2015-08

CfA-Designed Solar Exhibit Opens at National Air and Space Museum
Release No.: 
2015-08
For Release: 
Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 12:15pm

"The Dynamic Sun," a new exhibit conceived, designed and built by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), has just opened at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C. It features a giant video wall intended to create a visceral impact and show visitors how an ever-changing Sun affects Earth.

"The Sun is stunning in its complexity and beauty. We study it every day, and we never cease to be amazed. We wanted to bring a new understanding of our home star to a wider audience," says Smithsonian astrophysics and project co-leader Henry Winter III.

"The Dynamic Sun" combines six 50-inch monitors to create a 7 by 6 ft. field of view. It displays images from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, an instrument on board NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory that CfA helped Lockheed-Martin to design and build. These images of the full Sun's atmospheric layers are taken every 12 seconds with an image size of 4096 x 4096 pixels. By comparison, a high-definition TV can only display 1920 x 1080 pixels.

"We wanted to make the most awesome video display we can make," says Smithsonian astrophysicist Mark Weber, another project co-leader. "It had to meet the highest standards of quality and educational content."

"The Dynamic Sun" will eventually feature three educational modules developed by CfA and reviewed by NASM:
1) The Current Sun - Movies of the Sun from the previous day are processed by CfA overnight and sent to the exhibit display. From the first day of the exhibit, visitors will be able to see the Sun's level of activity as well as any recent solar flares or eruptions.
2) Highlights - Videos of dramatic moments like solar eruptions or the birth of giant solar prominences will show the Sun's dynamic nature.
3) Space Weather Reports - Up-to-date auroral forecasts will link Sun to Earth to museum goers.

The exhibit will benefit from NASM's popularity. The NASM building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. Attendance at both buildings combined exceeded 8 million in 2014, making it the most visited museum in America.

"I hope that this exhibit will inspire someone else like I was inspired by my first visit to the National Air and Space Museum," says Winter.

"The Dynamic Sun" was funded by matching $100,000 grants from the Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia and NASA's Living With a Star program. It is expected to remain on display through 2019.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

For more information, contact:

Christine Pulliam
Public Affairs Specialist
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
617-495-7463
cpulliam@cfa.harvard.edu