Welcome to this week’s edition of TIME’s LightBox Follow Friday, a series where we feature the work of photographers who are using Instagram in new and engaging ways. Each week we will introduce you to the person behind the feed through his or her pictures and share an interview with the photographer.
This week on #LightBoxFF, TIME speaks with Rebecca Roth, who runs the Instagram feed at NASA Goddard (@nasagoddard), the agency’s research lab in Greenbelt, MD. Roth says that social media has drastically changed the way NASA communicates with the world, and has made space exploration accessible and immediate to a new generation.
LightBox: How has communication at NASA Goddard changed with social media, and what does Instagram provide that other platforms don’t?
RR: Social media has opened a direct line of communication for NASA Goddard with the public, and not only here in the United States but all over the world. In the past we were limited to reaching media via faxes and press releases and then reaching the public with mostly content on our web pages, and so much would go unnoticed. Now we get to post and engage with the public in the places were they are already spending their time; Instagram, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, etc. It’s wonderful because we are able to create and share videos, images and stories with the public and teach them something new everyday…and in real time.
Because Instagram is mostly optimized for mobile users and is all about images, it’s been a great way to reach people who maybe were not already interested in ‘space stuff.’ A stunningly beautiful image maybe catches someone’s eye, and then they’ll read the caption, learn all about the satellite that caught that image, and share that image with their friends.
Free-Air Gravity Map of the Moon This still image features a free-air gravity map of the Moon's southern latitudes developed by S. Goossens et al. from data returned by the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. If the Moon were a perfectly smooth sphere of uniform density, the gravity map would be a single, featureless color, indicating that the force of gravity at a given elevation was the same everywhere. But like other rocky bodies in the solar system, including Earth, the Moon has both a bumpy surface and a lumpy interior. Spacecraft in orbit around the Moon experience slight variations in gravity caused by both of these irregularities. The free-air gravity map shows deviations from the mean gravity that a cueball Moon would have. The deviations are measured in milliGals, a unit of acceleration. On the map, purple is at the low end of the range, at around -400 mGals, and red is at the high end near +400 mGals. Yellow denotes the mean. Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio #nasagoddard #moon #space #gravity #space
Jun. 27, 2014. Free-Air Gravity Map of the Moon This still image features a free-air gravity map of the Moon’s southern latitudes developed by S. Goossens et al. from data returned by the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. If the Moon were a perfectly smooth sphere of uniform density, the gravity map would be a single, featureless color,
LightBox: In a facility like NASA Goddard, where amazing research and incredible projects are happening all the time, how do you decide what photos to post, and where do those images actually come from?
RR: We try to share every story on at least one of our social media platforms, but when it comes to our Instagram account, I’ve tried hard to post really compelling images with great stories laced with tidbits of interesting information. I always try to share different types of images and limit posts to one or two a day. Many of our images come from stories about the various missions we manage at NASA Goddard like the Hubble Space Telescope, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and from our fleet of Earth observing satellites like Landsat 8.
Goddard is also home to the world’s largest clean room where currently our engineers are assembling components of the James Webb Space Telescope. It’s scheduled for launch in 2018 where it will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, and we’ve posted some great pictures from that cleanroom. We also post employees in laboratories making discoveries and building new technologies, scientists out in the field, even VIP visitors who visit Goddard.
Inside the world's largest clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., engineers worked tirelessly to install another essential part of the James Webb Space Telescope - the Near Infrared Camera into the heart of the telescope. To complete this installation, the engineers needed to carefully move NIRCam inside the heart or ISIM, or Integrated Science Instrument Module that will house all of the science instruments. "Installing NIRCam into the center of the structure is nerve wracking because of the tight clearances," said Marcia J. Rieke, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona, and principal investigator for the NIRCam. "I'm glad nothing bumped, and all the bolts are in place." NIRCam is a unique machine because in addition to being one of the four science instruments on the Webb, it also serves as the wavefront sensor, which means it will provide vital information for shaping the telescope mirrors and aligning its optics so that they can function properly and see into the distant universe. The NIRCam instrument will operate at very cold temperatures, and will be tested to ensure that it will be able to withstand the environment of space. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Chris Gunn #nasagoddard #jwst #space
Mar. 31, 2014. Inside the world’s largest clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., engineers worked tirelessly to install another essential part of the James Webb Space Telescope – the Near Infrared Camera into the heart of the telescope.
LightBox: How do people tend to react to the images posted, and what is the most popular photo currently on the feed?
RR: We tend to receive a huge percent of very positive comments. I’d say the top three types of comments would be; “Thank you NASA”, “That is cool, I’ve never seen anything like it” and “Thanks for the great caption.” We try hard to include easily digestible, educational captions with all of our images. Our most viewed image on Instagram has over 412,000 “likes”, it’s from the polar vortex this past winter.
Are you freezing right now? Look up in the sky, here's the reason why. Satellite Image Shows Entry of the Polar Vortex into the Northern U.S. The Polar Vortex is a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both north and south poles. The northern Polar Vortex is pushing southward over western Wisconsin/eastern Minnesota today, Monday, January 6, 2014 and is bringing frigid temperatures to half of the continental United States. It is expected to move northward back over Canada toward the end of the week. This image was captured by NOAA's GOES-East satellite on January 6, 2014 at 11:01 a.m. EST. A frontal system that brought rain to the coast is draped from north to south along the U.S. East Coast. Behind the front lies the clearer skies bitter cold air associated with the Polar Vortex. Both the northern and southern polar vortices are located in the middle and upper troposphere (lowest level of the atmosphere) and the stratosphere (next level up in the atmosphere). The polar vortex is a winter phenomenon. It develops and strengthens in its respective hemisphere's winter as the sun sets over the polar region and temperatures cool. They weaken in the summer. In the northern hemisphere, they circulate in a counter-clockwise direction, so the vortex sitting over western Wisconsin is sweeping in cold Arctic air around it. The Arctic Polar Vortex peaks in the Northern Hemisphere's wintertime and has already moved southward several times this winter. In the past, it has also moved southward over Europe.On January 21, 1985, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Daily Weather Map series showed a strong polar vortex centered over Maine. Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project #winter #weather #polarvortex #cold #nasagoddard
Jan. 6, 2014 Satellite Image Shows Entry of the Polar Vortex into the Northern U.S. The Polar Vortex is a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both north and south poles.
LightBox: Do you think Instagram and social media has changed the way the public interacts with NASA/NASA Goddard?
RR: I do believe it has made a difference. We are able to reach and interact with people of all ages, from all walks of life, from all over the world in a way that we were never able to in the past. Our mission is to increase the amount of great educational content being shared on social media sites and to do it in a way that really has an impact on people, and we feel we’ve been able to do that.
Rebecca Roth is a member of the multimedia department at NASA Goddard
See more from TIME’s #LightBoxFF series here