the wide view of the exhibit

Black Holes: Space Warps & Time Twists pulls visitors in to the modern search for real black holes—the most mysterious and powerful objects in the universe. Through a combination of hands-on physical models, computer-based investigations, immersive experiences, and a technology-assisted learning environment, visitors can make sense of the weird ideas behind black holes, and examine the evidence to weigh for themselves whether black holes have moved from the realm of science fiction to the status of reality. Throughout the exhibition, visitors will be assisted by the video guidance of both professional and teen-aged “Black Hole Explorers.”

Create Your Black Hole Explorer's Card (*)
At the start of the exhibition, visitors use a touch-screen computer station to choose a nickname and take a digital picture or avatar image to create their own bar-coded Black Hole Explorer’s Card. Throughout the rest of the exhibit, they can use their Explorer’s Card to collect discoveries and generate a personalized website that only they can access (with the PIN number on their card) to share with friends and family. The website serves as part personal diary, part observer’s log, and will include data recorded by the visitor including their observations, conclusions, questions, notes, and photos they’ve captured of their activities within the exhibition. Once visitors are back home, their personal Black Holes web journal is also a portal to further online content related to black holes.

What's on the Horizon for Black Hole Research?
In just the last ten years, technological advances in ground-based and space-based instruments have revealed a universe apparently teeming with black holes, and in which black holes play a much greater role in the evolution of the universe than previously imagined. This component comprises a changeable graphic panel and video (updated remotely by Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory) that highlights a variety of modern black hole research facilities—from the Chandra X-ray Observatory to the CERN Large Hadron Collider. The visitor’s online Explorer’s Journal provides an opportunity to ask featured “scientists of the month” about these new experiments.

What is a black hole

What is a Black Hole? (*)
The strange concept of an object so massive that nothing can escape its gravity was predicted long before any real black holes were ever shown to exist. This dramatic interactive visualization lets visitors explore the extremes of gravity near massive objects and the distortions of space and time predicted by Einstein. What happens to your avatar image as it draws near a black hole?

Where are Black Holes?
Astronomers have discovered evidence of several dozen feeding black holes among the stars within our own Milky Way galaxy. This wall photo of the night sky and Milky Way shows the mapped location of many prominent black holes in our galaxy, using visitor-activated LEDs.

Snapshots in the History of Black Holes
Are space and time constant throughout the universe? Is an inch an inch and a second a second no matter where or when you measure it? This simple question, debated by Shakespeare’s characters and in Isaac Newton’s day, is a key part of the story of black holes exploration. This multi-sided graphic display presents highlights in our historical understanding of how black holes warp space and stretch time.

In Search of Real Black Holes...Weigh a Black Hole! (*)
Guided by black hole researcher Dr. Lincoln Greenhill, visitors at this interactive media station investigate real astronomical data from the Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. They track the orbits of a cluster of stars whizzing around the center of our own Milky Way galaxy to pinpoint the location of the invisible object causing the stars’ motion. Visitors then use a simple orbital model to determine the actual weight of our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, and record their results to their online Black Hole Explorer’s Journal.

Weighing a Black Hole

In Search of Real Black Holes...Take Their Temperature! (*)
Are black holes hot or cold? If they don’t emit any light energy, shouldn’t they be cold? But then how do astronomers detect evidence for their presence? At this computer-based interactive, visitors explore gorgeous infrared, visible-light, and x-ray images of nearby galaxies captured by NASA telescopes that detect warm (Spitzer), hot (Hubble), and superhot (Chandra) objects in space. Chandra scientist Dr. Mike Garcia helps visitors discover and record evidence for the hot spots produced by feeding black holes in every galaxy.

In Search of Real Black Holes...Explore a Feeding Black Hole! (*)
Astronomers using radio telescopes have discovered many galaxies that have huge jets of matter streaming in opposite directions, seemingly originating from a tiny region at the center of the galaxy. At this computer station, astronomer Dr. Elizabeth Blanton guides visitors as they investigate and record their thoughts about real astronomical images of these surprising jets created by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.

Do Black Holes Matter? Simulate the Universe! (*)
In addition to using telescopes, black hole researchers harness the power of supercomputers to model the formation of galaxies and their resident black holes. This component allows visitors to examine the role black holes play as galaxies collide by investigating a state-of-the-art computer simulation. Visitors compare the scenarios predicted by the computer model to Hubble Space Telescope images of real colliding galaxies.

How Do We Find Black Holes? (*)
Visitors roll steel ball bearings across a table with hidden magnets that distort their paths and try to figure out where the hidden magnets (representing black holes) are located. After completing the activity, visitors record their conclusions on a “map” of the table using a touch screen.

How do we find

Energy from Gravity
This playful ball machine sculpture by kinetic sculpture artist Jeffrey Zachmann explores the physics of falling and the idea that gravity provides the energy that powers the amazing phenomena around black holes.

Got Gravity? (Black Holes Grow by Eating) (+)
At this teen-developed activity, visitors use one of two different-sized spherical nets (representing black hole event horizons) to capture swirling lightweight foam nuggets (representing matter in our galaxy) to “feed” their black holes.

What's Inside a Black Hole?
This video component presents a compelling visualization of a theoretical journey into a black hole created by astrophysicist Andrew Hamilton. The video is based on actual calculations, using our current understanding of gravity. But since the known laws of nature break down at the center of a black hole, the deeper we fall into the hole in this simulation, the more speculative the view.

Is It True What They Say About Black Holes? (+)
At this teen-developed media station, visitors select a video clip related to black holes from a variety of movies and television shows and make a guess as to the scientific accuracy of the clip before receiving a teen guide’s explanation of scientists’ answers to the same question.

Black Holes Inspire Our Imagination
This display panel explores the role black holes have played in pop culture, as metaphors and as fodder for art, music, and literature.

Black Hole Adventure (*)
Visitors enter one of three “excursion pods” and embark on a fantasy “adventure vacation” to the black hole at the center of our galaxy. There they rendezvous with a mysterious alien wreck containing virtual artifacts to add to their journals. As they make their way toward this “deep space dive,” visitors explore the phenomena around the black hole, including warped space, the slowing of time, and the dangerous magnetic fields and radiation that could leave them stranded on their cosmic adventure. Before they return (and in case they don’t!), visitors record a video message about their trip for their journal.

Black Hole Explorers: Add to Your Journal (*)
At this station visitors can request images of objects in space that harbor black holes, using a real robotic telescope that will take their image that night. They can also send a black hole-themed e-card, ask a question of that month’s featured black hole scientist, or preview their online journals. The results of these activities will be visible on their journals the next day.

Beyond the Exhibit Gallery
After the visiting the exhibit, visitors can use their Explorer’s Card to further explore black holes through their personalized exhibit web pages. In addition to visitors’ own digital artifacts, each website includes interviews with scientists, games, videos, and educational materials, as well as links to ongoing research about black holes and black hole science.

(*) Indicates that visitors can collect digital artifacts at this station to add to their journal.

(+) Indicates a component originally developed and prototyped by teenage exhibit design apprentices. Other video components will also have a teen presence.