The Witch’s Broom Nebula: photo by Martin Pugh
The website, Astronomy Picture of the Day, more commonly known as, APOD, is an easily accessible and enticing site for learning about cosmic phenomena through an extensive daily archive of videos, interactive exploratory opportunities and beautiful photographs in two- and three-dimensional formats. The use of natural phenomena as art to draw in viewers, appeals to a diverse audience. It then inspires them to learn more about the cosmos, and earth-sky-related phenomena, through the use of hyperlinks that take them to a veritable plethora of related material and information. The site is designed to appeal to every level of interest from the most basic introductory astronomy questions to deepest and most complex issues on scientific and cosmic research.
The APOD website was created in 1995 and is devoted to the expansion of knowledge about astronomy. Its creators, astronomers, Jerry Bonnell, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and Robert Nemiroff, a professor at the Michigan Technical University, created a place on the Internet for daily images related to astronomy. This also provides hyperlinks to related information, a glossary and educational sites for astronomy. (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/lib/about_apod.html).
Like Nemiroff, who uses APOD’s archive in his classroom to encourage students in their academic studies, many other teachers use APOD’s archive in the classroom as well. Dr. Todd Ryan of Westborough High School, for example, says “…APOD generates more questions from students than any other type of material I use.” With regard to astronomy, he finds it to be the most accessible site for sparking student interest in the subject. Tom English, a professor at Gardner-Webb University, claims that the site is a great recourse for astronomical “current events.” He lists this site as the main source of information for the projects in his courses. (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/lib/apodclass.html).
The photos on this site include some of the most amazing sights the cosmos has to offer, ranging from the Hubble Telescope’s imaging of the Butterfly Nebula to a photo of the Hubble itself.
One interesting thing about APOD is its use of hyperlinks to create discussion about astronomy. In the description of The Butterfly Nebula, there are embedded hyperlinks that will take you to related photo’s or related discussions at various levels of scientific interest and knowledge.
But, what is a hyperlink? Why is it important to the APOD site? The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines a hyperlink as “an electronic link providing direct access from one distinctively marked place in a hypertext or hypermedia document to another in the same or a different document.” The reason the “hyperlink” is an important part of the APOD site is that it helps facilitate an option for “adventure.” For example, on the APOD page for the Butterfly Nebula, its caption explanation begins, “The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth’s night sky are often named for flowers or insects.” The word “flowers” is a hyperlink, and if clicked on, this hyperlink takes us to another of APOD’s photos: The Iris Nebula.
The Iris Nebula: photo by Tony Hallas
This beautiful photograph is both related to the Butterfly Nebula by being a nebula itself and relates to the concept about the origin of nebula names in the first explanation of being associated with flowers.
The use of hyper-linking one page to another shows on a small scale the almost infinite possibilities of hyperlinked information. The idea of hyperlinks originated in the 1930’s, but did not become implemented until 1989, when the World Wide Web became available to the public, by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN (History of Hyperlinks: http://etrialinc.com/blog/?p=79).
The hyperlink as it relates to APOD has facilitated further enjoyment of the subject of astronomy. Fun aside, among the many uses for hyperlinks, the most important use is for the sharing of information. In his article, “Sustainable Learning Through Hyperlinks,” Dean Shareski says, “…hyperlinks are allowing learning to be sustainable…and we now are able to connect with the people behind the links and continue conversations of learning for as long as we’d like.” (Sustainable Learning Through Hyperlinks: http://novemberlearning.com/sustainable-learning-through-hyperlinks/).
With a pair of 3D glasses these craters come to life!
APOD uses a variety of media formats to further the viewer’s experience, such as, 3-D images (above), still photos (some colorized in differing hues to examine the contents of the astronomical object), videos, and interactive images just to name a few.
This video, “Our Story In One Minute,” presents a short visual journey through the entire history of our world, according to current scientific understanding. Through CGI (computer generated images) and real imagery, it gives a cursory glimpse into the vastness of our universe.
The Scale of the Universe – Interactive: by Cary & Michael Huang
Through this interactive web application, you can explore the immensely wide range of objects that fall along the cosmic-scale. You can zoom from the quantum scale all the way out to the diameter of the observable universe. Along the way are a multitude of planets, Nebulae, galaxies and other astronomical phenomena.
All of the examples are from ADOP’s extensive archive, where each photo, video, etc, are dated and have a short description of what they are. APOD’s mission to bring astronomy to the masses through art and beauty is a wonderful success that has never failed to amaze those that see it. Its elegant and interesting presentations continue to motivate viewers to invest a few minutes of their time to read the two to three sentences accompanying and explaining what the particular photo of the day is all about and inspires them to explore in more depth our fascinating universe. In this way, the site expands not only interest in the sciences but also expands the horizons both literally and figuratively of those who view it. In the August 2009 article “Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom” by Steve Lohr, about the value of online education for the Department of Education concluded after 12 years and 99 studies that “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction” in the same courses, proving the value of online education (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/study-finds-that-online-education-beats-the-classroom/).
Or, as Scientific American magazine asserted regarding Astronomy Picture of the Day, “No list of the ‘best of the Web’ would be complete without this NASA classic” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=astronomy-and-astrophysic).
Bonnell, Jerry, and Nemiroff, Robert. Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). 1995. Web. June 9, 2013. <http://apod.nasa.gov/>
“History of Hyperlinks” Web. November 9, 2009. June 9, 2013. <http://etrialinc.com/blog/?p=79>
Lohr, Steve. “Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom” Web. August 19, 2009. June 9, 2013. <http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/study-finds-that-online-education-beats-the-classroom/>
Scientific American. “Astronomy and Astrophysics” Web. May 14, 2001. June 9, 2013. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=astronomy-and-astrophysic>
Sci-Tech Library Newsletter “Mathematical and Physical Sciences: Astronomy and Astrophysics: Astronomy Picture of the Day” Web. June 7, 2001. June 9, 2013. <http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/swain/nsflibnews/2001/stan010607.html>
Shareski, Dean. “Sustainable Learning through hyperlinks” Web. Jul. 15, 2010. June 9, 2013. <http://novemberlearning.com/sustainable-learning-through-hyperlinks/>
Hallas, Tony. NGC 7023: The Iris Nebula. Photograph. Astronomy Picture of the Day. Web. September 29, 2012. June 9, 2013.
Huang, Cary & Michael. The Scale of the Universe – Interactive. Web Application. March 12, 2012. June 9, 2013.
Pugh, Martin. NGC 6960: The Witch’s Broom Nebula. Photograph. Astronomy Picture of the Day. Web. May 29, 2013. June 9, 2013.