Press Release

Smithsonian displays ASU’s THEMIS images

By SpaceRef Editor
November 21, 2002
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Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum are getting a firsthand look at the research capabilities of ASU.

The work done in ASU’s Planetary Imaging Facility, led by ASU Korrick Professor of Geology Phil Christensen, is getting major attention as part of a new exhibit at the museum, located in Washington, D.C. The exhibit, on display indefinitely, features never before seen images as they are downloaded directly from the 2001 Mars Odyssey Spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Mars.
“Going through the museum as a kid and seeing everything from Spirit of St. Louis to the Apollo 11 space capsule was a remarkable experience,” says Christensen. “Having our Mars images on display in the same museum is a real thrill for me, and gives excellent exposure to the entire ASU THEMIS Team.”

The images come straight from the Odyssey’s Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), which is run by Christensen’s team, located in ASU’s Moeur Building. The instrument takes both daytime and nighttime infrared images as well as visible light daytime images as it passes over the Martian surface.

The images are providing researchers with never before seen details of the planet’s surface, highlighting craters, mountains and canyons. The museum’s nine million annual visitors will also have a chance to join in the discovery process.

“We can provide the latest research,” says Sheri Klug, director of the ASU Mars Education program. “People can stand and look at it and puzzle over it as it comes in. It’s a great opportunity for people to see something entirely new.”

Smithsonian visitors aren’t the only ones who can watch the images. Two high-resolution plasma screens, which display the same images, are set up in the lobby of the Moeur Building.

The success of the Smithsonian exhibit is giving ASU a new opportunity to reach out to those who don’t know anything about the university and its wide-ranging research agenda. The university is in the process of organizing a program to develop future exhibits in such high profile sites as the Smithsonian’s Air & Space and Natural History museums, American Museum of Natural History in New York and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

“My hope would be to have millions of people walking around the top museums in the country seeing the logo of ASU and the work of our researchers,” says ASU Vice President for Research & Economic Affairs Jonathan Fink.

The program, being developed by Fink, Klug and Geological Sciences postdoctoral researcher Rachel Teasdale, takes advantage of ASU’s cutting edge research and the growing relationships ASU scientists and administrators have with counterparts at museums nationwide.

Fink recently participated on a committee organized by the National Research Council to explore funding mechanisms for the Smithsonian Institution’s research. The directors of several major museums also served on the committee with Fink.

Klug, as director of NASA’s largest planetary science outreach program to K-12 schools, also has museum contacts throughout the country, including several who are ASU graduates. She says the museums are open to adding high-quality, groundbreaking research to their collections. ASU has a wide array of possible projects, ranging from space research to urban ecology and anthropology to engineering.

Fink and Klug say the university’s effort is just beginning. Right now ASU is meeting with various museums to gauge their interest and their needs. Specific research project ideas that could potentially be developed for museum exhibits are being sought.

Gary Campbell, with Media Relations & Public Information, can be reached at (480) 965-7209 or (

SpaceRef staff editor.