Navigating the Path of Totality
In March of 2016, a total solar eclipse occurred in the southwestern pacific; and in August of 2017, a total solar eclipse occurred across a broad swath of the United States. The Exploratorium launched a 2.5 year public education program—Navigating the Path of Totality—that used these two total solar eclipses as platforms for sparking public engagement and learning about the Sun, heliophysics, and the STEM content related to both. These sequential eclipses provided an unprecedented opportunity to build and scaffold public engagement and education. Our strategy was to start the public engagement process with the 2016 eclipse, nurture that engagement with resources, activities and outreach during the 17 months between the eclipses, so that audiences (especially in the U.S., where totality was visible in multiple areas across the country) would be excited, actively interested, and prepared for deeper engagement during the 2017 eclipse. For the August 2017 eclipse, the Exploratorium produced live telescope and program feeds from Madras, OR and Casper, WY. The Exploratorium worked with NASA to leverage what was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for millions to bring heliophysics information and research to students, educators, and the public at large through a variety of learning experiences and platforms.
The core of this project was live broadcasts/webcasts of each eclipse. To accomplish these objectives, the Exploratorium produced and disseminate live feeds of telescope-only images (no commentary) of each eclipse originating them from remote locations; produce and disseminate from the field live hosted broadcasts/webcasts of each eclipse using these telescope images; design and launch websites, apps, videos, educator resources, and shareable online materials for each eclipse; design and deliver eclipse themed video installations for our Webcast studio and Observatory gallery in the months that lead up to each eclipse and a public program during each eclipse; and conduct a formative and summative evaluation of the project.
These broadcasts/webcasts and pre-produced videos provide the backbone upon which complementary educational resources and activities can be built and delivered. Programs and videos were produced in English and Spanish languages. As a freely available resource, the broadcasts/webcasts also provide the baseline content for hundreds if not thousands of educational efforts provided by other science-rich institutions, schools, community-based organizations, and venues. Platforms such as NASA TV and NASA website, broadcast and online media outlets such as ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and PBS, as well as hundreds of science institutions and thousands of classrooms streamed the Exploratorium eclipse broadcasts as part of their own educational programming, reaching 63M people. These live broadcasts were relied upon educational infrastructure during total solar eclipses for institutions and individuals on the path and off the path alike.