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Educational Initiatives

Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos (YCCC)

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) and Smithsonian Affiliations are collaborating on the Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos astrophotography project.

The goal is to provide nationwide access to Smithsonian resources, and to engage newcomers to astronomy in the wonders of the universe by making images of the cosmos accessible and by encouraging individual interpretations of these images. Along the way, participants learn important 21st-century skills and engage in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) practices.

Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (Miami, Florida). Photo courtesy Michelle Beumer

What is Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos?

This program engages youth audience in accessing SAO's MicroObservatory robotic telescopes, to take and colorize their own images of stars and galaxies the same way that professional astronomers do. Participating Affiliate organizations collaborate in learning how to run public workshops that result in digital or physical exhibitions of original youth-created astrophotography displays. These images and displays can be featured not only at the participating institutions, but also on Smithsonian websites.

This program is in the second stage of its inception which has generated a partnership between mentor Affiliate organizations and Affiliate organizations which are new to this educational initiative. Our Smithsonian Affiliate partners have created a community of learners in online discussions and webinars to learn how to control the MicroObservatory telescopes to request images of planets, galaxies, and nebulae, all from their own computers, and sharing their experiences with one another. By opening a web browser, one can select the telescope targets and exposure time, and the images will be taken that evening and emailed the next day.

The Pinhead Institute (Telluride, Colorado) Photo courtesy Pinhead Institute
Using the software tools from the MicroObservatory participants enhance these photos, sharpen and refine the view of their object. Participants used filters to create stunning colorful interpretations or real-color images and compared student-based images to those from Smithsonian and NASA ground and space-based telescopes. Affiliate partners in the program helped visitors and youth audiences take their own photos of astronomical objects and to create displays or exhibits to show and share with the public.

Here are a few examples from Affiliate participants:

This program offers the opportunity for our Affiliate organizations to obtain a modest implementation fund to support the program in each community. This project is a collaboration of scientists and educators at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA) in collaboration with Smithsonian Affiliations, with funding from the Smithsonian Institution's Youth Access Program.

The Affiliate Mentors in the program are:

Affiliate mentees offering new YCCC programs are:

Follow our blog series highlighting YCCC events at Affiliates:

Affiliate press:

Talented students produced exceptional astrophotography artwork in the Cerritos Library's Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos program. Hear from participating students themselves about the impact of this program. Video courtesy Cerritos Library.


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Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas
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