NASA selects Waubonsie Valley to unveil rare images

You wouldn't just order a telescope-shaped cake honoring Galileo for the heck of it - and neither would Aurora's Waubonsie Valley High School.

School officials are beaming with pride after being one of only 11 school planetariums nationwide that NASA selected to permanently display two never-before-seen images from the administration's observatories.

"This is an incredibly huge honor to be selected alongside Chicago's Adler Planetarium to display these murals," assistant principal Joy Ross said Wednesday. "It certainly demonstrates the level they consider our program to have achieved to share this cutting edge technology with us in honor of the International Year of Astronomy."

Waubonsie opened its own planetarium in 1975 as part of its instructional technology curriculum. The facility, upgraded in 1999, accommodates about 16,000 students and residents a year.

The community is invited to the unveiling of the murals from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20.

The two images that Waubonsie will unveil were taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory and feature the spiral galaxy Messier 101.

One 6-by-3-foot picture showcases the galaxy's features in the infrared light observed by Spitzer, the visible light observed by Hubble, and the X-ray light observed by Chandra. It shows the giant clouds where stars are born and the hidden locations of black holes and exploded stars.

The second picture, a 3-by-3-foot view of Messier 101, combines the views from all three telescopes into one composite. According to Ross, the image provides a view that is like seeing with your eyes, night vision goggles, and X-ray vision all at once.

Denise Smith, a scientist at the administrations's Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and project manager, said Waubonsie's facility was an easy choice.

"During the International Year of Astronomy, we want to provide opportunities for children, youth and adults nationwide to discover the universe for themselves," Smith said. "The Waubonsie Planetarium has a long history of working with both students and the local community to instill a personal sense of wonder and curiosity, making it an ideal partner for the image unveiling."

Ross said she hopes the mere fact Waubonsie was recognized for this project means the district may have future opportunities to work with NASA scientists.

"I imagine the fact they selected us is an indication that we met some incredibly stringent criteria," she said. "So we would love to continue to have a partnership with them and work to open our students up to a whole new world."

In addition to the unveiling of NASA's images, the Feb. 20 event at Waubonsie will feature free planetarium shows, a display of telescopes and refreshments.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.