The possibility of life on Mars has enthralled scientists and science fiction writers for centuries.
Science Central's newest traveling exhibition, “Mars in 3-D” invites visitors to discover the mystery of one of Earth's closest neighbors by virtually “standing” on the Red Planet to observe its surface features, such as hillsides, cliffs and slopes.
“Mars in 3-D” creates the feeling of being on the planet using a series of large, colorful, high-resolution images on framed panels like room dividers visitors observe with red-blue glasses.
Since 2004, the European Space Agency's (ESA)Mars Express space probe has captured these Digital Terrain Models, or high-resolution images, using a stereo camera designed and built by the German Aerospace Center, or Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft-und Raumfahrt.
“These images are actual reproductions of what the satellite is seeing, and the visitors get to put on 3-D glasses, so there's that cool, interactive, eyes-on factor,” said Science Central Executive Director Martin Fisher.
“Mars in 3-D” will replace Science Central's most recent traveling exhibition, “Treasure!,” in the center's 3,000-square-foot gallery on the north side of the building's lower level.
Fisher has been communicating with the German space center for four years to bring “Mars in 3-D” to Science Central. The exhibition has been on a world tour of science centers in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and its first stop in its U.S. tour will be in Fort Wayne.
“It's boasting rights to be able to say we're kicking off the U.S. tour,” Fisher said.
“Mars in 3-D” will open at Science Central on Tuesday with an 11 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony and free admission all day.
Deputy Mayor Mark Becker, State Rep. Win Moses and Mars researcher Ulrich Koehler from the German Aerospace Center are scheduled to speak at the ribbon-cutting. Koehler will lead tours and host PowerPoint presentations every hour on the hour 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission to “Mars in 3-D” is included in visitors' passes for the duration of its stay until Sept. 2.
“It's going to be able to teach our city, our community, our region, our tri-state area about the excitement of Mars,” Fisher said. “Mars is this vibrant, living planet. Things are happening on its surface. Our visitors are going to be able to learn about what scientists around the world are doing to teach the world about Mars.”
The ESA's Mars Express space probe is Europe's first mission to another planet, and its findings are unique. Unlike the bird's-eye images of NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars Express probe provides high-resolution images accompanied by high-resolution topography, or the vertical elevation of the terrain.
“It has two cameras, one on the left side and one on the right, and they superimpose the images like the human eye,” Fisher said. “That's what gives us depth perception.”
According to the ESA, the images have a resolution of about one pixel per 33 feet, making them the most detailed data set ever released for Mars.
The stereo camera on the Mars Express probe provides altitude data for every data point the camera sees for a more accurate, well-rounded depiction of the planet's terrain.
Researchers use the images to better understand how water or lava has flowed across the planet. The images also help determine the altitude and slope of cliffs, hillsides, lava flows or desert plains.
But for visitors, the images' primary purpose is to show the six natural forces that have shaped Mars for billions of years — volcanism, water, ice, erosion and tectonics.
Signs in English and German accompanying the display provide information about Mars, its moons and exploration efforts.
Exhibition designer Koehler said one of the main reasons Mars interests scientists is because it was once similar to Earth, but it evolved differently.
“There was plenty of water on Mars, but the questions are: Where is it today? Was Mars ever able to host life? To find out whether there was, or still is, life existent elsewhere in the solar system is one of the key tasks in science of this century,” Koehler said in a news release.
Fisher hopes the new exhibition will foster a sense of curiosity about Earth's neighbors in our solar system.
“One of the things that makes a science center unique is you get to go and see what you want,” Fisher said. “Most of us will probably never get to see Mars. This is the closest we're going to get.”