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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Build-your-own comets, 3D Mars views offered by IU Astronomy at State Fair

Aug. 18, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Running with the success of its promotion of the International Year of Astronomy and backed by funding from the Indiana Space Grant Consortium, Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Astronomy will bring its own quiz show, plenty of homemade comets and a 3D experience of Mars to the Indiana State Fair later this week.

Astronomy Poster

Posters like the one above highlighting work by IU astronomers can be seen at the Indiana State Fair as part of the Indiana Space Travels exhibit.

Located within the state fair's Grand Hall exhibition area as part of the elaborate and interactive "Indiana Space Travels" exhibit sponsored by the Indiana State Fair and the consortium, the hands-on, three-day special exhibit by IU College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Astronomy is all about audience participation, according to Professor Richard H. Durisen.

"These ambitious activities are a result of some special funding provided by the consortium and thanks to a lot of volunteer time," Durisen said of the interactive IU exhibit that will run this Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Aug. 20-22) in Indianapolis. "Each day, several IU astronomers - faculty, staff or graduate students - plus amateur astronomers from the Indiana Astronomical Society, will be on hand to answer questions and to help fairgoers learn about how to get involved in amateur astronomy."

And by involved, astronomy faculty, staff and students mean visitors will be learning astronomy by doing astronomy. That could mean building your own take-home mini-comet using Earthly ingredients such as soil, water and dry ice, some versions of which are ingredients of real comets.

Astronomy Ph.D. student Nathalie Haurberg successfully wrote the funding proposal to the Indiana Space Grant Consortium that provided for the IU exhibit, and she spearheaded the organizational effort behind the project. She said guests should be in for a surprise or two.

"Fairgoers will be able to actually participate in the comet making process," she said. "And when they are finished they can take their mini-comet with them and hold in their hands a quite accurate, although scaled down, model of a real comet."

Astronomers will also display and discuss a series of 3D images of the surface of Mars and will provide fairgoers with the special glasses necessary to experience that extra depth. Both children and adults can be contestants in periodic daily quiz shows where prizes such as planispheres -- used to track stars in your own backyard -- and telescope kits will be awarded to participants.

The IU exhibit is just part of the "Indiana Space Travels" exhibit that relates the rich Hoosier heritage in space, including more than 20 Hoosier astronauts who have flown in space.

The "Indiana Space Travels" exhibit traces the stories of significant aeronautic Hoosiers and events dating back to 1859 with the nation's first airmail delivery, originating by hot air balloon in Lafayette. The exhibit also features an interactive Mars rover that can be operated by remote control just like NASA does it, a space capsule simulator visitors can sit inside, a replica Hubble Telescope, a modular mission control board, and artifacts from various space missions, balloon launches and rockets. There is also a NASA photo kiosk where fairgoers can photograph themselves in space.

About the Indiana Space Grant Consortium

The Indiana Space Grant Consortium is one of 52 consortia that are part of the National Space Grant Foundation. The consortium's purpose is to carry out education, research and public outreach activities in science, mathematics, engineering and technology while endeavoring to increase the financial and government support to the Space Grant Consortia. Each of the 52 consortia is comprised of colleges, universities, businesses and other private and public sector institutions, all working to further aerospace education and career training.

To speak with Durisen or to learn more about the Indiana Space Grant Consortium, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or