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Long airport hallway shows Hubble images on the walls.

Expanding Our Reach

Our public engagement staff worked continuously to share the wonders of the universe and the excitement of Webb’s launch with a diverse audience across the country.

The ongoing pandemic didn't slow our public outreach staff's efforts to share the wonders of the universe with the public. In some ways, it only heightened the need by highlighting the benefits of public engagement during a time of challenges and uncertainty. This year, our staff focused not only on reaching new and underserved audiences, but also piloted several ways to deliver information through more of our senses.

We began, of course, with visual awe. Beginning this summer, travelers entering the Washington Dulles International Airport from the parking garages were met with more than 30 large-scale Hubble Space Telescope images. These images, which adorn the walls along moving walkways, feature planets in our solar system, star clusters, vibrant nebulas, and extremely distant galaxies. Several also feature spectra, data that help researchers learn more about each object's makeup. The stunning display will remain up for up to 10 years, virtually guaranteeing it will be seen by hundreds of millions of travelers. It is complemented by a smaller long-term display featuring both Hubble and Webb Space Telescopes near baggage claim.

Man in a mask touches a large-scale panel depicting the Eagle Nebula.
This large-scale exhibit features the Eagle Nebula, pillars of gas and dust where new stars are forming. The image has raised panels, and embedded audio descriptions that play when visitors pass their hands over them. This exhibit was produced to better serve blind and visually impaired people.

Next up? Our senses of touch and hearing. Both large- and small-scale tactile images of the Eagle Nebula were produced to stimulate the senses of library patrons, particularly those who are blind or have low vision. All feature textures and raised lines, allowing patrons to explore three towers of gas and dust, and the stars in the scene by touch. As users explore the large panel, their hands will pass audio sensors that are prompted to speak about different areas of the scene. The large-scale exhibit will appear at locations of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, and the smaller panels were distributed to libraries, museums, and science centers across the U.S. The project will expand in the coming years, both to feature new tactile astronomical scenes and reach audiences at additional informal-learning locations.

Our staff also focused on increasing our outreach to Spanish speakers by translating additional press releases, lithographs, website text, and exhibit captions. Two new web pages feature the translated materials about Hubble and Webb, and are organized by science theme, mirroring existing English-language pages. A similar effort is underway to publish Spanish translations of ViewSpace videos that highlight the latest developments in astronomy. One Spanish-language highlight is a video about Webb's launch.

Our social media team also worked to capture viewers' excitement about astronomy with new filters on Instagram, accessible only on mobile devices. After entering their camera's frame, one filter helped viewers "find their place in space," setting their backdrop to a gorgeous Hubble image, which ranged from a supernova remnant to a scenic, gaseous nebula. After capturing the scene, viewers could share their mini adventure through their stories and posts.

Spreading Excitement About Webb

Girls who are masked stand around a table, interacting with paper-based activities.
The Girl Scouts of Connecticut learned about the exciting science of the James Webb Space Telescope in October. During the event, girls also carved Webb telescope-themed pumpkins. 

For years, audiences have been learning about the exciting science the Webb telescope will conduct, but in 2021, we worked with NASA to increase the number of special events at planetariums, science centers, nature centers, and other community organizations. Locations across the U.S. hosted more than 600 events prior to Webb's December 25 launch, all supported by a range of activities and resources we produced. Our team also matched more than 180 scientists and engineers with over 250 events to inject their expertise—and excitement—and preview Webb's upcoming scientific endeavors. The goal? To captivate and inspire a new generation of space science enthusiasts, and reach a broader, more diverse audience than ever before.

Since many launch day events were online, we were able to estimate how many people were following the news on social media. Thousands of mentions of both Webb and the institute reached 3.1 million people. Twitter was the most-used platform for posting about the launch, leading to 1.4 million impressions on our Twitter handle over a three-day period.

The excitement about Webb will only continue to build. Our public outreach staff is working closely with teams across the institute to plan and process the telescope's first images, which are scheduled to be released in July. We can't wait to share the excitement of every upcoming discovery with the world.

Want updates and jaw-dropping images all year long? Follow the Space Telescope Science Institute on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

World map showing pins to highlight locations that hosted events.
With support from our public outreach staff, museums, science centers, planetariums, nature centers, and other nonprofit organizations in the U.S. hosted more than 600 events in the months leading up to Webb's launch. Look for an event in 2022 near you.