March 2, 2010

‘From Earth to the Universe’ Wins International Year of Astronomy 2009 Prize

The "From Earth to the Universe" (FETTU) project -- a worldwide series of exhibitions featuring striking astronomical imagery -- has won the first Mani Bhaumik prize for excellence in astronomy education and public outreach. This award was given for the best of the tens of thousands of activities conducted during the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) 2009.

NASA was a major sponsor of the project, which was led by the Chandra X-ray Center, that placed these images into public parks, metro stations, libraries, and other non-traditional locations around the world. The exhibit showcases some of the best astronomical images taken from telescopes both on the ground and in space, representing the wide variety of wavelengths and objects observed.

While FETTU has been a worldwide effort, a NASA grant provided the primary funding for the FETTU exhibits in the US. NASA funds also supplied the project's infrastructure as well as educational and other materials that helped the FETTU international efforts to thrive.

"We are truly thrilled to see how many people FETTU has reached both in the US and around the world," said Hashima Hasan, NASA's Single Point of Contact for IYA2009. "It's an investment we feel has been well spent."

In the US, FETTU has been placed on semi-permanent display at Chicago's O'Hare and Atlanta's Hartsfield airports. In addition, a traveling version of the exhibit has visited over a dozen US cities such as Washington, DC, Anchorage, AK, Memphis, TN, and New York City. Three tactile and Braille versions of the FETTU exhibit were also made possible by the NASA funds, each of which has traveled to multiple locations around the country.

"It's been so rewarding to see how people - many of whom had never seen these images - have embraced the wonders of astronomy through these exhibits," said Kimberly Kowal Arcand, co-chair of the FETTU project at the Chandra X-ray Center, which is located at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. "The responses have been overwhelmingly positive."

Around the world, there have been over 500 separate FETTU exhibits in nearly 70 different countries. These exhibits were enabled by making FETTU's repository of material freely available to those who agreed to participate in the project. FETTU exhibits have been placed in such locations as the hallways of the Iranian Parliament, outside on a plaza in Reykjavik, Iceland, in an art museum in Shanghai, China, during a space art contest for children in Bangladesh, throughout villages in Uruguay, in a prison in Coimbra, Portugal, and at UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Stonehenge in the U.K.

The Bhaumik awards and certificates will be handed over in March during the Communicating Astronomy with the Public 2010 Conference, in Cape Town, South Africa. Kimberly Kowal Arcand, FETTU co-chair together with Megan Watzke, will give a keynote talk at the conference.

FETTU was selected both as a global cornerstone project for the IAU as well as a major component of the US IYA program. Although the FETTU project was originally conceived for IYA2009, there are plans to have the exhibits continue to be displayed in 2010 and beyond.


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