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'Saturn Day' at Gray Fossil Museum

Tuesday, December 16, 2008JOHNSON CITY – Though many businesses nationally and locally are feeling the economic pinch, the spirit of giving is still alive and well in the Tri-Cities during this holiday season.

The East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site has received a generous sponsorship from Saturn of the Mountain Empire and Bill Gatton of Johnson City for the current exhibit, “Beyond: Visions of Planetary Landscapes,” on display through this Sunday (Dec. 21) in the Niswonger Exhibit Hall, and for an upcoming exhibit starting in January 2009.

“This is the last weekend for the ‘Beyond’ exhibit, and we encourage everyone to come out and see it before it leaves for its next venue,” said ETSU’s Jeanne Zavada, museum director, talking about the “Saturday is Saturn Day” observance at the museum.

She noted that the special planetary exhibit was created and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services. It features an “otherworldly” look at the solar system to its outer reaches, collected during 40 years of robotic space missions then processed into “breathtaking” and “mesmerizing” images, showcasing the system’s diverse worlds and their moons.

“We knew all along we wanted to sponsor the ‘Beyond’ exhibit,” said Lonnie Parker, general manager of Saturn of the Mountain Empire. “It’s a really good fit for Saturn.

“We’ve noticed that people who might not make a trip to a Saturn dealership are still interested in seeing Saturn’s new hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles when they are on display outside the fossil museum. This gives us a great opportunity to educate consumers.”

He and Zavada agree that Saturn’s focus on “efficiency, innovative technology and family adventure” makes an ideal partnership with the Natural History Museum. The collaboration fosters community and economic growth while increasing interest in science and technology.

In addition to sponsoring “The Scoop on Poop” museum exhibit this past summer, Saturn and Bill Gatton of Johnson City are continuing as sponsors for the fossil museum’s upcoming exhibit, “Our Weakening Web: The Story of Extinction,” scheduled Jan. 26-May 17, 2009.

The ETSU Natural History Museum is one of only a handful of venues in this region that hosts traveling exhibits from renowned institutions, such as the Smithsonian and the Field Museum in Chicago. Zavada added, “In financially troubling times, sponsorships and donations are doubly important for the survival of non-profit institutions, such as museums.”

At 2 p.m. on Saturday (Dec. 20), the museum’s final “Out of This World!” free public talk, “An Exploration of Mars in 3-D,” will be given by Dr. Gary Henson, ETSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, for which 3-D glasses will be provided to help visitors take a fun and interesting look at “our neighboring red planet.”

The special public lecture series coincided with the “Beyond” exhibit and was sponsored by the museum, the ETSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Additional topics ranged from radio astronomy and deep space to the outer solar system, Saturn’s moons, and puzzles in the sky.

The ETSU and GSB Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site is open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and is located 1.8 miles off I-26 in Gray. For information, call toll-free 1-866-202-6223 or visit

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