On February 26, 1998, the San Francisco Exploratorium allowed people all over the world to experience a total solar eclipse as it happened through the medium of the World Wide Web. The event was initiated through and supported by NASA's Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum (SECEF) in partnership with the Exploratorium as a high visibility public event emphasizing the science of studying the Sun. Simple explanations of such things as the corona, prominences, solar wind, and just the mechanics of an eclipse were provided interactively by scientists and as a part of the associated Web sites. (See http://www.exploratorium.edu/eclipse and http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov for examples.)
The solar eclipse as captured by the Exploratorium expedition to the Caribbean.
Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) also supported the event by providing several engineers and much of the necessary equipment to enable the Webcast from the island of Aruba through the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS). The engineers together with Exploratorium and Discovery Channel Online personnel made it possible to see and hear the events as they transpired on Aruba.
The Webcast was widely advertised. Articles mentioning the Exploratorium Web site appeared in many major newspapers as well as on a British Broadcasting Company radio show and other international media sources. Press releases and event notices were sent to major E-mail distribution lists with emphasis on school involvement since the eclipse took place during school hours across the United States. The results were predictable. The Exploratorium Web site together with two mirror sites set up for the event was completely saturated with millions of accesses. A page set up on the SECEF Web site at GSFC to provide eclipse information and direct people to the Exploratorium Web site received hundreds of thousands of hits and was by far the single largest referral site to the Exploratorium pages. Likewise, an eclipse page set up by NSSDC for its electronic visitors ( http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/eclipse_1998.html) also supported a great number of hits.
The forum is now looking to other possibilities for high visibility public events that can be used to educate the community better in Sun-Earth Connection science. SECEF is one of four forums set up by the NASA Office of Space Science as a part of the education strategic plan to promote science education and outreach within the four main space science themes. It is a partnership between GSFC and the University of California, Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory. The National Space Science Data Center has a central role in the management of SECEF at GSFC.
Erin D. Gardner, firstname.lastname@example.org, (301) 286-0163
Raytheon STX, Code 633, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771, U.S.A.