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NOAA Expands Reach of Science on a Sphere

State: District of Columbia

Region: Mid-Atlantic

Agency: Dept. of Commerce

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Headquarters

As kids horseplay throughout the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, they leave the loud space of wind tunnels, tsunami simulators, and other weather experiments, to enter a darkened, quiet theater with a large glowing sphere in the center.

The sphere, known as Science On a Sphere® (SOS), is a room-sized global display system developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that is changing the way children learn about science.

The interactive educational technology uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a gleaming, six-foot-diameter carbon-fiber sphere, suspended from invisible wires, to make it look like a rotating Earth as seen from outer space.

Expanding the Technology’s Reach

Developed by NOAA’s Global Systems Division (now the Global Systems Laboratory, or GSL), the system comes preprogrammed with more than 550 datasets that show the Earth’s land, oceans, atmosphere and more.

While Science On a Sphere is seen by about 63 million viewers a year at more than 185 museums worldwide, it is not easily portable and can only be viewed on location at host sites. That’s why GSL has developed smaller-scale versions that are expanding the technology’s reach into schools and smartphones.

SOS Explorer and SOS Explorer Mobile use the same expansive data catalog as SOS to reach a far greater audience of educators, students, small museums, and the public. These new versions of SOS make exploration and investigation easily accessible to users around the world at a very low to zero price point.

The Science Behind the Sphere

SOS was initially developed as a way for scientists to explore environmental data using new visualization techniques. Now, combined with narration and supporting educational materials, SOS has grown into a unique and powerful teaching tool to help illustrate Earth System science to people of all ages.

The wow factor audiences experience while viewing SOS fosters collaboration between NOAA and the museums and other sites that have installed the system. NOAA provides data and scientific expertise, while the partners provide a public forum for dissemination of ideas and audience-appropriate presentations.

The Science On a Sphere program was recently transitioned to NOAA’s Office of Education which allows for a greater emphasis on creating expanded educational resources while still further developing the technologies. 

Science on Sphere can be found around the world by visiting

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