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Tour of RCW 103

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
When stars have more than about 8 times as much mass as the Sun, they end their lives in a spectacular explosion called a supernova. The outer layers of the star are hurtled out into space at millions of miles per hour, leaving a debris field of gas and dust. Where the star once was located, a small, incredibly dense object called a neutron star is often found. While only 10 miles or so across, the tightly packed neutrons in such a star contain more mass than the entire Sun. The supernova remnant called RCW 103 is a by-product of one of these explosions and the neutron star it left behind, known as 1E 1613, is proving to be particularly interesting. For years, astronomers have known that 1E 1613 shows a regular brightening and dimming in its X-rays that repeats about every six and a half hours. It could be a neutron star that is rotating much more slowly than other neutron stars, or it could be a faster-spinning neutron star that has a normal star as a companion. New data from four high-energy telescopes, Chandra, Swift, NuSTAR and XMM-Newton, have shown that the unusually slow spin is the correct explanation and that.1E 1613 has the properties of a magnetar. Magnetars are neutron stars that possess enormously powerful magnetic fields, trillions of times greater than that on the Sun. While it is still unclear why 1E 1613 is spinning so slowly, scientists do have some ideas. One leading scenario is that debris from the exploded star has fallen back onto magnetic field lines around the spinning neutron star, causing it to spin more slowly with time. Searches are currently being made for other very slowly spinning magnetars to study this idea in more detail. More information at http://chandra.si.edu/photo/2016/rcw103/

A Tour of GW170817

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to make the first X-ray detection of a gravitational wave source. Chandra was one of multiple observatories to detect the aftermath of this gravitational wave event, the first to produce an electromagnetic signal of any type. This discovery represents the beginning of a new era in astrophysics. The gravitational wave source, GW170817, was detected with the advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, at 8:41am EDT on Thursday August 17, 2017. Two seconds later NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor detected a weak pulse of gamma rays. Later that morning, LIGO scientists announced that GW170817 had the characteristics of a merger of two neutron stars. During the evening of August 17, multiple teams of astronomers using ground-based telescopes reported a detection of a new source of optical and infrared light in the galaxy NGC 4993, a galaxy located about 130 million light years from Earth. Over the following two weeks, Chandra observed NGC 4993 and the source GW170817 four separate times. In the first observation on August 19th, no X-rays were detected at the location of GW170817. This observation was obtained remarkably quickly, only 2.3 days after the gravitational source was detected. On August 26, Chandra observed GW170817 again and this time, X-rays were seen for the first time. This new X-ray source was located at the exact position of the optical and infrared source. All of these pieces of information indicate that this event was produced by the merger of two neutron stars, which, in turn, set off a gamma-ray burst that produced a jet pointing away from Earth. The combination of gravitational wave signals with light detected by various telescopes including Chandra represents a new era in astrophysics.

A Tour of W51

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
In the context of space, the term ‘cloud’ can mean something rather different from the fluffy white collections of water in the sky or a way to store data or process information. Giant molecular clouds are vast cosmic objects, composed primarily of hydrogen molecules and helium atoms, where new stars and planets are born. These clouds can contain more mass than a million suns, and stretch across hundreds of light years. The giant molecular cloud known as W51 is one of the closest to Earth at a distance of about 17,000 light years. Because of its relative proximity, W51 provides astronomers with an excellent opportunity to study how stars are forming in our Milky Way galaxy. A new composite image of W51 shows the high-energy output from this stellar nursery. In about 20 hours of Chandra exposure time, astronomers detected over 600 young stars as point-like X-ray sources and diffuse X-ray emission from interstellar gas with a temperature of a million degrees. Infrared light observed with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows cool gas and stars surrounded by disks of cool material. By studying the distribution of the X-rays and their properties in W51 and combining this with data from other telescopes, astronomers are trying to better understand the details of how stars are born.

Tour of IC 2497

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Citizen science projects have done some remarkable things in recent years and those in astronomy are no exception. One of the early success stories of the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project was the discovery of an unusual object in 2007. This object was found by Hanny van Arkel who, at the time, was a school teacher in the Netherlands. Today, the object is known as "Hanny's Voorwerp," which means "Hanny's object" in Dutch. Professional astronomers have also taken an interest in Hanny's Voorwerp. This unusually-shaped cloud of gas, which also has another nickname of the "green blob," is located only about 200,000 light years from the galaxy IC 2497. While this sounds like a huge distance, it is actually very close in cosmic terms. Because of that, Hanny's Voorwerp is affected by what goes on in IC 2497, in particular by the behavior of the giant black hole at its center. In fact, the green blob gets its color because oxygen atoms in the gas cloud have been excited by the incoming ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from regions close to the black hole. Even though astronomers suspect this black hole was a so-called quasar in the past, recent Chandra observations indicate that it has since faded. So far, Hanny's Voorwerp shows no sign of dimming, but with the 200,000 light year separation, astronomers in the upcoming millennia might just see the lights in the green blob start to flicker off. New observations with Chandra suggest that the black hole is still producing large amounts of energy even though it is no longer generating intense radiation as a quasar. The X-ray data suggest that jets powered by the black hole have blown a large bubble in surrounding gas. This shows that giant black holes can have a big effect on their environments. More information at http://chandra.si.edu/photo/2016/ic2497/index.html

A Tour of GW170817

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
The spectacular merger of two neutron stars that generated gravitational waves announced last fall likely did something else: birthed a black hole. This newly spawned black hole would be the lowest mass black hole ever found. A new study analyzed data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory taken in the days, weeks, and months after the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, and gamma rays by NASA's Fermi mission on August 17, 2017. While nearly every telescope at professional astronomers' disposal observed this source, known officially as GW170817, X-rays from Chandra are critical for understanding what happened after the two neutron stars collided. From the LIGO data astronomers have a good estimate that the mass of the object resulting from the neutron star merger is about 2.7 times the mass of the Sun. This puts it on a tightrope of identity, implying it is either the most massive neutron star ever found or the lowest mass black hole ever found. The previous record holders for the latter are no less than about four or five times the Sun's mass. The Chandra observations are telling, not only for what they revealed, but also for what they did not. If the neutron stars merged and formed a heavier neutron star, then astronomers would expect it to spin rapidly and generate a very strong magnetic field. This, in turn, would have created an expanding bubble of high-energy particles that would result in bright X-ray emission. Instead, the Chandra data show levels of X-rays that are a factor of a few to several hundred times lower than expected for a rapidly spinning, merged neutron star and the associated bubble of high-energy particles, implying a black hole likely formed instead.

Nova Rex tour shirt

National Museum of American History

(Sketchbook) Vevey La Tour

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Tour + Workshop = DESIGN: Value

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson in which students gain an understanding of value by discussing examples and by creating a value scale.

Tour + Workshop = DESIGN: Texture

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson in which students observe the textures of various objects in order to create the illusion of texture in 2-D.

Tour + Workshop = DESIGN: Line

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson in which elementary students gain an understanding of line as a design element and expressive artistic application.

Tour + Workshop = DESIGN: Shape

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson in which students gain an understanding of the types of shapes through a series of art activities.

Tour + Workshop = DESIGN: Line

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson in which middle-school students gain an understanding of line as a design element and expressive artistic application.

Tour Saint Antoine, Loches

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Tour + Workshop = DESIGN: Space

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson in which students gain an understanding of space through a series of art activities using shapes.

Tour Agent and Guardette

National Air and Space Museum
A tour agent and a guardette, page 29.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Picture This: A Docent Tour

Smithsonian American Art Museum

A Photo Tour Through Ireland

Smithsonian Magazine

Eliot Clark's tour of Europe

Archives of American Art
Diary : 140 p. : handwritten ; 13 x 9 cm.

Daily entry for Eliot Clark's tour of Europe.

A Photographic Tour of London

Smithsonian Magazine

The Human Evolution World Tour

Smithsonian Magazine

A Tour of Abell 2597

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
A Tour of Abell 2597 Researchers used Chandra to look at some of the largest known galaxies lying in the middle of galaxy clusters. Related Link: http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2015/a2597/ More Podcasts: http://chandra.harvard.edu/resources/podcasts/sd.html

A Tour of NGC 1333

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
A Tour of NGC 1333 (07-07-2015) While fireworks only last a short time here on Earth, a bundle of cosmic sparklers in a nearby cluster of stars will be going off for a very long time. You can read more info about NGC 1333 right here: http://chandra.si.edu/photo/2015/ngc1333/ You can see more Chandra podcasts here: http://chandra.si.edu/resources/podcasts/sd.html

A Tour of RGG 118

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
A Tour of RGG 118 (08-13-2015) Oxymorons are often thought of as gaffes in language, but a new black hole discovery shows they can also represent important scientific advances. Get to know RGG 118 even better here: http://chandra.si.edu/photo/2015/rgg118/ More official Chandra podcasts: http://chandra.si.edu/resources/podcasts/sd.html

A Tour of NGC 6388

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
A Tour of NGC 6388 Chandra's excellent X-ray vision enabled the astronomers to determine that the X-rays from NGC 6388 were not coming from a black hole at the center of the cluster. Related Link: http://chandra.si.edu/photo/2015/ngc6388/ More Podcasts: http://chandra.si.edu/resources/podcasts/sd.html
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