On June 12, 1999, the American Museum of Natural History opened a new permanent exhibit about the Earth. The exhibit, the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth (HOPE), describes how the Earth works (Web site: In other words, it is the story of modern Earth science.

How does one go about telling such a broad and complex story in an exhibit where the audience ranges from school children to adults? The first challenge was to devise a structure for the story itself. The hall was organized around a series of questions that would both engage the visitors and span current knowledge. The questions were eventually distilled to five: How has the Earth evolved? How do we read the rocks? Why are there ocean basins, continents, and mountains? What causes climate and climate change? And, why is the Earth habitable?