Bringing Astronomy down to Earth

Educational Partnerships Manager,  Jami Mathewson
Educational Partnerships Manager, Jami Mathewson

Astronomy is a perfect topic for students and experts to improve during the Wikipedia Year of Science. One of our key interests is making science more accessible to the public. Astronomy students can translate dense, jargon-filled articles into something relatable to, say, parents explaining telescopes to children, or amateur scientists discovering the stars.

That’s why Outreach Manager Samantha Erickson and I attended the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) conference in San Diego.

Alongside the Simons Foundation, who hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, we introduced AAS members to Wikipedia. We were elated that 55 people showed up to learn more about how to improve astronomy articles. Wikipedia editor and women-in-science phenomenon Emily Temple-Wood helped direct attendees to missing articles about women astronomers. During the three-hour editing session and the days following the event, participants started 28 new articles about women astronomers. Combined, they added 19,500 words to Wikipedia. What stars!

One group of astronomers teamed up to create an article about astrophysicist Heather Knutson, developing a well-cited article by adding 12 references. Another participant translated an article about Yūko Kakazu from Japanese Wikipedia. Making information about scientists available on Wikipedia helps give role models to passionate telescope wielders. They may convert that passion into a career.

Conferences are a great opportunity to see what happens when experts engage with Wikipedia. We saw the enthusiasm scientists have for improving the public’s access to research. Participants had a “stellar” time editing, but some worried that academic obligations kept them too busy to contribute. They can make an impact by assigning students—who already spend time studying and writing about astronomy—to edit Wikipedia. Hopefully, they’ve realized how easily students can use their higher education to impact an astronomical number of readers!

To find out more about teaching with Wikipedia, see our list of resources, or reach out to us:

Photo: Emily Temple-Wood volunteers at the American Astronomical Society conference 2016 Wikipedia edit-a-thon.


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