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Australian National University

Gazing for a Record

On the night of 23 May 2018, 60,000 people gathered at hundreds of stargazing parties around Australia and the world, gazed at the stars for 10 minutes, and broke the Guinness Book of World Records record for stargazing. This achievement consolidated the Australian National University’s (ANU), reputation as a world-leading educational institution for science. ANU achieved its goal of encouraging thousands of citizens to engage in a science activity, whilst positioning the University as 'the' university to attend in Australia, gaining the attention of 20 million people worldwide in the process. 

ANU is ranked as the number one university in Australia and 24th globally with over 16,000 students, consisting of undergraduate, master’s and PhD students.  The ANU’s Vice Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, is a globally-renowned astrophysicist and the 2011 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. 

 

To engage citizens in science, promote the university and showcase its talent, ANU’s Strategic Communications and Public Affairs (SCAPA) team worked with leading academics to engage in the Stargazing Live Campaign for 2018. This campaign aimed to inspire young and old Australians alike to be passionate and curious about science: that science could be fun and easily accessible for everyone. A secondary goal was to position the ANU domestically and internationally as a world leader in education, as the leading destination for science, in research across all studies, and as ‘the’ university to attend in Australia. 

© Australian National University

From early 2018, the team started promoting the campaign through videos, social media, school programs and the Citizen Science project. Dr. Brad Tucker and other scientists at ANU, worked with the public to directly access and use ANU data, demonstrating the unique and creative capability for research at the university. The night was promoted as a community event around Australia, where to break the world record together, all participants needed to gaze at the moon for 10 minutes, simultaneously. 

The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) was approached to host and live stream 'Stargazing Live’. With the help of the ABC, the ANU targeted key audiences which would usually be missed, including smaller towns and rural communities. ANU also shipped 30,000 telescopes across Australia to participants, arriving within two weeks of the event. 

Stargazing Live was broadcast on the National Geographic channel; SCAPA also used social media to engage with those interested in the event and coined a variety of hashtags used across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Some of these hashtags include #anustargazing, #abcstargazing and #stargazingabc. The ABC proved vital for the broadcasting and networking before, during and after the event. 

Anthony and Holly Todd  with their homemade Dobsonian telescope at the Stargazing Event.

To beat the current world record, the attempt needed to have more than 5,000 people registered and assigned to stargazing party groups.  The outcome exceeded all expectations. With 3,500 participants at ANU alone, and a total of 44,000 people qualified and registered 500-star parties across Australia, ANU not only broke the Guinness World Record, it also reached 20 million people worldwide and gained thousands of social media mentions. 

Following the completion of the Stargazing event, ANU is now embarking on a ‘Stargazing ANU on Tour’ roadshow. Staff will host public lectures and stargazing sessions for schools and communities across regional Australia, improving the national reach of the program. Stargazing ANU on Tour events will be held in Northern Queensland and Northern Western Australia in November 2018, and Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales in March 2019.  

The campaign and event were an outstanding success making the record difficult to beat. It also simultaneously showcased the best that ANU has to offer regarding Nobel prize winners and amazing cutting-edge technology, lifting ANU’s status as a global and community leader.