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Discovery Station unveils NASA Milky Way images

November 14, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- The colorful image revealed intense activity near the galactic core.

Onlookers were awed by the energetic explosion of colors.

They were not viewing a science fiction film or a kinetic video game, but NASA images of the Milky Way unveiled Saturday at Discovery Station in downtown Hagerstown.

NASA released the images to 150 institutions across the United States, including a partnership of Discovery Station and the William M. Brish Planetarium.

NASA's Great Observatory Images were released in celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, which coincides with the 400th anniversary of Galileo first using a telescope.

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Rod Martin, Brish planetarium resource teacher, said the images were created through a collaboration of NASA's three great observatories -- the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory -- to produce an unprecedented view of the central region of the Milky Way.

"It's a combination of energetic and low-energy wavelengths," Martin said. "Astronomers can learn about the evolution of our galaxy by combining this information."

Martin said each instrument produces a different kind of observation -- the Hubble produces visible light, the Spitzer produces infrared and the Chandra reveals X-ray observations.

"It's like taking one thing and looking at it with three different pairs of glasses," Martin said. "It's like three parts to a puzzle of the galactic center."

The Great Observatory Images are presented in two wood-mounted pieces. One piece -- about 3 feet by 4 feet -- displays each telescope's contribution in a different color. A larger piece -- about 3 feet by 6 feet -- combines the three images into what the NASA Web site refers to as "the most detailed views ever of our galaxy's mysterious core."

Dan Kaminsky, chairman of Tristate Astromers, said the image "gives people an idea of what the Milky Way is about."

"So many times, we look up at the night sky and things are washed out because of light pollution. It's hard to see the Milky Way from around here," he said. "I think this display will refresh people's memory about looking at the night sky and enjoying its beauty."

Julianna Albowicz, assistant to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, and state Sen. Donald F. Munson attended the unveiling. Munson noted that Mikulski had been instrumental in "saving the Hubble" at a point when it was in need of repair.

About 50 people gathered throughout the day Saturday to view the images and attend the unveiling.

Kaitlyn Hoffman, 8, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., was among them. Kaitlyn said the images made her want to learn more about astronomy.

"I think they're really cool looking," she said.

Kara Reed, Washington County Public Schools' supervisor of elementary math and science, said she was pleased to see young people interested in astronomy.

"I am excited about these images, as they are evidence that we, as a nation, are committed to continued growth in science education," she said.

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