How to best enjoy the Houston Museum of Natural Science
The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) is not just a museum; it is an institution. Among its 433,000 square feet, the museum has five floors of permanent rooms and traveling temporary exhibitions. And it’s well known for its Burke Baker Planetarium, Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center and two satellite sites: George Observatory and HMNS in Sugarland.
For tourists and Houstonians alike, this must-see attraction in the Museum District is a huge hit and a fun outing. If you’re planning on visiting, we’re shining a spotlight on 13 rare and extraordinary experiences you’ll find at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Watch a rare pendulum at work
A must-see exhibit at this museum, founded in 1909, is the Herzstein Foucault pendulum. Named after a French physicist, the pendulum hangs from a 60-foot cable and demonstrates the rotation of the earth. Only a handful of these clocks exist in the world. Other locations include New York, Oregon, Colorado, California, France, England, and Russia.
Discover one of the largest blue sapphires in the world
In the Lester and Sue Smith Gem Vault, the creme de la creme of rare jewelry, Serendip’s Mermaid sapphire dazzles in a necklace that also features 913 diamonds. The stunning sapphire weighs 422.66 carats and is considered one of the top five sapphires in the world. Discovered in Sri Lanka, before being cut and polished, the sapphire originally weighed 2,670 carats.
See the Mona Lisa of minerals
As for another beauty, The Alma Queen is a brilliant red rhodochrosite on display in the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals. And get it, it’s known as the Mona Lisa of the mineral world because of its sculptural composition. In 1965, this gem was extracted from a mine in Colorado, and it is one of the most famous specimens in mineralogy.
Come face to face with preserved mummies
The Ancient Egypt Hall spans over 10,000 square feet and includes jewelry, crafts, tools, weapons, and preserved mummies ranging from 2500 BC to 200 AD.
Admire a gigantic black marlin that breaks all records
When you enter the Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Hall, you can’t help but notice a gigantic black marlin. The marlin, which weighs 1,560 pounds, was caught in 1953 by Alfred Glassell, a millionaire oil magnate, philanthropist by day and adventurer by night. He set a world record that still stands today for the largest black marlin caught with a rod and reel.
The Morian Hall of Paleontology in Houston, Texas.
Photo courtesy of HMNS/Photographer Mike Rathke Admire a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil with the most complete hands and feet of any T. Rex discovered
Prepare to be mesmerized in the Morian Hall of Paleontology, all 30,000 square feet of it. Known as one of the largest and most dynamic paleontology halls in the world, it is as massive as the dinosaurs that occupy it, a size equivalent to the length of a football field. Of course, the 450 casts and fossils are impressive and all, just like “Wyrex”, a Tyrannosaurus rex with the best preserved and most complete hands and feet of any T.rex discovered, but seeing the prehistoric relics on display hunting and fighting in the action mode is also super unique. The curator is world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Robert T. Bakker, who also served as an advisor for the “Jurassic Park” movies. In fact, the character of Dr. Robert Burke in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” was based on him. How cool is that?
Spot African wildlife rarely seen by humans
The Frensley/Graham Hall of African Wildlife comprises seven biomes representing 120 specimens of African wildlife and conservation, but what makes it really interesting is that you can see many species including Gerenuk, Giant Forest Hog and Guenons , which are rarely spotted in museums.
See Texas wildlife unique to the Lone Star State
Known for having the most species of Texas wildlife in a single exhibit, the Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife features over 425 specimens on display, y’all. From living specimens like alligators to extinct passenger pigeons and endangered species like ocelots, this exhibit is truly unique to the Lone Star State.
A butterfly with black and white wings sits on a purple flower.
Mike Rathke Walk Among 1,500 Live Butterflies Floating in a Rainforest
Everyone wanted to surround themselves with 1,500 colorful butterflies? You can do this at the Cockrell Butterfly Center which is home to 60 different species of butterflies. Unlike most butterfly pavilions, this one also has a rainforest conservatory. The three-story glass structure was built around a 50-foot waterfall and simulates a tropical rainforest. The temperature is usually between 75 and 80 degrees with a humidity of 70 to 80%.
Visit galaxies in the same planetarium used to train NASA astronauts
Since 1964, the Burke Baker Planetarium has presented astronomical programs to millions of visitors, and it’s everything you need in a planetarium and more. It includes Digistar 6, the world’s leading digital planetarium and projection software, and draws from a cloud-based digital library to include the latest discoveries. A visit here makes visitors feel as if they are soaring through galaxies. As for the ultimate bragging rights, this dome theater was used to train NASA space shuttle astronauts in star field identification.
George Observatory Telescope in Houston, Texas.
Photograph courtesy of Houston Museum of Natural Science / Photographer: Mike Rathke See the stars through the nation’s largest publicly accessible telescope
One of the museum’s two satellite facilities, the George Observatory, located in Brazos Bend State Park, has a gigantic 36-inch Gueymard Research Telescope. It’s not to be missed – in fact, it’s the largest publicly accessible telescope in the country. Channel your inner astronomer as you marvel at the solar system while chatting with astronomers who serve as your guides.
Experience a larger-than-life IMAX adventure
If you’re impressed with the sights and sound quality of the Wortham Theatre’s six-track audio system, Houston’s first IMAX, you’re not alone. That’s because the 3D images are projected onto a screen that’s 80 feet wide and six stories high. Here, get up close to the on-screen sea lions, explore the Great Barrier Reef, and even go on a holographic adventure with dinosaurs.
Discover the largest private collection of Fabergé in the world
Do you have Fabergé? After renovations are complete in fall 2023, you can visit the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals to view the McFerrin Fabergé Collection, the largest private Fabergé collection in the world. It has over 600 pieces that were originally created as gifts for royalty and over 70 eggs. Exquisite egg highlights include the 1892 Imperial Diamond Trells Egg, the 1913 Nobel Ice Egg, and the 1902 Kelch Rocaille Egg. A feature of jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé’s Imperial Easter Eggs was to include a little surprise, like a mechanical animal. figurine, inside the egg for the recipient.
Find it: Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, TX 77030; 713-639-4629