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STScI Newsletter
2021 / Volume 38 / Issue 02

About this Article

C. Britt (cbritt[at]stsci.edu)

Community Events

The launch and commissioning of the James Webb Space Telescope is a monumental achievement that has taken the skill and perseverance of devoted professionals across the globe to accomplish. With this new observatory, we seek to answer questions of our common origin: the beginnings of stars, planets, and galaxies themselves.  STScI's Office of Public Outreach has partnered with NASA to share this achievement with the public and to meet them where they are in their own exploration of the universe. We are working with communities across the country to support celebrations of Webb's launch and first images through the Webb Community Events initiative. We want to empower all people to look up and explore with Webb.

Modeled after the extremely successful science engagement campaign held for the 2017 Solar Eclipse, Webb Community Events are locally organized by partners who best know the needs of their own communities. These partners include libraries, museums, science centers, amateur astronomy clubs, Girl Scout troops, classrooms, national parks, and others. Because each community has different needs, we have worked with partner networks across NASA's Science Activation program to provide a plethora of resources and guides on how to use each. NASA's Universe of Learning, led by STScI's Office of Public Outreach, is just one of many partners in this program, who reach a variety of audiences nationwide and have all contributed enormously to the success of the initiative.

Over 450 Community Events were held to celebrate Webb's launch, with events in all 50 US states and Puerto Rico. Every community host was given access to one-on-one communication with a point of contact on our team, press and social media kits, print and virtual materials, event examples, activity guides, a slide deck written for public audiences about Webb science and launch, multiple trainings on Webb and Webb science, and the opportunity to be matched with an astronomy subject matter expert in their region.

Map showing in-person (yellow), on-line (blue), both (green)
Figure 1: A map of all Community Events that wished to appear on a public map. The map, with event details including location, time, and description, is hosted at NASA's Webb Events site.

In total, 186 scientists and engineers across North America were successfully matched with over 250 community host sites to bring Webb science to their communities to celebrate launch. The support from the astronomical community in supporting events near them has been critically important. Post-event evaluations have shown that event participants who have an opportunity to directly interact with a scientist report a significant increase in interest in science, as well as an understanding of the science content. Direct outreach efforts from scientists help humanize science for an audience, and can more firmly establish a sense of identity as people who enjoy and follow science. The relationships established between event hosts and local scientists can also serve as springboards to future work in their communities.

 A 3D model and a handmade model of Webb pose on a picnic bench
Figure 2: Models of the James Webb Space Telescope printed and assembled for an event at the Lykens Valley Children's Museum in Elizabethville, PA. The event included a talk by astronomer Dr. Joel Leja of Penn State University, observing with the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg, and numerous hands-on activities. Image Credit: Lykens Valley Children's Museum.

Just as launch is only the beginning of Webb's work, it is also only the beginning of community engagement efforts around Webb science. Planning has already begun for Community Events celebrating the end of commissioning and the Early Release Observations, around six months after launch, and to nurture the relationships established in these milestone events into long-lasting partnerships.

Any scientists or engineers who want to be involved in future outreach efforts can get involved by joining NASA’s Universe of Learning as an expert!

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