February 10, 2009

NASA plans Galileo’s birthday celebration

The U.S. space agency is planning a special exhibit to celebrate Galileo's 445th birthday and 2009's designation as the International Year of Astronomy.

In conjunction with Galileo's birthday next Sunday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is releasing images from its Great Observatories -- the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes and the Chandra X-ray Observatory -- to more than 100 U.S. planetariums, museums, nature centers and schools.

The selected sites will unveil a large 9-square-foot print of the spiral galaxy Messier 101 that combines the optical view of Hubble, the infrared view of Spitzer and the X-ray view of Chandra into one multi-wavelength picture, NASA said. Each image presents a different wavelength view of that galaxy, illustrating how far astronomy has come since Galileo first turned his telescope to the sky in 1609.

It's like using your eyes, night vision goggles and X-ray vision all at the same time, said Hashima Hasan, NASA's lead scientist for the International Year of Astronomy.

Messier 101 is a spiral galaxy about 22 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major.

The Feb. 14-28 unveilings will occur at 76 museums and 40 U.S. schools and universities. A list of the exhibits is available at http://hubblesource.stsci.edu/events/iya/participants.php.