Outreach in a digital age

Posted by Anonymous
on Friday, March 28, 2008

© 2008 Midnight Rider Productions, LLCOutreach programs sustain the hobby of astronomy. Typically, these have been hands-on activities at brick and mortar locations. Dedicated volunteers visit classrooms and hold open houses at venues ranging from observatories to planetaria to nature centers.

Old school outreach still thrives, but some groups are popularizing astronomy through new media. Search the Internet and you’ll find dozens of groups that provide general web sites, blogs, podcasts, and videos that introduce web surfers to the sky.

A nonprofit group out of the greater Washington, D.C., area has produced a new web site with videos: Astrocast.tv. The webcast is the brainchild of Rich Mathews, a television news producer and consultant who has worked at CNN and Voice of America. Mathews recruited Northern Virginia Astronomy Club members and NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassadors Greg Redfern and Greg Piepol as hosts. Harold Geller, Associate Chair of George Mason University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, serves as advisor.

The new show is designed to reach anybody with an interest in the sky, who may have seen astronomy information on television or the web and wants to learn more. "Our goal is to increase public awareness of astronomy and our solar system, and how it impacts our lives," Mathews says.

With Mathews’ background in broadcast journalism, the show’s production values are clearly higher than most web shows you’ll find. Along with production professionalism, the group hopes to separate its work from other Internet sources by providing an authoritative voice. Redfern and Piepol have years of experience as outreach experts. With his expertise and skill as an educator, Geller provides counsel on the accuracy of discussions and angles that would play well to an audience. In an age of less than trustworthy information found on popular web destinations, including Wikipedia and YouTube, you’ll be able to count on Astrocast.tv for reliability.

Astrocast launched its first video earlier this week, focused on the Sun’s cycle. Not a bad subject for Piepol, if you’ve ever seen his amazing solar images in Astronomy. The group will produce one video a month.

Visitors can watch Astrocast on its site, or on YouTube and iTunes. Make sure to visit Astrocast’s site. You can submit questions to the group, and they will answer and publish them on the site as it develops.

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