Program Office: Physics of the Cosmos/

Cosmic Origins (PCOS/COR)



The Physics of the Cosmos and Cosmic Origins Program Education and Public Outreach focuses on activities that span the science goals of the Physics of the Cosmos (PCOS) Program and the Cosmic Origins (COR) Program. The overall program strategy uses established programs to infuse PCOS and COR science topics along with developing new projects to reach audiences from formal and informal education and the general public. PCOS/COR is only in its second year of funding, so many of our activities are in the formative stage.

The Space Forensics activity is a new, keystone project wherein astronomical phenomena are treated as criminal investigations. Through this format, we create parallels between the tools used by astronomers and those used by crime scene investigators. The long-term plan for Space Forensics includes a suite of materials for a variety of audiences from educator guides for formal and informal settings, an online interactive for the armchair crime-solver, and a museum kiosk for public audiences. 

 Our primary effort for Space Forensics to date is creating compelling narratives for a variety of astronomical phenomena. To accomplish this, our education specialists are consulting with scientists in the PCOS and COR programs, a PhD astrophysicist-turned-forensic-scientist, and a seasoned science writer. This approach will ensure scientific accuracy from both the astrophysics and forensics points-of-view. In addition, we are including educators early in the development to ensure that the end product will engage their students and use science topics that the teachers need in their classrooms.

In addition to Space Forensics, the PCOS and COR Program E/PO will be expanding the highly successful Big Explosions and Strong Gravity activity. Big Explosions and Strong Gravity (BESG) is a one-day program where middle-school-aged children participate in a series of activities on spectroscopy, cosmic abundances, supernovae, and black holes. It was originally developed in partnership with the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. The PCOS/COR E/PO team is working to take this program to new audiences, beyond the Girl Scouts.

We are also working on a Multiwavelength Sky Tour activity that will introduce the science-interested public to the different views astronomers have of objects using multiwavelength observations. The primary product of this activity will be an interactive image studio where the public can customize multiwavelength images of selected objects – tuning the color and intensity of each available wavelength. To support this effort, we are also working on short, narrated videos to explain the astronomical objects and what we see in different wavelengths.

Finally, PCOS and COR Program E/PO supports NASA Blueshift, a new media and social outreach effort that uses a blog and presences on social media outlets to give science-interested audiences a behind-the-scenes look at PCOS/COR science, missions, and people.

Lead Organizations

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center




The Big Explosions and Strong Gravity activity was developed under a partnership with the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland (GSCM) and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Physics and Astronomy Department. JHU and NASA Goddard Astrophysics Science Division scientists and education professionals created the activities, wrote up instructions, and led the activities, while GSCM organized the Girl Scout events and provided the participants. Both JHU and GSCM hosted the activity at different times. Magnolia Consulting served as an external evaluation partner during the program development and expansion to other Girl Scout councils around the country. As we expand the program to other informal education audiences, future partners will include 4-H groups, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scout groups, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and university physics and astronomy departments.




NASA Blueshift ended FY12 with 16,917 Twitter followers and 3,739 Facebook likes. During FY2012, the Blueshift site had 4,770,161 website hits, including 97,444 podcast downloads.

As of May 2013, NASA Blueshift has 24,699 Twitter followers and 10,412 Facebook likes. Since the creation of the current Blueshift website in January 2008, there have been 14,629,566 website hits, including 515,034 podcast downloads.



Effectiveness and Impact

Evaluation findings and impact statements:

The PCOS and COR Program E/PO evaluation is in progress. As of May 2013, we have received outcomes from the Space Forensics focus group, which drove the determination of topics to use for the Space Forensics cases. However, we have not yet evaluated the Space Forensics objectives. That will occur later in the development process.