Hubble's Heartbeat Pulses At The American Museum Of Natural History main content.

Hubble's Heartbeat Pulses At The American Museum Of Natural History

by AMNH on


Laser Art Installation Opens In Conjunction With New Exhibition Beyond Planet Earth: The Future Of Space Exploration 

Bright green waves of laser light will ripple across the Hayden Sphere in the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space starting Monday, November 14, to illustrate how the Hubble Space Telescope analyzes distant galaxies, quasars, and other celestial objects in the early universe. The public art installation, From the Distant Past, will pulse from 5 to 11 pm every day until Sunday, November 27, showcasing a unique convergence of science and art. The installation is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration, which opens to the public on Saturday, November 19.

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, all 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 is part of a research team that has received one of the largest-ever award of observing time on the HubbleÑ130 orbits, or approximately 210 hours a yearÑthree times. Astronomers from all over the world compete for observing time on the Hubble each year; the Space Telescope Science Institute selects proposals for a total of 3,000 orbits of observing time 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 the curator of Beyond Planet Earth. "The spectrum of light Hubble collects from these early galaxies shows us details that are otherwise invisibleÐlike what their stars are made of, how fast they're moving, and how they are evolving."

First shown last year in Venice, Italy, to mark Hubble's 20-year-run, the installation rings in Beyond Planet Earth, which will launch visitors into the exciting future of space exploration in our solar system and beyond. The laser installation can be best viewed from 81st Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.

"The commonality between science and art is beauty," Shara said. "There's great beauty in the natural world, both aesthetically and in the intricate details of how it works. This installation is a very compelling way to convey the beauty of science to the public."

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