AUGUSTA — The two big soda bottles were connected securely together at their mouths, forming an hourglass filled with green-tinted water.

William Carey, a 9-year-old homeschool student from Farmingdale, tilted and twirled the bottles until a swirling vortex formed. William has created his own “tornado tube” at home but was nonetheless fascinated by the one he tried out at Maine Earth Science Day at the Maine State Museum on Wednesday.

“I watched the same documentary about tornados three times,” William said. “I like that they can pick things way off the ground and spin them around.”

Later, William’s younger brother, Bryce, shared what he learned about different kinds of marine life from trying to race snails and hermit crabs.

“Snails are slower than crabs,” Bryce said.

Fun, hands-on demonstrations are at the heart of the museum’s annual Earth Science Day, which attracted about 2,000 students from schools and homeschooling families on Wednesday.

“Kids learn best when they’re having fun,” said Joanna Torow, the museum’s chief educator.

Eighteen exhibitors, representing both government agencies and private businesses, set up in the museum to talk about a variety of earth science topics: rocks and minerals, renewable energy, weather, water and archaeology.

Two federal agencies, the National Weather Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, were not able to participate because of the government shutdown.

Torow said Earth Science Day is a way to expose students to a wide range of demonstrations and let them talk to scientists about their work.

“We can’t go in-depth, but it’s really giving them a touch to inspire them to explore a little further,” she said.

Readfield Elementary School science teacher Laura Reville said she brings her fourth-grade students to Earth Science Day every year because their curriculum includes units about the ocean, habitats and ecosystems, weather and geology.

“I can’t bring all this stuff into the classroom,” she said. “For them to be able to experience, touch, hear and handle all this stuff is just priceless.”

Reville said her students will write about what they learned on Wednesday, and as the year progresses and they start new units, she’ll refer back to exhibits they saw at the museum.

Reville’s students enjoyed learning how to pan for gold, going on a GPS-guided scavenger hunt of the Capitol complex and watching a flood simulation put on by the Maine Floodplain Management Program.

Lily Cannell said her favorite exhibit was the one with bones and fossils from whales and woolly mammoths.

“I think it’s interesting to see what kind of animals have what kind of bones, and how big they are,” she said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]