Kids Explore Earth, Olympic Style

Salt Lake City, Utah Winter Salt Lake City, Utah Winter
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February 06, 2002


Earthly wonders on display in a small children's museum have spread worldwide with the help of NASA and JPL. Beginning this week, visitors will be treated to a new exhibit at the future home of the Children's Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City, called “Walk On Our World.” The building is a 68,000 square foot facility in the new Gateway Center, only blocks from the Olympic Square perimeter.

The exhibit features a unique array of NASA and JPL images. Visitors can view huge wall maps of the United States and Utah, including 3-D stereo images. An enormous floor map of the world will allow visitors to literally walk across the planet.

"These NASA images are a way of bringing you up close and personal with your planet," said D.D. Hilke, executive director of the museum. "We think that it will be a way to personally fit you into your world."

As the host city of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City will entertain guests from hundreds of countries around the world. Museum visitors will see a detailed animation that simulates flying through the Salt Lake City area. As the scene changes from summer to winter, viewers get a bird's eye view of such Olympic venues as the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Medals Plaza.

The animation was created with images from JPL's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (Aster), flying on the Terra satellite. Aster provides valuable data sets that allow scientists to map important geographical features like land surface temperature and elevation

Through animation and images at the museum, Hilke sees an amazing opportunity to jump-start one of the museum's future themes of taking ownership of the world and learning how individuals can affect it. Hilke imagines people pointing out places where they have been and viewing, in detail, geographical locations they have never seen before.

Joanna Fisher, the museum's gallery coordinator, describes the museum's goal to enrich the lives of children by creating a "doing place." She sees the images as a natural way to encourage viewers to interact.

"They are learning tools that promote questions," Fisher said. "People might ask 'why did people settle here?' or 'why are the borders here?' and the fabulous detail and resolution make that so much easier to see."

JPL's contributions include a mosaic wall map of the United States from Landsat 5 satellite data -- about 6 by 3.5 meters (20 by 12 feet); a wall map of Utah from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer instrument -- about 3 by 3.5 meters (about 10 feet by 12 feet); a wall map of the Wasatch Range and Salt Lake City from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (Aster) instrument; and wall map stereo images from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, Landsat and Spectro Radiometer data.

Dr. Robert E. Crippen, a JPL research geologist, created two, six-foot tall 3-D stereoscopic image views of the Wasatch Mountains region, which includes Salt Lake City, using data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission draped with Landsat 7 satellite imagery. The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2000, using radar instruments to collect data for the most detailed topographic map of the Earth ever made. One image requires the familiar red and blue "anaglyph" glasses and shows the 3-D view in black and white. The other image is in full color and puts the left and right eye views side-by-side but reversed. The color image becomes 3-D when viewers cross their eyes, each eye seeing its own perspective. People who have difficulty with the cross-eyed method should have no problem with the anaglyph.

In addition to providing data for a stereo image, JPL's Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer also provided data for a wall map of Utah. Instead of viewing Earth from a single perspective, this instrument collects images from nine widely spaced angles as the satellite that it rides on glides above Earth. The stereo image represents an area that spans 380 kilometers by 704 kilometers (about 236 by 437 miles).

Mosaics made from Landsat and other NASA instrument data sets were modified to provide large display maps as well as the floor map. The exhibit's creators hope, of course, that guests will crawl all over the planet they call home, scrutinizing it as they never have before. JPL computer scientist Lucian Plesea used JPL software to create and modify the maps.

During an event that the whole world is watching, exhibit coordinators hope that visitors to the children's museum will be able to appreciate the enormity of the world but also the intimacy that humans share with it. As Fisher reminds us, "Look closely, it's your planet!"

Images

Earth display at Science Museum of Minnesota. A similar one will be at Children's Museum of Utah.

Earth display at Science Museum of Minnesota. A similar one will be at Children's Museum of Utah.

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Landsat image of Earth

Landsat image of Earth

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