Room with a view

Planetarium receives compelling photos from NASA

Mural-sized images of stars, solar systems, black holes and other aspects of space now hang in the atrium of the Planetarium at UT Arlington.

The murals are part of NASA’s “Great Observatories” exhibit that celebrates the International Year of Astronomy and the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning his telescope to the heavens. The images, which will be on permanent display, come from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

NASA-donated image of Messier 101

A NASA-donated image of Messier 101 now hangs in the atrium of the Planetarium at UT Arlington. This giant spiral disk of stars, dust and gas is nearly twice the diameter of the Milky Way.

“The typical reaction is that people think they are artist-rendered images,” Planetarium Director Levent Gurdemir said. “They are astonishing and represent the efforts of scientists, engineers and even taxpayers who contributed funding.”

NASA selected UT Arlington after Planetarium Program Coordinator Amy Barraclough submitted a proposal to acquire the images. Another factor was the Planetarium’s participation in the International Year of Astronomy, which involves collaborations among the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Spitzer Science Center in Pasadena, Calif., and the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

One 6-foot-by-3-foot display shows three full-color images that showcase the Pinwheel Galaxy Messier 101’s features in the infrared light observed by Spitzer, the visible light seen by Hubble and the X-ray light detected by Chandra. The images show details of the grand design spiral structure for which the galaxy is famous and the underlying giant clouds where stars are born.

Another 3-foot-by-3-foot image of Messier 101 combines the views from all three telescopes into a composite that mimics seeing with eyes, night-vision goggles and X-ray vision at the same time.

“By looking at the infrared image, we can say which part of the galaxy contains colder dust and star- and planet-forming regions,” Gurdemir said. “The visible image—the one we can see without the help of any detector—reveals the big-structure, high-density and low-density star regions. The X-ray picture indicates very hot regions from gas and debris of exploded stars, neutron stars, even black holes.”


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