Of all the sciences, astronomy is the one that really seems to engage with the public largely because of its accessibility.
For anyone who wishes to learn more about the night sky, no equipment is necessary -- although a telescope certainly helps to see more detail. The challenge for some of us already bitten by the astronomical bug is trying to encourage others to "look up" and see the stunning view that is just above their heads.
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For those involved in astronomical outreach this is the Holy Grail and, over the years, while I've been reaching out to the public, I have learned a few hints and tips along the way about how to communicate this awe-inspiring science.
Our "Sensational" Universe Perhaps the most important hint is to sensationalize the cosmos, as the cosmos is sensational! This can be a bitter pill to swallow to those who believe the universe is inherently interesting. While that is of course true, in order to maximize publicity and promote astronomy news or an astronomical society's event, you need to sensationalize.
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Of course, you need to be true to science, but in trying to convince a newspaper editor that they should give your story a more prominent place than any other, you have to find the story's attention-grabber. Often it's the title of a press release or story pitch that can make or break the popularity of an astronomy story.
Keeping it Close to Home If you are a member of an astronomy club and engaged in public observing events, then once you have encouraged people to come along to your "star party" be very careful with the objects you choose to show your guests. Showing a newcomer a faint galaxy that is 15 million light-years way will probably not inspire them as much as a view of the moon or one of the planets in our solar system.
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The point I am trying to make is to maximize your chances of not just giving someone a great evening's entertainment but to really excite them, then you should consider showing them visually exciting objects. And often those objects are really close to home.
Knowing Your Audience One of the more subtle things is to know your audience. Know what message you need to get across and how best to do it.
I was part of an event hosted in the United Kingdom by the Science, Art and Writing Trust (SAW). The event was hosed by Jenni Rant and was aimed at showing school teachers that science is not just for those interested in science. The premise was simple: take a random group of people (perhaps school children or members of the public), some will love science and others will not, but by appealing to a wider set of interests (those who loved art and writing, for example) it was possible to help them to explore the universe through words or pictures. This is a great example of "knowing your audience" and how to better communicate astronomy to a diverse group.
When you are planning your next astronomy-related outreach event, make sure you think about your audience, whether they're a newspaper editor, a radio host, the general public or a group of school kids. Think about what will make them attend your event and what will make them leave feeling inspired and excited about science.