Feature Story | 1-Jun-2023

Rubin Observatory brings a universe of discovery to the public

First-of-its-kind education and outreach program launches with a suite of online, interactive experiences highlighting Rubin Observatory and its science

Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA)

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory Education and Public Outreach (EPO) program launches today with a suite of online, interactive experiences showcasing Rubin Observatory, its technology, and its science. This multifaceted program employs new technologies and proven strategies to reach the widest possible audience, including science-interested teens and adults and those who are not already engaged with or knowledgeable about astronomy and astrophysics. 

The entire program is online at rubinobservatory.org and also optimized for mobile devices, allowing anyone to access the entire suite of materials developed by the Rubin EPO team. Materials are available in English and Spanish, to welcome a Chilean audience as well as Spanish speakers in the United States and around the world. 

Rubin Observatory is a partnership supported equally by funding from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Energy (DOE) and is operated by NSF’s NOIRLab and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Rubin Observatory is an integrated system consisting of an 8.4-meter telescope, a 3200-megapixel camera, an automated data processing system, and an online public engagement platform.

Rubin’s EPO program is the first astronomy outreach program to be fully funded by the NSF for creation during a project’s construction phase along with the rest of the observatory system. The construction and operations of Rubin Observatory and the DOE-built LSST Camera are supported by a US federal partnership of the NSF and DOE, along with private and international contributors. The observatory itself is still under construction, but the EPO program, which was less affected by pandemic-related delays, finished ahead of schedule and under budget.

A pillar of the Rubin EPO program is its formal education component, which focuses on engaging advanced middle-school to introductory college students with real telescope data. The program centers around a series of investigations and a full complement of teacher support materials. Investigations are engaging and interactive and don’t require special software or for teachers to download data — they just need a browser. Best of all, they’re free for anyone to use. Rubin’s formal education team has also started offering professional development workshops to introduce teachers to the investigations and connect them with the Rubin Observatory community. 

The Rubin EPO program also offers a range of products for the general public, including a website, animations and videos, an image gallery, and a browser-based game called Space Surveyors. The game teaches players how a survey telescope works as they attempt to capture images of stars, galaxies, and moving objects in the night sky — just as Rubin Observatory will when it begins operating in late 2024. 

The program built by Rubin Observatory's EPO team is exciting and unique — there's nothing else like it out there. It's an opportunity for teachers and the public to interact with science data in a whole new way,” says Elizabeth Pentecost, Project Management Administrator at NSF.

"Astronomy expands our knowledge of the Universe and inspires us to learn more about science and the natural world. Rubin Observatory is merging these two elements into a truly unique Education and Public Outreach program that uses online programs to educate and engage audiences around the world who are hungry to learn," said Bob Blum, Director for Operations, Vera C. Rubin Observatory, NSF’s NOIRLab. 

Additional education and outreach products will be released once data are flowing from the observatory. These include the Skyviewer, an all-sky visualization tool and the Orbitviewer, a Solar System visualization tool. Rubin Observatory, in partnership with Zooniverse, will also offer scientists an easy, browser-based tool to create citizen science projects and populate them with Rubin data. 

More information

NSF’s NOIRLab, the US center for ground-based optical-infrared astronomy, operates the International Gemini Observatory (a facility of NSFNRC–CanadaANID–ChileMCTIC–BrazilMINCyT–Argentina, and KASI–Republic of Korea), Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), the Community Science and Data Center (CSDC), and Vera C. Rubin Observatory (operated in cooperation with the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory). It is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with NSF and is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. The astronomical community is honored to have the opportunity to conduct astronomical research on Iolkam Du’ag (Kitt Peak) in Arizona, on Maunakea in Hawai‘i, and on Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón in Chile. We recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that these sites have to the Tohono O’odham Nation, to the Native Hawaiian community, and to the local communities in Chile, respectively.

Vera C. Rubin Observatory is a Federal project jointly funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, with early construction funding received from private donations through the LSST Corporation. The NSF-funded Rubin Observatory Project Office for construction was established as an operating center under the management of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). The DOE-funded effort to build the Rubin Observatory LSST Camera (LSSTCam) is managed by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC).

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science. NSF supports basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future.

NSF and DOE will continue to support Rubin Observatory in its Operations phase via NSF’s NOIRLab and DOE’s SLAC.


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