From Space to Your Phone—the Eclipse Goes Mobile: Creating an App to Connect Audiences to A Live Natural Phenomena Event

Lightning Talk
Rob Rothfarb, Exploratorium, USA

How can museums expand inquiry and interpretation of natural phenomena using mobile technology? Using cloud-based live video streaming, smart phones can now provide access to live events occurring in the natural world, affording opportunities for engaging audiences on the go. But how do we get there?
Creating mobile apps to provide viewing and interaction with live video of natural phenomena events occurring in space, on land, and in the oceans is not a widespread practice. The technical hurdles and costs to including such live video in apps and mobile websites are many. But the potential for phone users to learn and interact around this unique type of educational content is great.
Since 1998, the Exploratorium has been broadcasting live telescopic video of total solar eclipses, along with educational programs about these rare celestial events, to online audiences. In 2016, we took our practice of publishing live eclipse video on our desktop and mobile websites further by developing a mobile app for Android devices. The Total Solar Eclipse app offered livestreamed video of the March 8/9, 2016 eclipse that occurred over Indonesia, India, and the southern Pacific Ocean. The app format extended the reach of our program beyond the web and offered an enhanced video playback experience.
For the “Great American Total Solar Eclipse” of August 21, 2017, whose path of totality crossed the United States from west to east coasts, we added an iPhone/iPad app version and updated it to offer our live coverage in English and Spanish, a live audio sonification of the telescopic video, an geolocative map of the eclipse path, as well as expedition notes from our two sun observation field sites.
What did we learn from adapting live coverage webcasts of solar eclipses for engagement in a dedicated mobile app? In this talk, I’ll share how we delivered multiple live video streams into an integrated mobile experience and what we learned by extending our content into a native mobile app.

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