Above & Beyond – Making Sense of the Universe for 100 Years

IAU100 Exhibition on first floor. ( IAU / T. Heenatigala )

IAU GA volunteer looking at the exhibition. ( IAU / T. Heenatigala)

On Monday the 21st August, Silvia Torres-Peimbert launched the exhibition Above and Beyond, displaying 100 years of discoveries in astronomy since 1919. At the center of the first floor of the Austria Center Vienna, the exhibition immediately attracts the attention of passersby with beautiful images and visualisations. Starting at the front left corner, visitors walk through time and learn about the various breakthroughs that have shaped science, technology and culture over the last century.

The exhibition is one of the events that are organised to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the IAU in 2019. Travelling around major European cities in 2018 and 2019, this exhibition will shine its light on developments in astronomy from the last century. The content is also available for download with open source licensing, allowing it to be replicated freely.

“The last century has seen unparalleled progress in the field that sometimes doesn’t receive due credit or recognition. We’re excited that this travelling exhibition and its open model will help to strengthen this message,” say Lukasz Alwast and Jan Pomierny, creators of the exhibition. Above and Beyond is designed to bring imaginative and insightful astronomical storytelling to the general public. 

“The exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on all the progress achieved in astronomy during the past century and at the same time it makes you realise that science is a continuous process. Still, we have many things to discover in the future,” explains Jorge Rivero, coordinator of the IAU100 celebrations. In the exhibition, it is emphasised that scientific discoveries are not done overnight, but that they are a continuous process, with new insights sometimes taking decades to be fully recognized.

At the entrance of the exhibition, visitors get surrounded by the image that scientists had of the Universe in 1919. General attention is given to the solar eclipse that took place in 1919 and which was used to test Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Walking through the exhibit carries the visitor through time, with 10 years passing every few strides. Step by step, new discoveries and breakthroughs are explained and the perception of the Universe gets clearer. 

After walking through 100 years, including the first man on the moon 50 years ago, the exhibition reminds the audience of the questions that are still remaining. What is the size and structure of the Universe? Is there life beyond the Earth? It becomes clear that much has yet to be discovered in the future.

Find more information about the exhibition at the Above and Beyond website.

HELEEN OTTEN is science communication intern at the Astronomy & Society group of Leiden University, the Netherlands. She helps with the preparations of the celebration of the 100th birthday of the IAU next year by writing content for the website and social media. Moreover, she writes and translates content for the Universe Awareness project.