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Science on a Sphere in Norman gives a worldwide perspective on weather

The National Weather Festival is Nov. 3 at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, which features the Science on a Sphere exhibit.
by Bryan Painter Modified: October 19, 2012 at 9:59 pm •  Published: October 21, 2012

— Daphne Thompson can have her feet on the earth and yet be looking up at it all at once.

That's because she's standing in the atrium of the National Weather Center, looking up at the Science on a Sphere, a 6-foot-diameter hollow fiberglass sphere that most of the time looks like the view of the earth from space.

The image on the suspended ball is a composite of four carefully synchronized images from separate projectors spaced around the globe like geosynchronous satellites.

One of the popular features of the sphere is that it shows a month of weather in motion, and it only takes a matter of minutes.

Thompson is Meteorologist/Educational Outreach and Media Relations Coordinator at the National Weather Center. Her responsibilities include leading all school tours, coordinating the other tours there and assisting with media. The sphere is a popular stop and likely will be once again during the annual National Weather Festival, an educational event open to the public Nov. 3 at the National Weather Center.

“The Science on a Sphere is a great way to show how weather moves globally,” Thompson said. “So many people are used to seeing weather move onto the West coast and then move off the East coast. Many people don't think about where it comes from and where it goes. Using a one-month satellite loop, it is possible to see storms developing and moving around different continents.

“Everyone has a TV and has seen images on a flat surface, but most people have not seen a spherical image. They get the chance to walk around it and see the earth from different views.”

Half-hour updates

Even though Thompson has seen it time and again in recent years, the weather scenario differs because it updates every 30 minutes.

As weather patterns change and shift, she might point out the progression of a strong storm system across the United States or a hurricane or typhoon.

And sometimes, she'll go to the sphere when there's no tour to be led. Instead she'll go look up at the earth as it hangs from three steel cables that are attached to railings on high floors overlooking the atrium.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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