From planets to stars to the science behind their creation, the Adler Planetarium reveals it all in its new permanent exhibit "The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time."
Nine years in the making, "'The Universe' takes visitors on a journey from the Big Bang to current day, when (the universe) is completely huge," said Karen Carney, Associate Vice President for Visitors and Learning, in a telephone interview.
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"The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time"Location: The Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, (312) 922-7827 or adlerplanetarium.org
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Parking: Street parking is adjacent to the planetarium and costs $19 per car (prices subject to change) or covered parking available in Soldier Field
Admission: Exhibit is included in general admission, which is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for children ages 3 to 11
The exhibit relies on projections, high-resolution photography and interactive programs similar to those used in the planetarium's theater shows.
Mark SubbaRao, director of the Space Visualization Laboratory and exhibit curator, said visitors will start out in a cramped, hot corridor to represent how compact and dense the universe was before the Big Bang. As people move along, the hallway expands and leads into a room with a wraparound projection screen.
"The wall lets you see the universe on all the scales from microscopic to cosmological," SubbaRao said.
"The Universe" allows viewers to create supernovas by stepping on stars, thanks to an interactive carpet. Further down the hall, there's an opportunity to make human life (in the simplest of ways).
Relying on the late astronomer Carl Sagan's quote "We are star stuff," SubbaRao explains that humans are roughly made up of iron, calcium, oxygen and hydrogen, which are all found in various stars.
In "The Universe," visitors can sit at a computer that connects to a large screen with the outline of a human body. By placing iron and calcium elements into the body, the program starts to form bones and veins, in other words proving that humans are "star stuff."
"We spend a lot of time talking about the way atoms and stars are made and how the universe is put together," SubbaRao said.
If this all seems a bit complex, don't worry. The new exhibit is geared toward a younger audience.
Thanks to high-resolution images from the Hubble telescope, visitors can relive their childhood stargazing by zooming in on various planets and constellations.
While there is no gift shop dedicated to "The Universe," visitors are able to send their future selves an e-postcard from the planet or galaxy of their choice.
"You take a picture of yourself and then send it from say the moon, the message will then reach you in about a second," Carney said. "That's how long it takes light from the moon to reach us."
For those who choose to send it from the Andromeda galaxy, the wait will be a little longer -- 2.5 million years.
At the end of the exhibit, visitors are introduced to the possibility of other planets. Instructions are available on how to conduct home experiments with the help of NASA's Kepler Mission, which discovers potential new planets. The space craft travels through the universe focusing on a certain group of stars and records light that may be reflecting off nearby planets. For more information, go to Zoonivers.org.
With all of its gadgets and information, the Adler exhibit focuses on one underlying message.
"The universe is so huge and you are a part of it and it is a part of you," Carney said.