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The Galaxy Garden

How can one explain the vastness of the Milky Way galaxy so that people comprehend its large size and scale? This is a question that artist Jon Lomberg pondered after he painted a portrait of the Milky Way for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C.

leaf with solar system and nearby stars on it.

Our solar system and most stars we can see without a telescope are located on one leaf in the Galaxy Garden. Photo by Karen Teramura.

Lomberg's eventual answer to the question was to create a garden. The Galaxy Garden is a 100-foot-diameter scale model of the Milky Way mapped in plants and flowers. The scale is 1,000 light-years per foot, which is about 83 light-years per inch. Different plants represent stars, nebulae, and globular clusters mapped in their correct locations relative to the Sun.

Lomberg explained, "Many scale models of the solar system exist to help people understand the distances between planets in our own solar system, but the Galaxy Garden is the first attempt to make a scale model of the Milky Way galaxy." The garden is part of the Paleaku Peace Gardens Sanctuary in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. When Lomberg described his idea for the garden to Barbara DeFranco, director of Paleaku, she offered him the site  and helped him to build it.

The NASM portrait and the Galaxy Garden are based on the work of astronomer Leo Blitz of the University of California, Berkeley. Blitz, who discovered that the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, guided Lomberg's translation of his radio maps into a plan for the garden.

Find more information about the Galaxy Garden at www.galaxygarden.net.

Jon Lomberg and the fountain at the center of the Galaxy Garden. Jon Lomberg used the fountain at the center of the galaxy garden to explain how black holes at the center of galaxies work. The fountain represents the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and the jet of water represents the jet of charged particles emanating from the black hole. Photo by Karen Teramura.