An overview of the Chandra mission and goals, Chandra's namesake, top 10 facts.
Classroom activities, printable materials, interactive games & more.
Overview of X-ray Astronomy and X-ray sources: black holes to galaxy clusters.
All Chandra images released to the public listed by date & by category
Current Chandra press releases, status reports, interviews & biographies.
A collection of multimedia, illustrations & animations, a glossary, FAQ & more.
A collection of illustrations, animations and video.
Chandra discoveries in an audio/video format.
A Journey of 1,000 Miles (or more) Begins With A Single Chandra Podcast
by Megan Watzke
June 28, 2007
Chandra EPO Group wins Pirelli Award
From women's restrooms to Roman baths. That's the path that the
Chandra podcasts have traveled so far. Let's take this odd journey in
reverse and begin in Rome.
On May 11, 2007, the Chandra podcasts received the Pirelli International
award for physics. The Pirelli award, established in 1996, is the
world's first Internet multimedia award aimed at the diffusion of
scientific and technological culture worldwide. Members of the Chandra
group accepted in a ceremony at the Temple of Hadrian in Rome, Italy,
with other winners, members of the Italian government, and media in
Such a dignified event must have been the culmination of an equally
cultured start? Well, not exactly.
When the Chandra Education and Public Outreach (EPO) group first started
work on its podcast productions early in 2006, an interesting problem
arose. Where can one go where it is truly quiet? One place turned out
to be next to the women's bathroom in the basement of the Chandra X-ray
Why, one might ask, would the EPO group need to lurk outside rest rooms?
The answer involves the need to interview scientists who are featured in
the Chandra podcasts. The hum of computers and the rattling of the
heating system are so common that most people don't even notice them.
However, sensitive recording equipment does pick up such unwanted
background noise. Therefore, for the inaugural Chandra podcast, the unorthodox recording site was found (and used).
Fortunately, since that first podcast, other quiet -- and more
respectable -- spaces at the Chandra X-ray Center have been identified.
However, its unglamorous start does illustrate the wide range of
problems that a nascent medium, such as podcasting, presents.
If you are unfamiliar with podcasts, it might be worth finding a
teenager or a relatively technically savvy adult to ask. In short,
podcasts are multimedia files that are broadcast over the Internet --
either on a computer or a mobile playback device like an iPod or an mp3
Podcasting is a new and fast-growing way for people and organizations to
share information. According to Wikipedia, the concept of podcasting
was first reported in 2000 and its technical components were available
in 2001. By 2003, podcasts began showing up on well-known websites. In
2005, "podcasting" was declared the word of the year by the New Oxford
As a burgeoning medium, podcasts have very few, if any, rules or
standards. Instead, every organization's podcast is different in
content, style and length. In late 2005, when just a handful of space
science podcasts existed, the EPO group decided to start producing
Chandra podcasts. The decision was made to keep the Chandra podcasts
relatively short, typically three to five minutes, with a goal of one
new podcast per month. After covering the very basics of the satellite
and X-ray astronomy in the first few episodes, the podcasts have gone on
to explore topical areas that Chandra studies such as black holes,
galaxy clusters, and supernovas.
The first step to create a Chandra podcast is to come up with a concept.
After a rough script is written, the EPO group enlists the help of
scientists who specializes in that area to both lend their voice to the
audio and their expertise in polishing the content. While it is a young
medium, most podcast producers report that users are more attentive if
there is more than one voice. Therefore, the Chandra podcasts' format
is one of a narrator and scientist who alternate speaking.
While the audio portion of the podcast is a crucial component, it is not
the only one. That's because the Chandra EPO group elected to make
so-called "vodcasts", or video podcasts, from the start. Vodcasts
contain images and graphics as well as the traditional audio most
podcasts feature. In order to be accessible to the widest audience,
however, a user has the option of selecting the video and audio version
of the Chandra podcast, the audio only, or just the transcript of the
The video for the vodcasts comes from a compilation of Chandra images,
illustrations, and animations that are relevant to the topic being
discussed. It takes careful editing to match the content and timing of
the audio and video. After several iterations among EPO group members
and NASA officials, including a final check from the Chandra press
scientist, the podcast is made into several different formats. In
addition to the web, the podcasts are formatted into broadcast-quality
segments for airing on NASA-TV and DVD-quality for Chandra products.
Screenshot of Chandra Podcast in iTunes Music Store
Chandra's podcasts are available on its main website
(chandra.harvard.edu), but that's not the only place to find them.
Apple's popular iTunes Music Store acts as one major distribution point
for podcasts, and Chandra's can usually be found at #25-30 in the
Natural Sciences category. To cast an even wider net, Chandra podcasts
are linked from the NASA and Smithsonian web portals, as well as podcast
portals such as PodcastAlley, PodcastPickle and LearnOutLoud.com, among
others. Chandra podcasts are also advertised via news aggregators or
"podcatchers" such as Feedburner via the RSS feed. Recently, Chandra
podcasts were also added to YouTube. The Chandra podcasts have been
used in pleasantly surprising ways. For example, teachers have reported
using them in classrooms as introductions to astronomical topics.
It's said every journey begins with a single step. The first step for
the Chandra podcasts was down in the basement, but they have since
traveled the globe. As the EPO group strives to improve and expand the
podcasts, the hope is the public enjoys them as another way to help
understand our Universe a little bit better.