Luis and his Easter Island friend, The American Museum of Natural History, New York (photo by Simone Cannon)
New York is the home to hundreds of interesting museums; it would be impossible to explore all of them, but there are several that you definitely don't want to miss. The American Museum of Natural History is one of them. For fans of the Ben Stiller movie, Night at the Museum, the museum is a must-see. It houses a collection of over 32 million specimens: fossils, minerals and gems (including the 2 billion year old, 563 carat Star of India star sapphire, the largest in the world), ocean life, dioramas depicting human and animal evolution and biology, anthropology and constantly rotating temporary exhibitions. Add to that, the adjoining 120-foot-high, 333,500-square-foot area of the Rose Center for Earth and Space with the amazing Hayden Planetarium Space Shows and it's breathtaking galleries that explore the galaxies, stars and planets of the universe, an IMAX Theater, an annual butterfly conservatory with over 500 live butterflies and a real time butterfly webcam, and one of the most extensive dinosaur exhibits in the world, and you have an excellent way to spend a day in New York. Kids understandably love the museum and planetarium, but adults of all ages are often also happily surprised at how visitor-friendly, interesting and interactive it is.
At the Rose Center for Earth and Space, I find out my weight on the moon: less than 20 lbs...I'm definitely moving there (photo by Luis Bastardo)
The museum, located across from Central Park West at 79th street, was founded in 1869, and receives almost 4 million visitors annually from around the world. The museum is hard to miss: the traditional Victorian brick museum stands next to the ultra-modern Hayden Planetarium which is housed in a gigantic glass cube and is lit up by blue floodlights at night.The original collection was mostly amassed through the finds of world explorers' expeditions such as The Brewster-Sanford Expedition (contributing the collection of seabirds) and the Whitney South Seas Expedition (which brought back to the museum biological artifacts from the Southwest Pacific zone). The taxidermied land animals, marine life and birds were arranged in "dioramas", scenes frozen in time depicting their lives and natural surroundings. In the early 20th century, before the current ecological sensitivity existed, these dioramas were on the cutting edge of museum exhibits. The dioramas stand today behind large plate glass windows and are still hugely popular.
The museum is also a mecca for dinosaur fans, with two large dinosaur halls filled with reconstructed skeletons. According to the museum's website, it is home to "the world's largest collection of vertebrate fossils, totaling nearly one million specimens. More than 600 of these specimens, nearly 85 percent of which are real fossils as opposed to casts, are on view." The fossil collection occupies a whole floor of the museum but still represents only a tiny percentage of the museum's complete fossil and bone collection. The collection even includes an 80 million year old fossil of an ammonite, a nautilus shaped sea animal that became extinct 65 million years ago.
One of hundreds of reconstructed dinosaur skeletons (photo by Luis Bastardo)
When you have had enough of animals and anthropology, head over to the space center for a look at the vast universe. Most of the exhibits in the space center are hands-on and encourage interaction. The Space Show in the Hayden Planetarium is currently running "Journey to the Stars" a trip through the cosmos narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. The shows run several times a day, but are very popular, so it's a good idea to buy your ticket when you first arrive, explore parts of the museum, then return to the planetarium 15 minutes before your show is scheduled to start. After the show, you can continue to explore the space center or return to the main museum building. If you decided to see only one museum during your visit to New York, make it this one; you won't be disappointed.