Hubble exhibit returns to science center

A visitor observes “Science on a Sphere,” a globe that digitally displays animated images of earth, atmospheric storms and other digital projections as part of the Hubble exhibit that is on display at the East Kentucky Science Center.

PRESTONSBURG — The Hubble exhibit is now open at the East Kentucky Science Center, located on the campus of Big Sandy Community and Technical College.

It marks the second time NASA has brought the exhibit to Eastern Kentucky. When the science center hosted it in 2018, it attracted approximately 10,000 people, including some visitors from other states, science center Director Steve Russo said. 

“Hubble is a telescope that has opened up the universe to us in different wavelengths of light,” Russo said. “I mean, even astronomers, we didn’t know as much about the universe until Hubble went up there and started looking at things in different wavelengths of light and different distances — almost like a 3D effect. So, it’s for people that just want to know the latest discoveries of the planets, how the universe is formed, the grand scale of things, the size of objects in space.”

He pointed to the “Hubble Deep Field,” one of the large photographs taken by the Hubble that is on display. 

“There’s over 2,000 galaxies in that one picture, yet, with the naked eye, it looks like one star, one dot,” he said. “And each of those galaxies is similar to the Milky Way. There’s 300 billion stars in each of those 2,000 spots. So, this exhibit kind of puts us into perspective, humans, as to where we are in the whole universe. Actually, it makes us feel very insignificant, quite frankly. It brings us down to earth, really. If you want to learn about the whole universe, this is the exhibit to do it.” 

The 2,200 sq. ft. exhibit is divided in to several sections, and it features a scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched into space by NASA in 1990 and continues to provide images of the universe, as well as a section on the James Webb Telescope.

Visitors will learn about Hubble’s contribution to the exploration of planets, stars, galaxies and the universe and see photos it has taken in space. Information is provided through computerized stations, as well as displays that explain tools and instruments that have been used to repair the Hubble. 

For the first time, NASA officials added the “Science on a Sphere,” a globe that digitally displays animated images of earth, atmospheric storms and other digital projections. Russo said it shares real-time satellite views of the earth, as well as pre-programed animations.

“There’s the sun, there’s the moon, there’s earthquakes, there’s tsunami data, there’s about 40 or 50 things running through the general program,” he said. “But it is made to do real-time weather patterns, imagery, things like that.” 

The exhibit arrived at the science center last week in two semi-trucks filled with 55 pallets, some of which weighed hundreds of pounds. The science center was closed all week for the installation, which required 650 hours from center staff, BSCTC, the Mountain Arts Center and the community. Russo and others thanked Ace Hardware of Prestonsburg for helping install projectors for the “Science on a Sphere.” The work was completed at 4:30 p.m. on Friday — less than two hours before the center hosted a “VIP” event for special guests.

Maurice Henderson, who helped create the Hubble traveling exhibit for NASA and introduced the “Science on a Sphere” program, answered questions from those guests Friday. He shared images of the earth, starting from 600 million years ago, and advancing through time.

He said, “We are sitting here on the earth in Kentucky and looking out to the end of the universe. So, we no longer have an incomplete story. We have a whole story being told.”

Speakers at the VIP event also included BSCTC President/CEO Dr. Sherry Zylka, Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton and John Rosenberg, one of the founders of the science center.

“I’m so glad that we have the Hubble back again … We’re really proud for what this means for the children of Eastern Kentucky, for science education and for STEM and for having the college here and for having Dr. Zylka so committed to trying to improve science education in this region,” Rosenberg said.

BSCTC Biology Professor Dr. Tom Vierheller, another founding member of the science center, said it offers a “fantastic opportunity” to the public, talking about how it can spark an interest in science for children. 

“Beyond other types of experiences, many scientists have gotten their start when they had that chance to see an exhibit just like this very one,” he said. 

The Hubble exhibit will remain at the center through May 18. Admission will be free on May 11, National Astronomy Day. Henderson said that day is the 29th anniversary of Hubble’s launch into space and the 10th anniversary of its last servicing mission. 

The center is open on Tuesday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children and free to children under the age of four. 

For more information, call, (606) 889-8260, or visit the center’s Facebook page.

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