Gravity's Relentless Pull
An interactive, multimedia website about black holes for Education and Public Outreach
Authors: Roeland P. van der Marel (STScI), David Schaller (EduWeb), Gijs Verdoes Kleijn (Groningen Univ.)
We have created a website, called "Black Holes: Gravity's Relentless Pull", which explains the physics and astronomy of black holes for a general audience. The site emphasizes user participation and is rich in animations and astronomical imagery. It won the top prize of the 2005 Pirelli INTERNETional Awards competition for the best communication of science and technology using the internet. This article provides a brief overview of the site. The site starts with an opening animation that introduces the basic concept of a black hole. The user is then invited to embark on a journey from a backyard view of the night sky to a personal encounter with a singularity. This journey proceeds through three modules, which allow the user to: find black holes in the night sky; travel to a black hole in an animated starship; and explore a black hole from up close. There are also five "experiments" that allow the user to: create a black hole; orbit around a black hole; weigh a black hole; drop a clock into a black hole; or fall into a black hole. The modules and experiments offer goal-based scenarios tailored for novices and children. The site also contains an encyclopedia of frequently asked questions and a detailed glossary that are targeted more at experts and adults. The overall result is a website where scientific knowledge, learning theory, and fun converge. Despite its focus on black holes, the site also teaches many other concepts of physics, astronomy and scientific thought. The site aims to instill an appreciation for learning and an interest in science, especially in the younger users. It can be used as an aid in teaching introductory astronomy at the undergraduate level.