February 5, 2009     
Contact: Steve Sauter
Director of the Bassett Planetarium

AMHERST, Mass.—Witness a special event on Sunday, Feb. 15, at 2 p.m. at Amherst College’s Wilder Observatory on Snell Street in Amherst when two new mural-sized images taken by NASA’s Great Observatories—the Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory—will be unveiled to the public. The permanent display of the stunning photographs of the well-known spiral galaxy Messier 101 at the Wilder commemorates the International Year of Astronomy and will be coordinated by Steve Sauter, director of Amherst College’s Bassett Planetarium in Morgan Hall on the school’s campus. Following the unveiling and a question-and-answer session with Sauter, the Bassett will host a public program at 3 p.m.

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 celebrates the 400th anniversary of Galileo first turning a telescope to the heavens. From Galileo’s first spyglass, telescopes have grown ever larger and ever better and have moved to mountaintops and to space. NASA’s Great Observatories represent the achievements of astronomy four centuries later and are honoring this legacy with a national unveiling of images. The Wilder Observatory and Bassett Planetarium were selected to present these incredible images to the people of Amherst and surrounding towns.

One 6-foot-by-3-foot mural shows three striking, full-color images that showcase 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. The images show not only the details of the grand design spiral structure for which the galaxy is famous, but also the underlying giant clouds where stars are born, as well as the hidden locations of black holes and exploded stars. These multi-wavelength views provide both stunning beauty and a wealth of scientific information not even dreamed of by Galileo.

Another 3-foot-by-3-foot image of Messier 101 combines the views from all three telescopes into an amazing composite. “It’s like seeing with your eyes, night vision goggles and X-ray vision all at once,” explained Sauter.

Additional information about each of NASA’s Great Observatories is available at their individual Web sites:  www.hubblesite.org , www.spitzer.caltech.edu and chandra.harvard.edu.

Amherst College’s Wilder Observatory is open on clear Saturday evenings, April through October, from 9 to 11 p.m. For more information, visit: www.amherst.edu/museums/bassett.