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  • Tom Vassos

Astronomy and Cosmology Outreach Strategies – Captivating 3 to 107-Year-Olds

Updated: Sep 10, 2019

I produced a series of astronomy and cosmology outreach events for the Sunrise of Thornhill retirement centre and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the oldest attendee was 107 years old. After the presentation, I asked Gertrude why she attended, and with a big smile on her face she proclaimed, “It’s never too late to learn dear.”


At a Royal Astronomical Society of Canada corporate outreach event for a company called Wescam, the event organizer commented that the combination of beautiful imagery, NASA animations, audience interaction and stargazing through telescopes made this the perfect corporate event.


At a recent outreach event for over 250 attendees at the Blue Mountain Resort in Collingwood, a mother rushed up to the podium after the presentation and gushed, “I can’t believe it, my 3-year-old was captivated and in awe for over an hour!”


So, there you have it, learning about the universe is fascinating for anyone from 3 to 107 years old. Although, why limit ourselves? Let’s also reach those younger than 3 and older than 107!


The key to conducting an effective astronomy or cosmology outreach program is steering away from typical PowerPoint slides. To succeed, implement as many of the “Top Ten Outreach E’s” as possible – Educate, Engage, Enact, Enthrall, Entertain, Excite, Encourage, Evoke laughter and Evaluate Effectiveness.


“It’s not enough to speak only to the intellect. When you also speak to their hearts, touch their emotions, expand their awareness, activate their imagination, awaken their intuition, engage their bodies, activate their will, and connect them to their high self (essence, spirit, superconscious mind), your message will hit them in a far more profound and powerful way. That’s how you have a totally life-changing effect on people.”

– Jack Canfield, Author, Engaging the 8 Dimensions of the Self


Our astronomy and cosmology outreach program, The Inspiring Universe Experience, utilizes a number of different facets to connect with audiences of all ages. Here is my list of the top 23 ideas that you can incorporate into your own local outreach programs to attain the “Top Ten Outreach E’s”:

1. The Inspiring Universe Presentation Series – Educate, engage and inspire attendees with beautiful imagery.


2. The Inspiring Universe Video Lounge – Wow the crowd with educational, inspirational and moving astronomy, cosmology and space exploration videos (e.g., add a TED talk to your agenda).


3. The Inspiring Universe Image Exhibit – Immerse the audience in the wonder of astronomy with educational and inspirational posters and banners:

Speaker, Tom Vassos, at the Westin Hotel in Collingwood, Canada presents "The Inspiring Universe Experience" astronomy and cosmology outreach program. Banners and posters can be used to promote your outreach event, or they can be used to set the mood in the presentation room, immersing the audience in the wonder of the universe.

4. The Inspiring Universe Demonstrations – Use everyday objects to get attendees to appreciate the size and scale of worlds such as planet Earth, the Moon, Sun and other objects in the universe.


5. The Inspiring Universe Science Centre – Use NASA animations and computer simulations to bring topics to life.


6. The Inspiring Universe Music Lounge – Immerse the audience in entertaining songs about the universe. (How many songs can you name with the word Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter or universe in them?)


7. The Inspiring Universe Interactive Zone – Quiz and engage attendees using live interactive polling (using smartphones, results can be instantly displayed on the projection screen).


8. The Inspiring Universe Gaming Zone – Play games with attendees such as “Name that Nebula” or “Are you Smarter than a 2nd Grader?”


9. The Inspiring Universe Astro-Dog – Thrill young kids with a visit from “Katie the Astro-Dog” (a service dog and therapy dog) who joins the fun and works the crowd in her space suit.


10. The Inspiring Universe Freebies – Present attendees with free giveaways such as planispheres, astronomy magazines, coffee mugs, notebooks, posters, etc.


11. The Inspiring Universe Digital Freebies – Provide free audio books, e-books, screen savers, stargazing mobile apps, gaming mobile apps, TED talks and online lectures/courses that kids and adults can enjoy at home.


12. The Inspiring Universe Photo Shack – Let attendees become NASA superstars for a day:

Credit: NASA

13. The Inspiring Universe Asteroid Petting Zoo – Provide attendees with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hold meteorites or Moon and Mars rock samples in their hand (and of course, take pictures).


14. The Inspiring Universe Social Media Spotlight – Encourage visitors to generate social media buzz by posting their photos and comments online.


15 The Inspiring Universe Show and Tell – Encourage the audience to participate and show stuff (e.g., your experienced members can display their astro imagery or kids can show off their astronomy school projects).


16. The Inspiring Universe Fireside Chat – Storytelling is powerful. Encourage your speakers and your members to tell stories such as their most memorable astronomy experience.


17. The Inspiring Universe Press Centre – Encourage local and national media outlets to discuss breaking astronomy and cosmology news and to promote your organization and its activities. (For example, in this press interview on Global TV, we talk about EHT’s first ever picture of a black hole: bit.ly/2L03xiq.)


18. The Inspiring Universe Clever Yogi/Joyful Guru/Ingenious Zen Master – Take attendees to the top of the mountain where local experts team up to answer all of their questions (“Everything you Wanted to Know About the Universe but Were Afraid to Ask!”).

Attendees at "The Inspiring Universe Experience" event at the Blue Mountain Resort in Collingwood, Canada, crowd around to ask the speaker, Tom Vassos, questions. They also had an opportunity to take pictures with Mars and Moon rock samples. Surprisingly, even 5 to 8-year-old children were captivated for the extended two-hour program.

19. The Inspiring Universe Astronomy Book Exchange – Encourage your members to recycle their used astronomy and cosmology books.


20. The Inspiring Universe Evaluation Feedback – After each event, get attendee feedback, suggestions for improvement and contact information for future communications.


21. The Inspiring Universe Stargazing Experience – Look up to the sky and experience stargazing through real telescopes.


22. Astronomy on Fire/Cosmos on Tap Events – Engage an adult audience with a casual astronomy evening event at your local brew pub:

23. The Inspiring Universe 3D Virtual Reality Lounge – Take your audience on a virtual trip to Mars, the Moon and beyond (using smartphones, red/cyan glasses, 3D virtual reality glasses, etc.):

Credit: USDA photo by Lance Cheung

Credit: Pixabay.com

Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute

Credit: EnvatoMarket, VideoHive.net

Credit: Airman 1st Class Daniel Garcia, Scott Airforce Base

When it comes to astronomy and cosmology outreach strategies, let’s think outside the box.


If you are looking for guest speakers or just want to bounce some outreach ideas off me, feel free to contact me at TomVassos@yahoo.ca. But for now, I have to run… gotta get to Gertrude’s 108th birthday party. :)

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