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High-tech spooktacular science

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Annual event draws adults and kids, alike

By Special to the Monitor

The “Under Cover of Darkness” theme is all about planets, black holes, constellations, wobbly stars and lunar craters.

  When does science get spooktacular? To find out, climb into your costume and head on over to the Bradbury Science Museum for “High-Tech Halloween.” Back for its 16th year, the creepy educational event is from 4-7 p.m. today.

  Long-time staffers call High-Tech Halloween the museum’s largest single-day draw. “We expect about 2,000 visitors to come through in three hours,” said Museum Science Educator Liz Martineau. “Kids and adults all love it.”

More than a dozen ghoulish activities, all related to this year’s theme, “Under Cover of Darkness,” are sure to delight big and small. Visitors can learn why stars wobble; discover how lunar craters are caused; learn about planets, black holes, and constellations; and dare to guess which of several rocks is a real meteorite. Science educator and chef-for-the-night Gordon McDonough will “cook a comet” using liquid nitrogen, and lab scientists will explain the secrets of astrophysics. In addition, volunteers — lab employees, students from Los Alamos High School National Honor Society, and others — will be on hand to show guests a bone-chillingly good time.

  Sure to be a hit is a new exhibit, the “Black Hole Gravity Well.” Designed and painstakingly built over the summer by McDonough, the gravity well is a five-foot-wide curved funnel into which balls of different sizes can be placed.

Watching how the balls behave as they spiral around the well and interact with one another can help visitors understand science concepts related to orbiting bodies, tidal forces, and gravitational assist, McDonough said.

  Unlike conventional plastic wells, McDonough’s invention is made of Lycra, which allows heavier balls to exert a small “gravitational” force on their neighbors.

“If you watch closely, you may see a cluster of balls stick together, or one ball boosting another to a higher orbit,” McDonough said.

Preschool astronauts

  This year, a special section for preschool children will offer “Astronaut Training” for the “smallest scientists,” Martineau said. The training consists of a fun obstacle course with fun-house mirrors and activities such as “Reach Up and Touch the Stars” and “Lunar Leap.”

 “High-Tech Halloween” kicks off Los Alamos County’s “Halloweekend,” which includes the Chamber of Commerce’s “Trick or Treat on Main Street.”

  The Bradbury Science Museum is located at 15th Street and Central Avenue in downtown Los Alamos, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, and 1 to

5 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Admission is free.

The museum is part of the Community Programs Office.