Going Deep

After five years of extensive renovations, the Museum of Natural History's newest exhibit opens Saturday, Sept. 27.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 26, 2008; Page WE27

Water, water everywhere.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth's surface and comprises 95 percent of the planet's livable space. It is, on average, as deep as 22 Washington Monuments stacked end to end. Only 10 people have explored it beyond 3 1/2 miles down.

Those are just a few of the facts you'll encounter when you visit the National Museum of Natural History's new Sant Ocean Hall, which opens Saturday just off the museum's rotunda. (Look for the African elephant.)

True to its subject, it's the museum's largest single exhibit, with 23,000 square feet and hundreds of specimens and models on display. Sound a bit daunting? It is.

But that's where we come in.

Here's our guide to a place that aims to both educate and astonish. Like the ocean itself -- which scientists have divided into the sunlit zone, the twilight zone and the deep ocean -- we've made it easy for you to figure out how deep to go and what to see, all without getting the bends.

Depending on how much time you've got, and how deep a dip you want to take in the Ocean Hall, we've broken up its attractions into three groups. The first, which we're calling snorkelers, is for surface swimmers. The second, for those who want to stay in a bit longer before they come up for air, is scuba divers. The third, deep-sea divers, is reserved for those who have no time constraints and want to sink as deep into the subject as they can.

Regardless of your diver rating, come on in. The water's fine.

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