Capturing the many faces of an exploded star: communicating complex and evolving astronomical data



This study explored how different presentations of an object in deep space affect understanding, engagement, and aesthetic appreciation. A total of n = 2,502 respondents to an online survey were randomly assigned to one of 11 versions of Cassiopeia A, comprising 6 images and 5 videos ranging from 3s to approximately 1min. Participants responded to intial items regarding what the image looked like, the aesthetic appeal of the image, perceptions of understanding, and how much the participant wanted to learn more. After the image was identified, participants indicated the extent to which the label increased understanding and how well the image represented the object. A final item asked for questions about the image for an atronomer. Results suggest that alternative types of images can and should be used, provided they are accompanied by explanations. Qualitative data indicated that explanations should include information about colors used, size, scale, and location of the object. The results are discussed in terms of science communication to the public in the face of increasing use of technology.