Gunther Depths of Space
When visitors walk to the edge of the Edge of Space mezzanine, they are greeted by the wondrous and unexpected vista of the Richard and Lois Gunther Depths of Space: an enormous glittering panorama of real astronomical images; large, accurately scaled models of planets; and numerous interactive objects and exhibits. This large new exhibit hall is activated by the recent transformation of cosmic perspective that began when people first ventured into space. No longer is observation and understanding of the sky bonded to the ground and framed by the horizon.
The Gunther Depths of Space enables visitors to explore four fundamental transformations of perspective made possible by our explorations with spacecraft and ever-larger new telescopes on the ground:
- Planets into landscapes
- Stars into solar systems
- Galaxies and nebulae into iconic vistas
- Cosmic wilderness into cosmic neighborhood (featuring The Big Picture)
The Gunther Depths of Space is filled with exhibits that are as monumental and unique as the ideas they illustrate.
The Planets: From the edge of the mezzanine and the floor below, visitors encounter a row of nine subtly illuminated, accurately scaled (to the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon, which represents the Sun), three-dimensional models of the planets in our solar system mounted at the top of freestanding 14-foot-high discovery pylons. Common and unique elements transform the features of each planet into a landscape for visitors. The left side of each pylon will include physical data about the planet and a floor-mounted scale to illustrate the gravitational pull of each planet on a visitor. The right side of each pylon will highlight unique features of the planet and what it is like to be there.
Our Earth: Earth's planet pylon has an opening to a chamber beneath the mezzanine, which includes the Observatory's popular seismograph instrument, a six-foot Earth model, a two-foot projection Earth model simulating our atmosphere and oceans, and the Zeiss Mark IV planetarium projector used in the former planetarium theater from 1964-2002. The projector is a symbol of our old, Earth-based perspective on the sky.
Our Solar System Just left of the planet pylons, visitors' eyes are drawn upward to a suspended 8-foot-wide projected model of the solar system, with each planet accurately tracking its revolution around the Sun. In normal operation, the exhibit represents the accurate relative motion of the worlds in the solar system.
Other Worlds, Other Stars: A unique station that highlights the profound and ongoing discoveries of other planetary systems since 1995, likely the single most compelling area of recent astronomical discovery. The station includes a simple LED counter of known planets to illustrate the pace of discovery and confront visitors with a change from the traditional "nine-planet" paradigm. The station also features projected alignments of the new systems, conceptions of what they might look like, and their location relative to the Earth. Secondary content explores the rapidly changing nature of the definition of a "planet.
Milky Way Galaxy: An eight-foot, luminous, astronomically accurate glass model of the Milky Way Galaxy floats in midair and illustrates the three-dimensional character of our galactic home. The interactive station below invites visitors to explore further the nature of galaxies.
Iconic Universe: Spectacular recent images of distant nebulae, galaxies, and stars hover on a 12-foot screen. This screen also provides an opportunity to highlight breaking news and the most recent scientific results.
A Familiar Star Pattern: A black, four-foot diameter sphere in the center of the floor can be approached from all sides, but only from one vantage point --Earth-- does a familiar arrangement of illuminated stars take form. This exhibit demonstrates how position and perspective as an observer affect the patterns of objects you observe.
Our Address: This powerful but simple display uses large visuals to present the ever-increasing scale of the universe. Employing the storyline of a "postcard" on which the complete "universal" address of a visitor to the Observatory is written (street, city, state, nation, Earth, solar system, Milky Way Galaxy, universe), five large, arresting images illustrate our address at ever larger scales.
The Big Picture: At 152 feet long and 20 feet high, The Big Picture is the largest single astronomically accurate image ever produced. Comprising real observational data of a part of the sky showing over a million real stars, galaxies, and other celestial objects, The Big Picture features stunning detail of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies and beyond. Because the image for The Big Picture is drawn from recent all-sky digital image surveys by the world's most sophisticated cameras and telescopes, the resolution and clarity of the objects causes visitor perception of them to change as they move toward and away from the wall, including the illusion of depth and real increasing detail. In its immensity, detail, and execution, The Big Picture is unlike any exhibit ever undertaken.
The Big Picture exhibit is the April 29 feature as part of the International Year of Astronomy's "365 Days of Astronomy" podcast series. To listen to the podcast about The Big Picture click here.
The Big Picture-Related Exhibits
The Big Picture enables visitors on the Edge of Space mezzanine to use simple Observing Telescopes mounted 60 feet away to explore objects in greater detail. Two sets of small telescopes fix on pre-selected objects while two other sets offer freedom to explore.
On the floor directly in front of The Big Picture, several Field Guides allow visitors to learn more about the Virgo Cluster of galaxies and specific objects on the wall.
The nearby Depth of Space screen uses a series of animations to establish how the seemingly two-dimensional Big Picture actually is a three-dimensional volume filled with stars, galaxies, and quasars at widely varying distances from Earth.
On a bench along the outer wall of the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater, a full-size bronze statue of Albert Einstein sits on a bench with his right index finger held roughly a foot from his face. The most famous scientist of the 20th century is there to lend human perspective. The Big Picture depicts roughly what Einstein's finger held up to the night sky would cover.
The naming of the Richard and Lois Gunther Depths of Space recognizes a generous contribution from southland natives Richard and Lois Gunther. Richard Gunther's interest in science and astronomy was sparked by an inspirational visit he made as a 12-year-old to Mount Wilson Observatory. There, through the 60-inch telescope, he examined the Orion nebula and witnessed its immense, swirling red mass of brilliant colors contrasted with the blackness of space. This striking phenomenon turned him into an enthusiastic life-long astronomy fan. "I was dazzled," Gunther recalls. "When I learned about some of the extraordinary exhibits the new Griffith Observatory would have, I wanted to be a part of that project." He continues, "It is our hope that we can develop an exhibit program that will offer a vision of the universe that will excite young people, awaken their interest in astronomy, and make a life-long contribution to enriching their lives as it has mine."
Gunther, who is listed in "Who's Who in the West" (1994), is a venture capitalist and securities investor and the former chairman of United Continental Development Corporation. Gunther graduated summa cum laude from UCLA and earned a master's degree from the University of Southern California. His philanthropy and volunteerism cover a wide spectrum of interests. He has served on numerous boards, including those for public television station KCET, the Esalen Institute, the California School of Professional Psychology, as well as on Los Angeles City, County, and California State commissions.