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Session 4 - The WWW and Astronomy Education.
Display session, Monday, January 13
Since 1995, the World Wide Web has explosively evolved into a significant medium for dispensing astronomical information to the general public. In addition to the numerous image archives that have proliferated, an increasing number of sites invite visitors to pose questions about astronomy and receive answers provided by professional astronomers. In this paper, I describe the operation of an Ask the Astronomer site that was opened on the WWW during August, 1995 as part of an astronomy education resource area called the "Astronomy Cafe" (URL=http://www2.ari.net/home/odenwald/cafe.html). The Astronomy Cafe includes a number of documents describing: a career in astronomy; how research papers are written; essays about cosmology, hyperspace and infrared astronomy; and the results from a 100-question, just for fun, personality test which distinguishes astronomers from non-astronomers. The Ask the Astronomer site is operated by a single astronomer through private donations and is now approaching its 500th day of operation. It contains over 2000+ questions and answers with a growth rate of 5 - 10 questions per day. It has attracted 70,000 visitors who are responsible for nearly 1 million 'hits' during the site's lifetime. The monthly statistics provide a unique survey of the kinds of individuals and organizations who visit Ask the Astronomer-type web sites, moreover, the accumulated questions provide a diagnostic X-ray into the public mind in the area of astronomy. I will present an analysis of the user demographics, and the types of questions that appear to be the most frequently asked. A paper copy of the complete index of these questions will be available for inspection.
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