With the advent of space exploration images of the Earth from outer space became available. Among them is one of the most published images of all time – the Blue Marble Earth – of which there exist already several versions. These particular images evoke the idea of us looking at ourselves from a cosmic perspective. In addition to its use in public communication of science and technology, these images are widely used in environmental and humanitarian campaigns, institutional advertising etc., as they are images that refer to a global awareness and planetary citizenship. They make us reflect on humanity and the planet Earth, being thus invested with a symbolic dimension, in addition to scientific or technical ones. Yet, is this symbolic dimension present in the discourse of science communication that uses these images? With this question in mind, we examine publications at the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) website that make use of these images. APOD is a website linked to NASA and one of the first sites directed towards public communication of astronomy; publications with commented astronomy pictures are made daily since 1995, having the website a collection of over 5000 different images. Using the perspective of Dominique Maingueneau’s discourse analysis, we critically examine the various discursive elements present on the site – e.g. descriptions, links and hypertext, selection of images, FAQs, biographies of authors, images, captions and other textual and paratextual elements – in order to characterize: (i) the type of science communication discourse used, and (ii) the specific discourse of the publications with Blue Marble images. Based on this analysis, the APOD appears to be a website that is discursively constructed in a very credible fashion while, at the same time, relaxed and close to the reader. In the specific analysis of the publications that make use of Blue Marble Earth (10 in total), various discursive strategies were use and will be characterized in this study. We found discursive elements that evoke the Earth’s fragility and need of preservation, the role humanity plays on it and other related aspects. Thus, in addition to the dissemination of scientific knowledge about the Earth and space exploration, these publications perpetuate and reinforce the discourse that gives these images the power to alter our perspective and our way of thinking about the planet and humanity.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

The blue marble
A discourse analysis of images of the earth published on the apod website

Joana Brás Varanda Marques   Universidade Federal de São Carlos, Brazil

Luciana Salazar Salgado   Universidade Federal de São Carlos, Brazil

With the advent of space exploration images of the Earth from outer space became available. Among them is one of the most published images of all time – the Blue Marble Earth – of which there exist already several versions. These particular images evoke the idea of us looking at ourselves from a cosmic perspective. In addition to its use in public communication of science and technology, these images are widely used in environmental and humanitarian campaigns, institutional advertising etc., as they are images that refer to a global awareness and planetary citizenship. They make us reflect on humanity and the planet Earth, being thus invested with a symbolic dimension, in addition to scientific or technical ones. Yet, is this symbolic dimension present in the discourse of science communication that uses these images? With this question in mind, we examine publications at the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) website that make use of these images. APOD is a website linked to NASA and one of the first sites directed towards public communication of astronomy; publications with commented astronomy pictures are made daily since 1995, having the website a collection of over 5000 different images. Using the perspective of Dominique Maingueneau’s discourse analysis, we critically examine the various discursive elements present on the site – e.g. descriptions, links and hypertext, selection of images, FAQs, biographies of authors, images, captions and other textual and paratextual elements – in order to characterize: (i) the type of science communication discourse used, and (ii) the specific discourse of the publications with Blue Marble images. Based on this analysis, the APOD appears to be a website that is discursively constructed in a very credible fashion while, at the same time, relaxed and close to the reader. In the specific analysis of the publications that make use of Blue Marble Earth (10 in total), various discursive strategies were use and will be characterized in this study. We found discursive elements that evoke the Earth’s fragility and need of preservation, the role humanity plays on it and other related aspects. Thus, in addition to the dissemination of scientific knowledge about the Earth and space exploration, these publications perpetuate and reinforce the discourse that gives these images the power to alter our perspective and our way of thinking about the planet and humanity.

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