Explore the Universe

September 21, 2001 – March 27, 2022

WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe)

National Air and Space Museum
6th St. & Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC

1st Floor, East Wing, Explore the Universe, Gallery 111

See on Map Floor Plan

Through objects, interactives, and videos, this exhibition explains what scientists think our universe is like, how the present scientific view of the universe came to be, how it is being shaped today, and what mysteries remain. With the development of each new tool to explore the universe—telescopes, photography, spectroscopy—our understanding of the universe changed dramatically. Despite these new advances, many of our questions remain unanswered: What is the universe? How big is it? How old is it? How did it begin? A changing section on what's new in our exploration of the universe will keep the exhibition up to date and attempt to answer these questions.

  • Exploring the Universe with the Naked Eye examines our first, basic understanding of the universe. Featured artifacts include Islamic astrolabes and a replica of the armillary sphere and portable mural quadrant used by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe.
  • Exploring the Universe with the Telescope illustrates how the telescope revolutionized the way we see the universe. Featured artifacts include the telescope tube through which William Herschel discovered thousands of nebulae and star clusters, leading him to postulate that other galaxies exist beyond our Milky Way.
  • Exploring the Universe with Photography shows how photographs changed the way astronomers recorded the universe. Featured artifacts include the camera used by Edwin Hubble in discovering other galaxies.
  • Exploring the Universe with Spectroscopy demonstrates how the composition of light reveals histories within the universe. Featured artifacts include an early spectrograph from the late 1800s and a 1912 letter from Albert Einstein discussing the warping of space by matter.
  • Exploring the Universe in the Digital Age explains how digital detectors and processors have enhanced the power of the earlier tools. Featured artifacts include the "Z machine" that gathered data for the first 3-D map of the universe.

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