Galaxy Garden brings the Milky Way down to earth

SMYRNA — Jon Lomberg explained the size of the Milky Way galaxy by comparing it to a Gold Dust Croton plant with stud-earrings pierced through some of the leaves.

The leaves were covered with dozens of yellow dots that represented thousands of stars unseen from earth. The earrings represented brighter and bigger components in space like nebulae, solar systems and the black hole.

“That’s a way of letting people understand the scale,” he said. “If the stars I see are that far away, just think how big the galaxy is.”

Mr. Lomberg, a space artist whose pieces won a Primetime Emmy award, used plants and flowers to create the very first Galaxy Garden in Kona, Hawaii — a walkthrough of the Milky Way on a smaller scale.

Dr. Stephanie Wright plans to have the second.

Dr. Wright, academy director of Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation, organized a media event Wednesday, where she and Mr. Lomberg discussed the future DASEF’s Galaxy Garden and its benefits.

“We have what I call the anchovy’s idea of a pizza,” Mr. Lomberg said as he explained the human’s perspective of the galaxy. “To an anchovy, the pizza doesn’t look round because he’s in it. He would have to get above the pizza in order to see the whole shape.”

The Philadelphia native’s inspiration for the Galaxy Garden was the Giant Heart at the Franklin Institute museum in Philadelphia. The exhibit allows visitors to walk around in a 5,000-square-foot human heart model.

“You get in the heart and walk around; you should get in the galaxy and walk around,” he said. “But it would have to be big, and big suggested outside and outside suggested a garden.”

Mr. Lomberg said gardens and galaxies have similar life cycles.

“A flower makes seeds to make more flowers to make more seeds,” he said. “A nebula makes more stars to make more nebulae to make more stars.”

Dr. Wright sparked the idea of a Galaxy Garden after seeing Mr. Lomberg’s in Sky & Telescope magazine.

After visiting the Galaxy Garden, Dr. Wright brought Mr. Lomberg to DASEF’s Smyrna campus in 2011, and discussed a Galaxy Garden for the Delaware community.

Jean Kraeuter, secretary of the DASEF Executive Board, said the galaxy garden is a spectacular project. It s expected to be completed in 2017.

“To know there’s only one other garden like this is pretty amazing,” she said.

Dr. Qi Lu, physics and engineering professor at Delaware State University, said the garden is an exciting addition to the community.

“It’s a place for locals and beyond to rest, to ponder and to be inspired.”

One of the organizations helping with the Galaxy Garden’s funding is the Optical Science Center for Applied Research at DSU.

Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, director of the OSCAR program, said the donation was inspired by the program’s 12-year relationship with DASEF.

“We’re looking for the public to have a better understanding of science itself,” he said.

He hopes getting youth interested in space science will lead to further engagement with the subject when they’re older.

“[DASEF] has done a wonderful job attracting youth of all backgrounds,” he said. “We need more people in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics].”

The garden is being built in phases.

“If we had all the money to build the whole thing right now, we would,” Dr. Wright said.

Last summer, the electric was installed underground for the black hole representation and the sprinkler system. On May 16, the garden was laid out and outlined with wooden stakes and orange and white spray-paint forming the spiral shape of the Milky Way.

“The next phase we’re moving toward is to at least get the gravel and the paths to be done,” Dr. Wright said.

She said the garden will cost around $20,000.

Kristen Griffith is a Dover freelance writer.

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