Our critics weigh in on local exhibits

Cable Car Museum. Permanent Exhibit: Located in a historic cable car powerhouse, the museum displays a variety of cable car gear, historic photographs, installations explaining how the cars work, and several antique vehicles. Daily. Free. 1201 Mason (at Washington), 474-1887.

California Academy of Sciences. "Astrobiology: Life in the Extreme": A permanent exhibition that explores the types of environments in the universe that could support life. Daily. Hands-on Science: Visitors of all ages can examine microscopic aquatic life or study adaptations of marine animals with Academy docents and interns. Wednesdays-Fridays, 4 p.m. 875 Howard (at Fifth St.), 750-7145, www.calacademy.org.

Cartoon Art Museum. Monthly Cartooning Classes for Adults: An intensive monthly workshop for aspiring comic artists, writers, and fans of the medium, taught by a professional cartoonist focusing on an area of his or her expertise. Fourth Saturday of every month, 1 p.m. $40-$50. "Gross, Gruesome, and Gothic": This horrifying display features over 50 original cartoons from a wide array of artists and comics. Through March 12. 655 Mission (at New Montgomery), 227-8666, www.cartoonart.org.

Chabot Space & Science Center. Discovery Lab: Intended for kids aged 3-7, the Discovery Lab contains hands-on science experiments that illustrate scientific phenomena like wind and moving machines. Wednesdays-Fridays, 1 p.m.; Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.; Sundays, noon. free with museum admission, $9-$13. "Destination Universe": Take a virtual journey from the sun to the end of the cosmos with exhibits on nebulae, space travel, black holes, and moving galaxies. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. Garden Days in the EnviroGarden: Explore the mysteries of planet Earth with hands-on activities, including worm composting, hiking in the forest, or building mini-volcanoes. Saturdays, noon. "Escape From the Red Planet!": The hourlong simulated mission on Mars casts kids as the crew on a struggling space shuttle. Saturdays, 12:30 & 2:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1:30 & 3:30 p.m. free with museum admission, $9-$13. "Mars Encounter": The National Aeronautics and Space Administration sponsors this exhibit on travel to Mars, which includes data on current and past missions, a giant tactile Mars globe, and Martian meteorites. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. "One Giant Leap: A Moon Odyssey": Take a simulated moonwalk, try on a space helmet, climb into a space capsule, and virtually land a lunar module in this exhibit. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. "Astronomy in California 1850-1950: Telescope Makers, Telescopes, and Artifacts": Take a look at California's rich history in astronomy with this display of telescopes, astronomy history documents, and other ephemera. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. "Skywise -- Astronomy Cartoon Exhibit": Help your child understand that vastness and majesty of space with this exhibit of astronomy comic strips. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. 10000 Skyline (at Joaquin Miller, in Joaquin Miller Park), Oakland, 510-336-7300.

Conservatory of Flowers. "The Modern Art of Orchids": A new "abstract" flower exhibit that includes hundreds of blooms. Through Feb. 26. 100 JFK (at Conservatory, in Golden Gate Park), 666-7001, www.conservatoryofflowers.org.

de Young Museum. Ancestry in Progress: Sharon Virtue will be demonstrating her artistic process from conception to completion. Wednesdays-Sundays, 1 p.m. Continues through Jan. 29. "Re-Classifying History: Catherine Wagner": The work of Bay Area photographer Catherine Wagner will be the inaugural installation in the Connections Gallery of the new de Young. Through Feb. 12. "Personal Perspectives: Aspects of American Photography": A survey of major American photographs from the museum's permanent collection. Through Feb. 12. "Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh": The exhibit highlights the art created during the glorious reign of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. Through Feb. 5, 9:30 a.m. "Jasper Johns: 45 Years of Master Prints": "Jasper Johns: 45 Years of Master Prints" inaugurates the Anderson Gallery of Graphic Arts, a gallery dedicated to installations of modern and contemporary works on paper at the de Young. Through Feb. 12, 9:30 a.m. "Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh": Free, 50-minute docent tours of the exhibit. Through Feb. 5, 11:30 a.m. free with museum admission. Friday Nights at the New de Young: Designed to focus on the special exhibitions and permanent collections, Friday Nights features live music, artist demonstrations, films, dance performances, lectures, and tours. Visit the Web site for the schedule. Through June 20, 6 p.m. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden (at JFK), 863-3330, www.thinker.org.

Exploratorium. "Traits of Life": A major exhibition area with 30 biology exhibits and demonstrations that help visitors understand the fundamental elements common to all living things from humans to amoebas. Daily. Free with museum admission. 3601 Lyon (at Marina), 397-5673, www.exploratorium.edu.

The Holocaust Center of Northern California. "Holocaust Center of Northern California": The newly opened center's first exhibit showcases its facilities, including a library with more than 15,000 historical volumes, a reading room for screening documentaries and holding educational talks, and ongoing displays of the center's thousands of photographs and artifacts. Tuesdays, Thursdays, 1-6 p.m.; Mondays, Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Free. 121 Steuart (at Mission), 777-9060, www.holocaust-sf.org.

Contemporary Jewish Museum. "Intersections: Reading the Space": Through Feb. 26. 121 Steuart (at Mission), 591-8800, thecjm.org.

Judah L. Magnes Museum. "Case Study: Emanu-El Sisterhood": Group show reflecting the history of changing social roles of California women in the 20th century. Through Feb. 5. Free. "Houses and Housing": Group show on portability in Jewish art. Through May 15. Free. Larry Abramson: Work from the show "Searching for an Ideal City." Artist's talk on September 11 at 2 p.m. Through Feb. 19. Free. 2911 Russell (at Pine), Berkeley, 510-549-6950.

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