The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum will open "Explore the Universe" on Friday, Sept. 21. This permanent exhibition will present the major discoveries that have given us our current scientific view of the universe, illustrate how the universe is taking shape and probe the mysteries that remain.
When our view was limited to what the naked eye could see, the sky was our universe. Then telescopes deepened our view, photography enhanced it and spectroscopy broadened it. The universe grew from a sky of stars to a realm of galaxies to an ever-expanding frontier.
Encompassing an unprecedented array of artifacts representing the state of the art over the past 400 years, the exhibition will lay out the world's astronomical progress within its historical and technological context.
"Exploring the Universe" will be made up of five major sections covering the evolution of man's tools for searching the heavens:
- "Exploring the Universe with the Naked Eye" will examine our first, basic understandings of the universe. Featured artifacts will include Islamic astrolabes and a replica of the armillary sphere and portable mural quadrant used by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe.
- "Exploring the Universe with Telescopes" will illustrate how the telescope revolutionized the way we see the universe. Featured artifacts will include the telescope tube through which William Herschel discovered thousands of nebulae and star clusters, leading him to postulate that other galaxies exist beyond our Milky Way.
- "Exploring the Universe with Photography" will show how photographs changed the way astronomers recorded the universe. Featured artifacts will include the camera used by Edwin Hubble in discovering other galaxies - which he determined were all moving away from each other.
- "Exploring the Universe with Spectroscopy" will demonstrate how the composition of light reveals histories within the universe. Featured artifacts will include an early spectrograph from the late 1800s and a 1912 letter from Albert Einstein discussing the warping of space by matter.
- "Exploring the Universe in the Digital Age" will explain how digital detectors and processors have enhanced the power of the earlier tools. Featured artifacts will include the "Z machine" that gathered data for the first 3-D map of the universe.
National Air and Space Museum Director Gen. John R. Dailey calls the upcoming exhibition "a must for anyone who has ever looked up at the stars and wondered, 'How many worlds are out there and where do we fit in?' "
"Explore the Universe" is made possible through the generous contributions of the National Science Foundation and TRW. Additional funding is provided by Corning Incorporated, Corning Foundation, NASA and the Smithsonian Institution Special Exhibitions Fund. Additional support is provided by Kodak Inc., Federal Express and Analytical Graphics.
The National Air and Space Museum, located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W., is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (Closed Christmas Day.) Admission is free.