Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the LIGO Livingston Observatory

While watching a documentary on gravity, we discovered that LIGO was in our backyard (well, an hour away, but practically in our backyard)! I have no idea how we overlooked this for the last couple of years, but we headed out that very week to check it out!

About LIGO

LIGO stands for “laser interferometer gravitational-wave observatory” and is funded by the US National Science Foundation and run by MIT and Caltech. Put somewhat simply, LIGO is home to a bunch of incredible cutting edge technology that’s working to detect gravitational waves from violent phenomena around our universe.

LIGO_Events_TimelineThis project was inspired by Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves (ripples in time-space resulting from things like black holes colliding). Funding was secured in 1979, but site construction didn’t begin until the mid-90s. In 2008, construction began on Advanced LIGO. LIGO began its first observing run in September 2015 and by September 14th, it had observed its first gravitational wave. It has since detected one other confirmed gravitational wave and others will likely be confirmed through intense data review.

The interferometers are pretty mind-boggling as a layperson, visiting the observatories. They are comprised of two 4-kilometer long vacuum chambers, built in an L-shape. These “legs” are long enough that Earth’s curved surface had a role in the design. An infrared laser is at the heart of the measurements and is shot through a series of mirrors down each one of these legs. LIGO can measure motion that’s about 1/10,000th of an atomic nucleus!

LIGO consists of four locations, two interferometers (one here in Livingston and one in Washington state) and two research centers (at MIT and Caltech). You can read a much more sophisticated and in depth version of LIGO’s history on their website here.

 

About LIGO’s Livingston Observatory

LIGO Livingston Science Saturdays

Because of the delicate nature of LIGO’s measurements, their facility only has limited times where it’s open to the public.

The best way to experience the Livingston Observatory is on “Science Saturdays”. These take place on the third Saturday of the month from 1:00 – 5:00 pm. On Science Saturday, visitors can explore the Science Education Center, lobby activities, and even take a tour of the control room. Each event has its own unique theme, so you can visit multiple times and have new experiences every month!

LIGO Livingston Science Education Center

img_3524LIGO’s Science Education Center is an incredible opportunity to get hands-on with all kinds of physical science. It’s truly a place for everyone.

There are activities geared for all ages and levels of scientific interest, with more than 50 interactive exhibits. We had so much fun exploring suspension, strobe lights, bright black, resonance, shadows, infrared rays, and more.

 

Our Favorite Parts of the LIGO Livingston Observatory

img_3635My favorite part was definitely the tour of the control room. Getting an inside look at such an incredible place and having the opportunity to ask questions to one of the working scientists was an unforgettable experience.

The girls loved the lobby activities and interacting with STEM students from close-by universities, but especially loved the soap bubble painting in the mini science museum area!

I loved that the entire family learned, explored, and had fun together. There were exhibits and information presented at levels for all of us. We can’t wait to go back!

 

Planning Your Visit to LIGO Livingston

Location

LIGO Livingston Observatory is located at 19100 LIGO Lane, Livingston, LA 70754. It’s an easy trip off of I-12, despite its somewhat rural location, and very well marked.

Hours, Parking, & Admission Cost

As noted above, LIGO is not open to the public regularly. If you plan to visit, make sure to check for Science Saturday dates on their website or contact them directly about scheduling a field trip or public tour.

After arriving through the main gate, follow the road to the right and look for parking signs. There is ample parking directly outside of the Science Education Center!

Visiting LIGO Livingston is FREE. That’s right, it’s totally free to experience all of the awe and wonder of LIGO!

 

 

Visiting LIGO Livingston with Toddlers and Young Children

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My girls really enjoyed all of the hands-on science. It’s definitely an engaging place for all ages, including toddlers! Some of the exhibits will require direction and assistance from adults, so be prepared to get engaged with your kids!

The tour is definitely geared towards an older audience, so make a judgment call about your kids’ attention spans and behavior. My girls hung in there for the first half of the tour, but by the end, they were ready to go play and didn’t care that mom was nerding out!

 

Have you ever visited LIGO? Have an idea for another Science Mom field trip? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

 

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Infinity Science Center

We are fortunate enough to live within road trip distance of one of NASA’s 14 visitor centers. Not sure if you are? Visit http://www.visitnasa.com to find out!

 

About the Infinity Science Center

17155167_10155264791099610_460796396391183316_nThe Infinity Science Center is truly a paradise for a nerdy family like mine. They regularly offer special events for kids and adults that you can read more about below. There’s so much to see and do – it’s truly an all day trip!

There are so many ways to explore, from the bus tour to the electric trams, the butterfly gardens and the simulators, the exhibits and galleries. It’s not just space, despite being at Stennis Space Center, which is a great reminder for little minds that everything is connected. I also love that the “Earth Gallery” is downstairs, while the “Space Gallery” is upstairs, creating a real “heavens and earth” feel to the layout.

Outside of the Science Center

 

Before you even step inside, you’ll find all kinds of amazing things on display, like a NOMAD buoy, Navy boats, and F-1 and H-1 rocket engines. But truly, nothing can compare to the Saturn V S-1C Booster! It’s an incredible and humbling experience to stand next to this behemoth!

Science Express Gallery

Learn everything you could ever possibly want to know about hundreds of carnivorous plants! Little minds can also practice their engineering skills with the Big Blue Blocks (one of my girls’ favorites).

21077271_10155863005154610_832487682150120831_nThe Earth Gallery

Here, you’ll find all kinds of incredible earth science exhibits, including the Hurricane Prediction Lab and information about Hurricane Katrina, as well as a Hurricane Simulator (an extra $3). The “Swamps to Space” exhibit is a really fascinating walk through Stennis’s start in Mississippi and the Apollo Program.

This is also where you’ll find the Omega Flight Simulator, available for an extra $5. This simulator is a really fun ride, with six degrees of motion and six different ride options.

The Space Gallery

This is where my girls’ (and my!) imaginations run wild, pretending to be astronauts in the space shuttle flight deck, Orion space capsule, and Destiny module from the International Space Station. It still blows my toddler’s mind that they strap themselves down to sleep!

There are also a ton of cool artifacts to explore, like moon rocks, space suits, and shuttle parts! You can also discover more about the SLS program, which could take humans to Mars!

21032511_10155863004934610_4735538120697903415_nStennis Space Center Bus Tour

The bus tour is free with admission! You do have to sign up though – be sure to stop by the front to reserve your spot 20-30 minutes before the tour departs. Tours run from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm.

Adults will need to present a Photo ID or passport to take the tour and children must be accompanied by an adult. Be aware that they may restrict you from taking any large bags or backpacks with you and any personal items are subject to search, because of the nature of the tour!

You’ll spend 40 minutes inside restricted areas that can only be accessed by the public through this tour. It’s jam packed with information and awe-inspiring views of the country’s biggest rocket engine test facility (14,000 acres of it!) and the homes of several government agencies (including the world’s largest concentration of oceanographers) and private companies like Rolls Royce.

Other Things to Explore

Seen from I-10, the 1400 foot Biome Boardwalk will take you through four different habitats, right there outside of the Science Center! Signs along the boardwalk are full of information about the plants and animals all around you. Don’t miss the Butterfly Gardens too, for another chance to catch some of the plants and animals that call Pearlington home.

The Possum Walk Trail is a 6 mile, 45 minute tram tour along part of Heritage Trail. You’ll learn about the history of Possum Walk, Logtown, and the plants and animals in the area. The tram tour runs from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm and is an additional $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children. You can also take the trail by foot, from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Note that the trail is closed October-February.

Infinity Science Center always has other fun learning opportunities and exhibits, that sometimes change daily. We’ve drawn, built, and touched all kinds of things!

Our Favorite Parts of the Infinity Science Center

For my family, the big hits were the Omega Flight Simulator, the Orion space capsule, and the reading area (what can I say, the kids love books!). The bus tour through Stennis is the real showstopper though – sure to delight space needs young and old!

 

Planning Your Visit to the Infinity Science Center

Location

Infinity Science Center is just over the Mississippi/Louisiana border in Pearlington, MS. Take Exit 2 off I-10 and follow the signs! The address is 1 Discovery Circle, Pearlington, MS 39572.

Hours, Parking, & Admission Cost

Infinity Science Center is open Monday-Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. They have a fantastically large and free parking lot, making parking extremely easy.

Admission costs are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors or military, $8 for children 4-13, and free for children 3 and under.

Special Pricing and Events

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If you’ll be visiting in a large group (of 20 or more guests), the price is reduced to only $7 per person!

Wednesdays are “Senior Wednesdays”, where senior admission is discounted to $6 (half price!). Seniors also get discounts at the gift shop, cafe, and Possum Walk.

Infinity also offers “Home School Mondays” on the third Monday of September, October, November, January, February, and March from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm. Admission is discounted to $7. Each month features a new STEM topic and hands-on learning opportunities for home schooled students. They’re geared for kids 6-12 years old, but anyone is welcome!

If you’re a parent or grandparent of toddlers (3 and under), this pricing structure is awesome! I love that for $6-7, my girls can have a fun day out, exploring science with me or a grandparent. That wouldn’t even buy tickets to a movie!

Some Saturdays also feature special classes for “Science Saturdays”. You can read more about them here!

Eating at the Infinity Science Center

The CaFe is open from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, serving up food like burgers, poboys, sandwiches, hot dogs, and salads. There’s also a vending machine serving Dippin’ Dots, one of my girls’ favorite treats! You can also pack a lunch and enjoy the view outside!

Souvenirs

Infinity’s Gift Shop is open the same hours as the Science Center. It’s packed full of fun space and science souvenirs, from experiment kits to plush toys to coffee mugs to apparel. My girls love their plush space shuttle and NASA teddy bear, while I love my astronaut keychain and NASA coffee mug! We also love to pick up astronaut ice cream – it makes a fun themed snack or gift for friends.

Visiting the Infinity Science Center with Toddlers

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Occasionally, I have friends ask about exactly what we do when we visit somewhere like Infinity or another museum with little ones. It can be intimidating to consider a trip when so many things seem like they may go over their heads or not really be accessible.

My answer is simple. Acceptance! Accept that it may be some mild form of chaos, that you may not get to do or see everything, or that their attention spans may not hold out for the entirety of a gallery. Just let them explore and follow their imaginations! Even if they’re just running in circles, they’re still running in circles around science, right?

Where are your favorite places to visit? Are you close to a NASA visitor center? Leave a comment and tell me about it!