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Hubble’s Heartbeat Pulses on Hayden Planetarium

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Starting November 14, waves of laser light will ripple across the Hayden Sphere to illustrate how the Hubble Space Telescope analyzes distant celestial objects. Artistic rendering courtesy of Space Telescope Science Institute.


Coming to the Museum over the holiday weekend? Remember to stop by the Museum’s Rose Center for Earth and Space on 81st Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West for a unique type of space show. Bright green waves of laser light will ripple across the Hayden Sphere from 5 to 11 pm every evening until Sunday, November 27, to illustrate how the Hubble Space Telescope analyzes distant galaxies, quasars, and other celestial objects in the universe—and to mark the opening of Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Explorationthe Museum’s latest special exhibition.

The laser art, From the Distant Past, was created by German artist Tim Otto Roth in collaboration with astronomer Bob Fosbury, the former head of the Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility. The installation resembles the squiggly line of an electrocardiogram. Behind the luminous pattern is a message: astronomical telescopes produce more than just beautiful pictures of the sky.

From the Distant Past is based on data captured by Hubble’s spectrometers, advanced instruments that act like prisms, separating light from the cosmos into its constituent colors. This provides a spectrum “fingerprint” of the object being observed, which, once decoded, tells scientists about its temperature, chemical composition, and motion, key indicators in understanding the development and age of the universe. Hubble’s spectrometers are especially skilled at hunting for black holes, volumes of space where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape.


“Hubble is all about looking long ago and far away,” said Michael Shara, a curator in the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics who uses the Hubble Space Telescope in his research and is part of a team that has received the largest-ever award of observing time on the Hubble—130 orbits, or approximately 210 hours a year—three times. Astronomers from all over the world compete for observing time on the Hubble each year; the Space Telescope Science Institute selects approximately 200 observing proposals for a total of 3,000 orbits annually.

“Hubble is like a time machine, letting us peek at the universe as it was 10 billion years ago,” said Shara, who is also curator of Beyond Planet Earth. “The spectrum of light Hubble collects from these early celestial objects shows us details that are otherwise invisible—like how hot they are, what they’re made of, or how fast they’re moving.”

The laser installation can be best viewed from 81st Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.

From the Distant Past is funded by the Space Telescope Science Institute and the European Space Agency.

Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration opened on Saturday, November 19. Click here to learn more and to purchase tickets.

American Museum of Natural History

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