Daily Herald
North Central offers rare view of Milky Way
By Melissa Jenco | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 11/11/2009 12:21 AM

North Central College gave stargazers a view of the galaxy Tuesday they couldn't get from a typical telescope.

The college unveiled new mural-size NASA images of the Milky Way as part of the International Year of Astronomy celebration.

They will be on display permanently at the school's Oesterle Library, 320 E. School St.

Only 11 cultural and scientific sites in Illinois have the images available for the public to view.

Emily Prather-Rodgers, Oesterle Library's technical services coordinator, called the display an "inspiring view of the very core of our home galaxy, the Milky Way."

"We look at pictures of outer space online or we look in books at pictures of outer space but we don't get this six-foot-long image," she said.

William Higgins, radiation safety physicist with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a volunteer with NASA's Solar System Ambassadors Program, told the crowd at Oesterle that the Milky Way contains more than 200 billion stars, possibly as many as 400 billion. The sun, he said, is 26,000 light years from the center.

One of NASA's new images was produced by combining the view from three telescopes - the Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra - each of which have different viewing capabilities. NASA also provided photos that show each of the three individually.

The Hubble picked up the ionized hydrogen and stellar nurseries in the galaxy, Higgins said, while the Spitzer shows red giant stars and warm dust. Through the Chandra, one can see a giant black hole and X-ray binary stars.

"I like the fact that they were able to break them down three different ways with the different light spectra so you could see what really made up that entire glowing mass," said visitor Arthur Johnson of Bolingbrook. "It's more than just one thing."

Put them all together and the image is one of purple, red, blue and yellow swirls and specks.

North Central College international student Guadalupe Barrios had a friend take pictures of her near the NASA images Tuesday and said called them awesome.

"Since I was a child I loved stars and everything and maybe that's why I'm studying physics," she said.

North Central also displayed one of its prized possessions - a first-edition copy of "Dialogo," by Galileo Galilei. The 1632 book is considered by many the astronomer's most important work. North Central's copy is part of its Sang Collection.

Michael de Brauw, assistant professor of classics, was on hand Tuesday to discuss "Dialogo" while Richard Wilders, a mathematics faculty member, told the crowd about Aristotelian and Copernican views of the universe. Biology professor John Zenchak also demonstrated a special telescope called a Galileoscope.