The space agency is steadily becoming a leader in education and conservation by means of its television webcasts, website content, and social media assets. Its ability to effectively use modern communication tools as a means for inspiration and awareness for under-covered scientific events is admirable, especially for Earth-bound observations such as the upcoming lunar eclipse.
NASA will provide full coverage of the lunar eclipse.
On Tuesday, April 15, NASA will broadcast live coverage of the lunar eclipse, beginning between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. (EDT) and ending when the moon will enter the Earth's full shadow (or umbra) at approximately 3:45 a.m. on the East Coast (and 12:45 a.m. on the West Coast). The event is significant because the United States is in a prime orbital position to view the eclipse.
Depending on local weather conditions, anyone awake to witness the event will have a spectacular view looking into the sky as the moon's appearance changes from bright orange to blood red to dark brown and perhaps gray. Assisting NASA in its coverage is anyone who wants to participate.
The agency has invited anyone who is interested to share their images of the eclipsed moon on Instagram and the NASA Flickr group. Currently, the agency has hundreds of pictures of previous lunar eclipses along with educational illustrations and models. It will also cover the event on its television channel and share multiple telescopic views from around the United States.
Some additional plans made by the social media team include live conversations (including question and answer sessions) on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Instagram. Use the hashtag #eclipse to easily source the conversation. The agency also planned to host a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Monday, April 14 at 2 p.m. with astronomers from the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center.
Live lunar eclipse resources are also available on a dedicated webpage. In addition to the photos, the educational webpage includes an animated simulation of what the eclipse might look like from the surface of the moon. This particular eclipse is receiving additional attention because the United States will not be able to witness a full lunar eclipse in its entirety again until 2019.
Sizing up the social media program at NASA.
NASA continues to be diligent in covering a broad spectrum of missions, programs, and projects. It largely succeeds in making its findings prolific across most major social networks, adapting the content to suit the specific best practice models of each platform.
It also earns high marks in making its resources readily available so individuals can join in the conversation. As a public agency, many of its photos, images, and artwork are in the public domain (provided the resources aren't used for commercial purposes).
Where the program is still in its infancy is in categorizing its content to engage specific interest groups as well as space generalists and agency loyalists. Specifically, while the agency does a relatively fine job categorizing its website assets by mission, program, and project, its social media efforts tend to feel exceedingly expansive.
The net impact to its outreach is that it still relies on traditional media to set the awareness agenda. People are more likely to hear about the lunar eclipse and, perhaps, less likely to learn about the NADA Cassini Images that may reveal the birth of a new Saturn moon. If the small icy object that formed within the rings of Saturn is a new moon, then NADA will have effectively witnessed something that could help explain the formation of our own moon.
What do you think? How effective has NASA been in adopting social media tools as part of its greater outreach efforts? What could it do better?