OAKLAND -- Step into a meditative space where images of the sun are glowing in bright colors at the Chabot Space and Science Center's "Touch the Sun" exhibit opening Friday.

This latest interactive exhibit will give visitors a better understanding of the celestial body and its relationship to Earth.

"We want to focus on the emotional impact ... of amazement and awe," said Tamara Schwarz, senior manager of experience design.

"This is a point of entry to the science and greater understanding of the sun," she said.

" 'Touch the Sun' provides our visitors a unique opportunity to visually experience the power of the sun's energy, courtesy of cutting-edge technology from NASA, Lockheed Martin and Stanford Solar Center that didn't exist and certainly wasn't available on this public scale until very recently," said Chabot Executive Director and CEO Alexander Zwissler.

Schwarz said the centerpiece of the exhibit is the screen, which measures 90 inches and displays near-real-time satellite images of the sun. Some of the images that visitors will see are no more than an hour old. In addition, visitors can zoom in and out to see recent activity on the sun and view historical events, such as a partial solar eclipse.

Visitors can blend and change layers on the screen to show different wavelengths of light highlighting features of the sun's activity, according to a release by Chabot. People can see solar flares, prominences and filaments, and coronal mass ejections, among other activity.

Chabot staff astronomer Ben Burress said the images on display at the center can only be seen from space.


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"A ground-based observatory cannot capture these," Burress said.

The images come from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, an ongoing mission launched in 2010, to keep track of the sun's activity. NASA is keeping track of solar activity because it can influence Earth's society by disabling satellites, causing power grids to fail, and disrupting GPS navigation. Also, Burress said that the sun has the power to kill a spacewalking astronaut.

Besides seeing images of the sun, visitors will have the opportunity to work with a plasma globe and a ferrofluid window. With the plasma globe, visitors can manipulate gas and energy, causing changes similar to what occurs in the sun's atmosphere. The ferrofluid window allows visitors to mimic sunspots and magnetic arcs.

The exhibit contains three drawing stations where visitors can explore features of the sun and make digital drawings of the features, which they can email to themselves. Schwarz said some people might want to do a detailed study, while others may want to just write their name on the sun.

During this opening weekend, children and families will have the opportunity "to build and race Lego solar cars and make stained glass art, in addition to other crafts related to the sun," according to Chabot. Other features of the exhibit include paintings depicting how ancient cultures understood the significance of the sun and a mural, painted by Oakland-based artist, Andrew Johnstone.

"We've been blow away by the beauty ... of the (sun's) images," Schwarz said.

if you go
What: "Touch the Sun," a new, interactive exhibit featuring near-real-time images of the sun that can be manipulated by visitors through a large-screen display and three drawing stations
When: Beginning Friday; center opens at 10 a.m.
Where: Chabot Space and Science Center, 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland
Tickets: exhibit included with general admission, $15.95 for adults; $11.95 for children ages 3 through 12.
Information: www.chabotspace.org or call 510-336-7373