Adirondacks and its place in the world from a broad range of vantage points.” The new addition, developed by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association), enhances that image and expands what is called SOS or “Science on a Sphere.” That sphere in our region is an animated globe showing dynamic illuminated images that “explain environmental processes in a way that is intuitive and captivating.”

To say Planet Adirondack is a unique experience is no exaggeration. It is the only such exhibit in New York State. There are only about seven dozen in the world and all are connected to share data constantly. The much-anticipated Planet Adirondack, which was financed by a generous bequest, was unveiled on June 15 of 2012 as the Wild Center started its seventh summer. It is the museum’s first major addition and has already engendered rave reviews from visitors ranging from small children to scholars, students, scientists, and senior citizens.

Why build such an exhibit here you might ask. Because “the Adirondacks are home to the largest intact temperate forest on earth. It is a globally important place and what happens around the globe impacts the Adirondacks. Planet Adirondack is an incredible science tool that lets information that was once consigned to spreadsheets come alive for people to see and understand.”

When you enter the exhibit’s dedicated hall you feel as though you’re somewhere in space. In the middle of the darkened room is a white six foot carbon fiber sphere suspended from the ceiling by nearly invisible cables. As you watch, the orb is suddenly covered with moving images generated by computers connected to a special shared network and shown on its surface by four projectors. You are instantly mesmerized by one of almost 400 stories known as data sets which are visualizations or images that both entertain and inform you in ways you will never forget. Those data sets come from such sites as NOAA and NASA.

Through moving images, music, recorded voices, and other sounds, you learn about the world’s weather and see super storms developing and evolving. You see currents and surface temperatures of water in the world’s oceans, represented in various colors. You view the planet in a data set called “Earth at Night” and see lights on the surface from space. There are lines representing every Facebook friend connection across the continents and oceans. A large dark spot in the middle of the Adirondacks presents a special view that shows just how natural the Park has remained. You see a graphic representation of every airplane in the air at any given time. Another data set reveals how animals are using the planet. One tracks the travels of a great white shark with a transmitter attached to its back. Others follow turtles and so it goes.

A startling presentation shows the impact of a one meter rise in our sea level. Scientists predict that will happen within a century. Large areas, shown in red, will be under water if that happens. A guide can make instant changes based on your interests and curiosity. You can spend ten minutes or hours. You can enjoy prepared programs or individualized presentations adapted to your personal tastes. Soon, you will be able to approach a special kiosk and press buttons to make Planet Adirondack totally interactive for you as an individual.

If this all sounds too good to be true, you must schedule a trip to Tupper Lake for yourself. School groups, erudite scientific societies, families, and foreign dignitaries are welcomed at any time the Wild Center is open. Hours during the fall and winter season are truncated, but this is a good time to visit, as you are more likely to receive one-on-one attention.

Patrick Dunn, who calls himself a “seasonal naturalist”, said, “When you walk into the Wild Center, you get our daily schedule of regular programs for Planet Adirondack. They are each led by a guide and include a series of data sets. The most popular is called ‘Earth Like You’ve Never Seen it’.” He added, “When we finish our programs, we’re stationed in here for an hour or two afterwards so people can walk through. That part of it is informal. In the summertime, there is constant traffic into our exhibit. During the winter, we have just one hour a day that someone is stationed in Planet Adirondack.”

Wild Center Executive Director Stephanie Ratcliffe said, “Planet Adirondack takes huge galaxies of information and uses them to let you see the world in amazing new ways. This is one of only a few places with a dedicated room with the sphere as a focal point. The black lining on the walls and special murals were all our idea. Planet Adirondack is constantly changing. New information comes from satellites every hour and is continually being uploaded. Showing real-time weather is so important.” She went on to say, “We have also created five of our own programs. Our shows are Adirondack-based and designed to spotlight our unique place on the planet.”

Ratcliffe explained that a program entitled “Seasons on the Sphere” allows viewers to travel around the earth to see what seasonal changes occur elsewhere. She added that the “Earth Now” videos display up-to-date weather to give viewers a global perspective. Insight into how super storm Sandy developed in October is truly amazing.

Dunn expanded the scope of Planet Adirondack, “We can go all around the solar system.” Using an iPad, he displayed Mars on the sphere and a red thumbtack indicated where the rover Curiosity landed. He explained, “We can also show the moons of different planets. During the summer we had a presentation developed by one of our interns that showed how the earth is affected by people and agriculture.”

Dunn has created programs of his own. One of them, for very young children, is called “Owl Moon.” When it starts the sphere becomes the head of a barn owl. Dunn asked, “Did you know owls can rotate their heads 270 degrees?” The “head” moved as he asked the question. He explained that owls listen by cocking their heads. When they think they’ve heard a noise, they stare right at it. By way of demonstration he asked one child in the group to start clapping. The owl’s head on the sphere moved and the eyes pointed right at the youngster who was clapping. He explained that winter is the best time of the year to hear and see owls because it is when they do their nesting. A live owl was brought in during the presentation, much to the delight of every youngster in attendance.

The Wild Center is easy to find off Route 3 in Tupper Lake, New York. There is much more information on its web site, Because its subject matter changes so often, Planet Adirondack offers a new experience with each visit. From November 1 to Memorial Day, the Wild Center is open Friday, Saturdays and Sundays with special holiday openings from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Is the Adirondack region connected with the rest of the world? You bet it is and Planet Adirondack proves it every day.

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  • Marci Bencze says:

    GREAT article Gordie!! It was so nice to see you again…….

    Marci Bencze :)

  • Wes Jennings says:

    Hi Gordie, My wife & I have been involved w/ the Wild Center since close to it’s conception. We now volunter all the time, presently w/ the Maple program. The Plant Adroundack has been a great experance for us. Thanks for a great article, I wish everybody could see it

    Thanks again,

  • I saw Planet Adirondack last summer and could have sat there all day.
    What a wealth of information shared in a most beautiful way!