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ISSUE 10 - December 2010





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Surveying Aesthetics & Astronomy: A Project Exploring the Public’s Perception of Astronomical Images and the Science Within (pages 13-16)
Kimberly Kowal Arcand, Megan Watzke, Lisa F. Smith, Jeffrey K. Smithl

Key Words
Astronomy, Visualisation, Outreach, Best Practices, Aesthetics

Summary

Every year hundreds of astronomical images are released to the general public from the many telescopes both on the ground and in space that observe the Universe. These images cover both data gathered at visible wavelengths and other phenomena at wavelengths that cannot be detected by the human eye, so that the entire electromagnetic spectrum is represented. The release of astronomical images raises major questions about the dissemination and communication of that knowledge, including: how do non-experts (i.e., the public) perceive these images? In 2008, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory began a unique research study — dubbed the Aesthetics & Astronomy (A&A) project — to examine the perception of multi-wavelength astronomical imagery and the effects of the various scientific and artistic choices in processing astronomical data. This article provides a brief synopsis of the results of the initial A&A study and its possible implications for astronomy outreach professionals. This article concludes with an overview of the latest study (in progress, 2010).