Big Astronomy Wins Big

Big Astronomy wins “Best Astronomy Education” Award in the Dome Under Fulldome Film Festival.

Melbourne: The Dome Under Fulldome Film Festival hosted its first planetarium film fest in Melbourne, Australia, on February 8 – 9. Big Astronomy: People Places Discoveries, a planetarium film funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and produced by the California Academy of Sciences in collaboration with AUI and others won the Best Astronomy Education Award. “It’s a great honor for Big Astronomy to receive recognition from Australia’s first-ever fulldome festival! We had some fierce competition for the Best Astronomy Education Award, so we really appreciate being recognized by the jury for our work. It was also great to hear from festival attendees how they felt about the show’s depiction of the people who work at Chile’s great observatories—as diverse role models for the next generation of young scientists and engineers. That’s something we worked hard on, and it’s rewarding to know that people got the message,” says film Writer and Director Ryan Wyatt.

The film fest jury describes Big Astronomy as an “elegantly produced film” that “showcases the diverse collaboration of scientists that open our minds to the expanse of the cosmos. Extraordinary footage and engaging talent.”

With support from NSF-Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, Associated Universities Inc. (AUI) partnered with Michigan State University, the California Academy of Sciences, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory including Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory and Gemini Observatory, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array to complete the $2 million project.

Big Astronomy is set in Chile where the dry, dark, sky, and remoteness creates an ideal site to observe the universe. By the year 2022 it is expected that nearly 70% of the world’s ground-based observing infrastructure will be located there, and the US and other countries are investing billions of dollars in astronomy in Chile. Big Astronomy introduces audiences to the wide variety of personnel involved in advancing astronomical discovery. “When people think of astronomy they often imagine astronomers peering through telescopes,” says AUI President, Adam Cohen, “they are unaware of the STEM village it takes to make exploration of the cosmos possible.” Big observatories today employ electrical and mechanical engineers, technicians, data analysts, machinists, heavy equipment operators, maintenance personnel, artists, cooks, etc. Each of these individuals play an important role in making astronomical discoveries possible.

“AUI is proud to be part of this excellent team,” says Tim Spuck, AUI Director of Education and Public Engagement and Principal Investigator (PI) for Big Astronomy, “Together we produced a product that will impact and inform millions globally about the NSF observatories in Chile and the diverse STEM careers at these large science facilities.” The Dome+ model being developed by the team will also support engagement beyond the planetarium show through a dynamic web portal and curricular resources. “Planetariums are wonderful places to learn and introduce people to the wonders of the universe. However, people only get to visit for a short period of time. Providing these cohesive resources will allow us to engage visitors well beyond their planetarium visit. By studying how they navigate through the resources, we will better inform future planetarium projects,” states Shannon Schmoll who leads the Big Astronomy research effort at MSU.

The portal will include learning activities, interviews with observatory personnel, and a schedule of live virtual sessions with those working at the observatories. The curricular resources and planetarium show will be made available in both English and Spanish for dissemination in the US and Latin America. Renae Kerrigan at Peoria Riverfront Museum commented, “It’s exciting to work with a great team of professionals to develop a suite of educational products that will be used by the planetarium community and schools around the world.” Big Astronomy will be released globally on May 2, 2020. Check out for more information and to find a planetarium near you.

The Big Astronomy Leadership Team includes Ryan Wyatt and Molly Michelson at California Academy of Sciences, Dr. Shannon Schmoll, Dr. Katie Hinko and Dr. Jesica Trucks at Abrams Planetarium-Michigan State University, Vivian White at Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Renae Kerrigan at Peoria Riverfront Museum, Tiffany Stone Wolbrecht at Ward Beecher Planetarium-Youngstown State University, Shari Lifson at Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, and Yasmin Catricheo and Tim Spuck at Associated Universities Inc.

For additional information, please contact Tim Spuck, Big Astronomy PI and AUI Director of Education and Public Engagement at [email protected].

In Other News…

VIDEO: Multi-wavelength Observations Reveal Impact of Black Hole on M87 Galaxy

In 2019, a worldwide collaboration of scientists used a global collection of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) to make the first-ever image of a black hole — the supermassive black hole at the core of the galaxy M87, some 55 million light-years from Earth.

ACEAP Alumna Selected as Astronaut for SpaceX

Sian Procter, a participant in the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP) in 2016, has been selected as an astronaut by SpaceX. The Inspiration4 mission, scheduled to launch sometime after 15 September 2021, will orbit Earth for three days and conduct a variety of experiments.

New Images Reveal Magnetic Structures Near Supermassive Black Hole

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — the worldwide collaboration that produced the first image of a black hole in 2019 — has produced a new image showing details of the magnetic fields in the region closest to the supermassive black hole at the core of the galaxy M87. The new work is providing astronomers with important clues about how powerful jets of material can be produced in that region.

After Long Shutdown, Giant Radio Telescope Array Set to Resume Observations

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a set of 66 radio astronomy dishes perched high in the Chilean Andes, was hit hard by the pandemic. It shut down on 22 March 2020 and has remained silent ever since—far longer than most scientific facilities....

VLA Helps Astronomers Make New Discoveries About Star-Shredding Events

New studies using the VLA and other telescopes have added to our knowledge of what happens when a black hole shreds a star, but also have raised new questions that astronomers must tackle.

Radio Telescope is So Powerful it Can See the Surface of Other Worlds

Get ready for close-up surface images of distant planets in our solar system.

Next Generation VLA Endorsed by Canadian Panel

The Canadian Astronomy Long Range Plan 2020-2030, a report on priorities and recommendations for Canadian astronomy over the next decade, has recommended that Canada support the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (NRAO) proposed Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA), saying the new facility will enable transformational science across many areas of astrophysics.

The ITL Expects to Create 35 Businesses Between the Third and Tenth Year of Operation

The former Minister of Energy, Ricardo Raineri, who also has a long career as a professor and university researcher and international consultant, was appointed by the American consortium Associated Universities Inc. (AUI) as Director of Development and responsible for executing the installation stage from the Institute of Clean Technologies (ITL).

This Insane Picture of The Moon Was Actually Taken From Earth

A test of a powerful new space imaging instrument has given us a gloriously detailed new perspective of the Apollo 15 Moon landing site.

Successful Test Paves Way for New Planetary Radar

The National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Observatory (GBO) and National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and Raytheon Intelligence & Space conducted a test in November to prove that a new radio telescope system can capture high-resolution images in near-Earth space.

You are now leaving AUI

You will be redirected to the related partnering organization's website.

You will be redirected to
in 4 seconds...

Click the link above to continue or CANCEL