Astronomical images provide an opportunity for us to consider some of the largest philosophical questions facing the human race – where do we come from, and where are we going? The images can be seen as objects of beauty, art, and culture, but they are primarily, or rather, originally, representations of science. Hundreds of astronomical images that depict our Universe are made available to the public each year by scientists and science communicators. The data span the entire electromagnetic spectrum – radio waves to infrared light to X-rays and gamma rays – mostly representing the light and phenomena that cannot be detected by the human eye. The release of science results from these “other” types of light in particular can pose major questions about the dissemination and communication of that information including: what are the issues involved in the processing of astronomical data? How do non-experts process and perceive this imagery? Do non-experts understand the choices made in the representation of the data?
 
This paper will present recent results of the Aesthetics & Astronomy (A&A http:// astroart.cfa.harvard.edu/) research study which aims to examine the perception of multiwavelength astronomical imagery and the effects of the scientific and artistic choices in processing astronomical data. We will consider issues that could help address public trust in science imagery and content. We propose that a more informed consensus on the perspective of the non-expert in visualization and contextual issues in science communication can help improve the material offered, foster trust, assure a balance of power, and open opportunities for dialogue on meaning-making and relevance. By ascertaining what non-experts learn from images and their context, as well as how to better communicate different concepts with the public, we believe this study will facilitate our goal towards the diffusion of science knowledge and engagement in science experience.
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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Aesthetics & Astronomy
Exploring the public’s perception of astronomy images and the science within

Kimberly K. Arcand   Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Lisa F. Smith University of Otago New Zealand

Jeffrey Smith   University of Otago New Zealand

Megan Watzke   Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

Astronomical images provide an opportunity for us to consider some of the largest philosophical questions facing the human race – where do we come from, and where are we going? The images can be seen as objects of beauty, art, and culture, but they are primarily, or rather, originally, representations of science. Hundreds of astronomical images that depict our Universe are made available to the public each year by scientists and science communicators. The data span the entire electromagnetic spectrum – radio waves to infrared light to X-rays and gamma rays – mostly representing the light and phenomena that cannot be detected by the human eye. The release of science results from these “other” types of light in particular can pose major questions about the dissemination and communication of that information including: what are the issues involved in the processing of astronomical data? How do non-experts process and perceive this imagery? Do non-experts understand the choices made in the representation of the data?
 
This paper will present recent results of the Aesthetics & Astronomy (A&A http:// astroart.cfa.harvard.edu/) research study which aims to examine the perception of multiwavelength astronomical imagery and the effects of the scientific and artistic choices in processing astronomical data. We will consider issues that could help address public trust in science imagery and content. We propose that a more informed consensus on the perspective of the non-expert in visualization and contextual issues in science communication can help improve the material offered, foster trust, assure a balance of power, and open opportunities for dialogue on meaning-making and relevance. By ascertaining what non-experts learn from images and their context, as well as how to better communicate different concepts with the public, we believe this study will facilitate our goal towards the diffusion of science knowledge and engagement in science experience.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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