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News Release 193 of 325

April 9, 2002 12:00 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2002-09

Hubble Astronomer Creates Spectacular Galaxy Collision Visualization for the National Air and Space Museum

April 9, 2002: Someday our Milky Way Galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy may come crashing together in a horrendous collision that will twist and distort their shapes beyond recognition. Of course, to see that, you'll have to wait several billion years. But thanks to a combination of research science, Hollywood computer graphics, and large-scale visualization, visitors to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, can witness such an event today. The Space Telescope Science Institute, the scientific home of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, is extending its tradition of stunning imagery by creating a spectacular scientific visualization of two galaxies colliding. This incredibly detailed, full-dome video sequence will be a highlight of "Infinity Express: A 20-Minute Tour of the Universe," the inaugural show in the National Air and Space Museum's newly renovated Einstein Planetarium, opening Saturday, April 13.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. How was the visualization created?

  2. A collision of two spiral galaxies takes hundreds of millions of years to occur. So, researchers use supercomputer simulations to study how galaxies are transformed and merge together. Dr. Frank Summers, an institute astrophysicist, took research simulation data from two astronomers and visualized it using the same software that Hollywood uses to produce blockbuster visual effects. Special care was taken so that what appears onscreen accurately reflects what was calculated in the simulation.

    The visualization will play in a planetarium equipped with a full-dome digital video system, which immerses the viewer in the dynamic wonders of the universe. The video system will project the show across the entire hemisphere of the planetarium dome. The system has up to 23 times the resolution of a standard television and is wrapped 360 degrees around the audience, surrounding them in the experience.

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Credit: NASA and F. Summers (Space Telescope Science Institute), C. Mihos (Case Western Reserve University), L. Hernquist (Harvard University)