Is That Real? Understanding Astronomical Images

Our 2014 follow-up Aesthetics & Astronomy study examined what is believed to be “real” in images and how people – particularly non-experts – respond to and understand information that astronomical images attempt to convey. A convenience sample of 1,956 responded to an online survey created for this research. Results indicated that belief in the veracity of astronomical images is normally distributed, with males somewhat more unconvinced than females. No significant differences were shown across age groups, levels of education, background in astronomy, and self-rating of knowledge in astronomy. An open-ended item soliciting questions for a science image expert yielded five primary categories of responses: color, veracity, “The Five W” questions, technical questions, and comments or questions related to the aesthetics of the image. By far, the majority of questions and comments are related to color. Results are discussed in terms of the need for more education regarding science communication and for using technology to increase public understanding and comprehension of images related to astronomy and other issues in science.

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