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Bringing the Universe to the Public

Learn how NASA’s Universe of Learning aims to put everything you need to teach astronomy within reach.

Every one of us can explore the universe, no advanced degree required! The team behind NASA’s Universe of Learning aims to put everything learners need to begin at your fingertips. It might be as straightforward as watching a video about stars or distant planets, or participating in the scientific process itself by editing an image of a galaxy captured with remote-controlled telescope. We connect the public to the data, discoveries, and experts that span NASA’s Astrophysics missions. Our team is made up of a variety of scientists, engineers, and educators with direct connections to NASA’s Astrophysics missions. We are all immersed in exploring, researching, and communicating about space – and our expertise and direct connections allow us to create innovative projects and design novel approaches to engage learners.

In addition to these deep, wide-ranging experiences, we know that inviting more people to contribute to our projects makes them significantly better. That is why our NASA’s Universe of Learning team relies on a nationwide network of informal educators, scientists, and engineers who not only share our resources (and learners’ feedback!), but also help us develop them. For example, we help staff at museums, science centers, public libraries, and other venues expand their knowledge about astrophysics by connecting them directly to the researchers who make scientific discoveries. Our regular professional learning experiences cover a series of science topics and allow plenty of time for questions.

We also match astronomy visualization experts and planetarium staff, allowing them to exchange best practices, discuss the latest techniques, and collaborate on projects. Best of all, scientists and engineers consult with our writers and designers to explain objects in space, like a galaxy or the remains of an exploded star, helping our team add engaging details to capture learners’ imaginations and discover the underlying science. Plus, our entire network shares our resources with their local audiences – multiplying how many learners benefit. All of our programming is designed to inspire engagement and learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We’re willing to bet once learners get started, they will keep coming back to slowly unlock more secrets of the cosmos – and perhaps even become a scientist.
 

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NASA'S THREE BIG SCIENCE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE UNIVERSE

NASA'S THREE BIG SCIENCE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE UNIVERSE

HOW DOES THE UNIVERSE WORK?

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

ARE WE ALONE?

SELECT THE PATH THAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU

WHAT WE DO IN DEPTH

Since 2016, we have released distinctive and inspiring informal learning activities. Below, we sample a few of the amazing ways you can explore the universe and apply the scientific process through NASA’s Universe of Learning projects.

Develop and Analyze Telescope Images

Do your audiences want to take telescope images and develop them? We provide step-by-step instructions and the software to do it! Have learners begin by requesting an original image of a celestial target (like a star, star cluster, or galaxy) from a remote-controlled, ground-based telescope or use an existing image from a space-based telescope. Next, they will use free online software that is very similar to what professional astronomers use to enhance the image by adjusting brightness and contrast, and adding a color palette. This analysis is far more than adding filters! Learners will make discoveries, too. By making changes to the image, new features will pop out. Perhaps a faded galaxy arm will become crisp or individual stars in a star cluster will appear. Head over to the MicroObservatory page to get started. If you want another activity, there are many more options to explore, including identifying new, distant planets! 

Visualizing an Exploded Star

Astronomers and design specialists from NASA’s Universe of Learning combined visible, infrared, and X-ray telescope images to create a three-dimensional representation of the Crab Nebula. This video dissects the intricate, nested structure of the star’s remains, giving viewers a better understanding of the extreme and complex physical processes powering the nebula. Learn more about this video.

Soak in Free Content

Looking for a slower pace? Help learners experience the wonder and beauty of the universe through thousands of free videos, interactives, and images. For example, you could head over to ViewSpace, a web-based collection of videos and clickable interactives that highlight the latest developments in astronomy and Earth science. Or, connect audiences to 3D visualizations of celestial objects, and see them change as the video switches from the familiar visible light our eyes detect to infrared light, X-rays, or ultraviolet light. Want endless imagery instead? Visit (and bookmark!) AstroPix to search by topic or a specific object.

Create Engaging Experiences

In-person events and activities are a very important facet of our programming. We aim to deliver current NASA science wherever people are, especially underserved venues and audiences. For example, Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA empowers staff at public libraries and community-based organizations to help girls and their families explore the wonders of NASA science and celebrate the contributions of women to science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). We also create and release 3D printing, tactile, and sonification resources to the public. Or, you can review exhibits that include hands-on activities and a range of imagery to inspire the public to continue learning about space and STEM fields. Staff who host these exhibits also have opportunities to invite scientists and engineers for special events. Our goal is to make the wonders of the universe accessible to all.

Three children seen from overhead sorting cards.
Informal Learning Network Program Models

Cards that show objects in space provide learners the opportunity to sort by size, distance, and more. These cards were used by the Informal Learning Network.

Two children standing next to a wall.
Girls STEAM Ahead Programs and Events

Kids attending a Girls STEAM Ahead event measured distances for the Trappist-1 scale model.

A group of teenagers with an astronaut.
Student Programs

Students enhancing their science and literary skills through a multi-week program engaged with experts in astronomy, facilitation, and exhibit engineer role models. Here, they pose with a cardboard cutout of an astronaut.

Ongoing Training Opportunities

We help staff at museums, science centers, public libraries, and other venues expand their knowledge by connecting them directly to the researchers who make scientific discoveries. Our team hosts regular professional learning experiences known as Science Briefings in collaboration with the NASA Museum and Informal Education Alliance. These sessions cover a range of science topics and allow plenty of time for attendees to ask questions. Our Informal Learning Network also brings together staff members at informal education sites across the country to disseminate NASA’s Universe of Learning resources, which they in turn share with their local audiences.
 

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CONNECT WITH A SCIENTIST OR ENGINEER

Calling all informal educators! We’ve built a strong network of experts who contribute in a variety of ways to NASA’s missions. We want to connect these experts to you so you can improve the experiences of learners in your informal education settings. In addition to walking you through the concepts behind their research, scientists and engineers also help you develop innovative, highly engaging programming. Behind the scenes, scientists contribute to and review NASA’s Universe of Learning activities and products to improve each and every resource we release.

In all of these instances, we pay close attention to the best practices in informal learning. We also prioritize the involvement of diverse experts who serve as role models to audience members who have been historically underrepresented in STEM. If your event would benefit from an on-site or online scientist or engineer, please ask us to connect you!

The opposite is true, too: If you are a scientist or engineer, please reach out to see how you can contribute to our events and projects. Your expertise helps to ensure the scientific quality of our work, provides a human connection to the science through presentations and interviews, and helps organizations develop exhibits and science programming.

 

OUR SCIENCE CONTENT THEMES

Space is massive – and filled with so many wonders! To help learners connect with the topics that interest them, we create products and experiences that fall into these categories.

Zeta Ophiuchi - Shock around a giant star when winds from the star heat up - Spritzer Infrared
Life and Death of Stars
Stephan's Quintet A group of galaxies Hubble (visible/infrared)
Origin and History of the Universe
Galaxy Cluster Abell 2744 Hubble's Frontier Field galaxy cluster, with gravitationally lensed background galaxies
Structure and Composition of the Universe
Illustration - Kepler 42 Planetary system with three planets
Other Solar Systems, Other Earths
Supernova 1994 D A type IA supernova, and example of the “standard candles” used to discover the dark energy. Hubble (Visible/Infrared)
Cosmic Mysteries
Crab Nebula - Depicts the area around the pulsar inside the Crab Nebula supernova remnantChandra (X-ray), Hubble (Visible), Spitzer (Infrared)
Extreme Physics and Phenomena
Illustration - Exoplanet WASP-107b
How do we Know?

WHAT DRIVES OUR CONTENT

Basic concepts everyone can relate to drive all of NASA’s Universe of Learning content. These topics are also how our content is assessed by our external evaluators. Explore the themes that run through our projects.

galaxy

EXCITE

We want the public to experience excitement, interest, and motivation as they learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world.

galaxy

UNDERSTAND

We help the public learn, remember, and use concepts, explanations, arguments, models, and facts related to science that they learned using our tools or attending an event.

galaxy

EXPLORE

There are so many facets to this! Our audience may manipulate, predict, question, or observe as they use our tools. We help them make sense of the natural and physical world.

galaxy

REFLECT

We help users reflect on science as a way of knowing. We want them to consider the processes, concepts, and institutions of science; and on their own process of learning about phenomena.

galaxy

PARTICIPATE

Our events help attendees directly participate in scientific activities and learning practices with others, while using scientific language and tools.

galaxy

BUILD A STEM IDENTITY

We help the public think about themselves as science learners and develop an identity as someone who knows about, uses, and sometimes contributes to science.

Source: Informal Learning Strands articulated by the NRC (2009).

Values That Guide Our Work

While developing and disseminating our projects and activities, we also follow these principles:

  • Develop strategy and content based on current assessments of informal learners’ needs
  • Provide a direct connection to current scientific research, scientists, and engineers
  • Actively involve diverse subject matter experts in science and engineering in all aspects of our programming
  • Ground our work with best practices and educational research
  • Engage traditionally underserved and underrepresented groups
  • Create and release a cohesive portfolio of products and activities
  • Continually build large- and small-scale partnerships and collaborations 
  • Have an external evaluator assess our program’s success and help provide direction

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