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November 29, 2023

We wish to extend our warmest thanks to all who joined us at the USGS Flagstaff Science Campus Open House on Nov 5, 2023, here in Flagstaff, Arizona, for an educational, science- and fun-filled afternoon. Here are some highlights from the event.  We hope that if you missed it, you can join us next time.

Newcomers to the city often wonder what goes on inside the buildings situated just south of Buffalo Park, on north Gemini Drive. Well, there’s a lot of science going on here pertaining to Earth, space, water, rocks, fish, bugs, turtles, and more that we enjoy sharing with the public. Many dozens of people found the free Sunday afternoon open house a great time to explore the different sciences at the Flagstaff Science Campus (FSC). 


Astrogeology Science Center (ASC): AstroLink, demos, tours, terrestrial analogs, and activities

Visitors were welcomed to tour the Astrogeology Science Center (ASC) to learn more about our role in space exploration, beginning from the Apollo era to our role in ongoing and future space missions.  Our tour guides, scientists at ASC, showcased the planetary research done at our center, about Earth, other planetary bodies in our Solar System, and beyond.

Dr. Justin Hagerty and Greg Vaughan greets open house visitor
Photo of ASC Director, Dr. Justin Hagerty (nearest the table) and Research Geologist Dr. Greg Vaughan greet visitor at open house.

The fun thing about open house is you never know who you might see. ASC Director, Dr. Justin Hagerty (nearest the table) and Research Geologist Dr. Greg Vaughan welcome Gerry Schaber, a retired USGS geologist.  Gerry helped train the Apollo astronauts, and he gave explicit details of our involvement in USGS Open File Report 2005-1190, called “The U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Astrogeology—A Chronology of Activities from Conception through the End of Project Apollo (1960-1973).”  It was a treat for us to be able to show Gerry around the redesigned Astrogeology building, just as much as it was exciting for newer ASC employees to hear stories of lunar missions first-hand!

Scientists at ASC still play a crucial role in Artemis astronaut training today, including supporting NASA’s Artemis III mission, the next crewed mission to land astronauts on the Moon in 2025.

USGS scientist giving a tour at open house
USGS scientist, Brent Archinal, begins a tour from the lobby of Astrogeology Science Center during open house. 

Visitors had the chance to view Grover the Geologic Rover, the Hall of Maps, Maps of the Solar System, as well as visit AstroLink (which houses a treasure trove of ASC’s history, cool globes, pictures, and maps).  Astrogeology, producing maps since the 1960s, showed guests how maps are made and used to determine mission landing sites, and more.

Astrogeology Physical Scientist Dr. Lori Pigue shares her thoughts of the day: “Sharing what everyone does at Astrogeology with everyone who will listen to me is one of my favorite parts of my job!” Dr. Pigue helped organize the Open House and spent the day as a “runner” and filled in where folks needed help, making sure everyone had what they needed for their activities. “I learned that you could see my shin splints on the thermal camera, and I got to talk with Gerry about a document he wrote that I probably use at least once a week to share information with the public. It was a wonderful day of learning and sharing, and I can’t wait to do it again next year!”

There were numerous fun-filled activities, like the “Save the Village” activity (where participants try to save a village from a lava flow) checking out what different things – and people – look like in a thermal infrared camera, seeing how maps work in 3D using an augmented reality sandbox, getting the chance to walk on Mars, and enjoying an open house presenter like River (below) showcasing his LEGO bricks.  

Dr. Ryan Anderson interacts with River’s space science collection
Dr. Ryan Anderson interacts with River’s space science collection. Using LEGO bricks, River built his own version of a Mars rover, and Ingenuity, the helicopter. Also here is the space shuttle, LRV, a research base, and the lunar space station.

Southwest Biological Center (SBSC): Fish of Arizona, aquatic bugs, turtles and tortoises, and more.

Photo of fish aquarium with fish, a boy holding drawing of an acquatic bug, and a picture of turtles on a screen
Photos from Southwest Biological Center Fish of Arizona, aquatic bugs, turtles and tortoises, and more.

Left Photo: Visitors were amazed at seeing, reading, and learning about the kinds of fish that are native to Arizona.

Middle Photo:  Morgan Ford, biologist, captured this photo of his son, Gabe, showing a drawing of eggs being laid at different water levels in the Grand Canyon. SBSC conducts quality, objective research on the terrestrial and aquatic systems of the Colorado Plateau, Colorado River and its tributaries, drylands across the larger Southwest US, and beyond.

Right Photo: Do you know a turtle and a tortoise are both turtles, but they are not the same? One way to tell the difference between them is a turtle lives in water but tortoises dwell on land. Visitors got to see turtle shells, pictures of various turtles, and learned a lot of interesting facts about these cool reptiles.  Do you know “Of the 356 species of turtles and tortoises worldwide, approximately 61% are imperiled or have already gone extinct?”

Arizona Water Science Center (AzWSC): What exactly is a gravity van? 

USGS workers discuss what a gravity van is and what it is used for.
If you tried to imagine what a “Gravity Van” was, what would you imagine? Visitors learned about the USGS’s Gravity Program Gravity Van, which holds special equipment for measuring ground water characteristics. The Gravity Van allows scientists to map changes in groundwater storage and to improve models that simulate groundwater flow.

Geology, Minerals, Energy, Geophysics (GMEG): They Rock!

GMEG shows Arizona rocks and minerals on a table and talks with visitor
GMEG presented a collection of Arizona rocks and minerals keyed to a geologic map of the state. Rocks ranged from pieces of recent lava flows, thousand-year-old basalts, to the oldest rocks in the southwest, the Elves Chasm gneiss (1.84 billion years old). They also displayed several fossils, pieces of the base of the North American plate (xenoliths), and a range of other Arizona rocks.

Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC): River Boats

Ann-Marie Bringhurst pictured showing one of several river boats used to do research.
This is a photo of one of several boats GCMRC has that they take to do research on rivers. The boats are custom built to either carry research equipment, trip supplies, or navigate and assist in data collection. 

During the open house, Ann-Marie Bringhurst shows several of the boats used by GCMRC when they do research on the biology, ecology, and geologic processes of the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon. Due to the remote nature of this environment and navigation of technical whitewater, each boat has been custom built to either carry research equipment, trip supplies, or navigate and assist in data collection.  Some of the largest boats are 37' in length and carry all trip supplies needed for the duration of the trip. GCMRC also has many smaller, more navigable boats that assist in data collection. Each river trip is custom with a variety of equipment, trip lengths, and staff.

If you missed out, you can usually find us at the annual Flagstaff Festival of Science (the next one is planned for Sept 20–29, 2024). Astrogeology also offers tours by appointment. Email us at: at least 48 hours in advance

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