A single astronomical image can play a large role in our cultural life. The Eagle Nebula, framed by HST, is an inspiring work of art (Figure 4.2). The iconic Apollo 8 photograph of Earth rising over the lunar landscape, showing its blue oceans, dry land, and clouds floating alone in the cosmic void with no national boundaries visible (Figure 4.3), testifies to the unity of mankind far more effectively than any political speech—and in delivering that message emphasizes a value to society that may be beyond measure.

Astronomy on television has come a long way since the 1980 PBS premier of Carl Sagan’s ground-breaking multipart documentary Cosmos. Many cable channels offer copious programming on a large variety of astronomical topics, and the big-three networks occasionally offer specials on the universe, too. Another barometer of the public’s curiosity about the cosmos is the popularity of IMAX-format films on space science, as well as the number of big-budget Hollywood movies whose plotlines derive directly or indirectly from space themes (including 5 of the top 10 grossing movies of all time in the United States). The Internet also plays a pervasive role in bringing astronomy to the public, attracting worldwide audiences on websites such as Galaxy Zoo (http://www.galaxyzoo.org) and others that feature astronomical events such as NASA missions. Astronomy applications are now available for most mobile devices, and even social networking technology plays a role, e.g., by enabling tweets from the Spitzer NASA Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (http://twitter.com/cool_cosmos).

Public interest in astronomy has caught the attention of corporate giants as well, which see commercial value in and synergy with what astronomers do. The Microsoft World Wide Telescope, a corporate version of previously underfunded efforts of astronomers to coordinate the world’s public-domain cosmic imagery and make it available in one resource, allows people on home PCs to explore the cosmos as if they were at the helm of the finest ground- and space-based telescopes. And Google’s interest in maps now extends to the universe, as seen in Google Earth, Google Sky, Google Moon, and Google Mars. These nascent corporate efforts to connect people with the broader universe offer yet another indication of the breadth and depth of influence that discovery of the cosmos enjoys in our culture.

Astronomers, too, have seized opportunities to be innovators in public outreach. New approaches to promoting public engagement in science include “citizen science,” bringing astronomy to wide audiences via large databases available on the Internet and enabling amateur scientists to participate actively in the analysis of astronomical data2 (Figure 4.4). The continued growth of astronomical data sets will allow further opportunities for public involvement over the coming decade.


Galaxy Zoo is one project that enables online users to classify galaxies from Sloan Digital Sky Survey images; to date more than 230,000 registered users have analyzed data, and a few have produced unique new discoveries (see Figure 4.4). The success of Galaxy Zoo has inspired the creation

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