Video as a Vehicle for Astronomy Education and Outreach




video, science communcation, education, outreach, YouTube


Video is an excellent vehicle for astronomy education and outreach. Usage patterns and user demographics are presented for short videos covering a variety of astronomy topics, delivered to public audiences from three websites, three YouTube channels, and three massive open online classes, or MOOCs. The data spans over a decade in some cases. The modality of the content ranges from short lecture presentations of sub-topics in astronomy to longer scripted pieces created by students to Q&A sessions held by the MOOC instructor with live audiences of 100-200. In the aggregate, the videos have attracted 1.2 million views, and those viewers have watched 77,300 hours of astronomy content. Most of the viewers are not based in the United States. Viewership rose dramatically at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. The videos watched by lifelong learners taking a MOOC show a decline in usage as they progress through the online course. But on these YouTube channels, when viewers can choose among the topics, the most popular are cosmology and exoplanets. Suggestions are made for the effective ways to create and disseminate astronomy videos.

Author Biography

Chris Impey, University of Arizona

Chris Impey is a University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona. He has over 220 refereed publications on observational cosmology, galaxies, and quasars, and his research has been supported by $20 million in NASA and NSF grants. He has won eleven teaching awards and has taught three online classes with over 350,000 enrolled and 5 million minutes of video lectures watched. Chris Impey is a past Vice President of the American Astronomical Society, and he has won its career Education Prize. He’s also been NSF Distinguished Teaching Scholar, Carnegie Council’s Arizona Professor of the Year, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. He has written 90 popular articles on cosmology, astrobiology and education, two textbooks, a novel called Shadow World, and nine popular science books: The Living Cosmos, How It Ends, Talking About Life, How It Began, Dreams of Other Worlds, Humble Before the Void, Beyond: The Future of Space Travel, Einstein’s Monsters: The Life and Times of Black Holes, and an upcoming book on exoplanets, Worlds Without End.