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Innovating Eclipse Outreach and Community Fostering

How the Eclipse Megamovie 2024 Discord was made, and how it innovates outreach while providing a platform for volunteer engagement and unity.

Published onMar 01, 2024
Innovating Eclipse Outreach and Community Fostering


Outreach can be a difficult aspect of citizen science. When volunteers collect data that must stand up to rigorous scientific examination, instruction and training methods become key. In order to better disseminate information and create a welcoming, inclusive, environment for volunteers, the Eclipse Megamovie 2024 Discord server was born. Discord unites various aspects of social media, such as the sharing of information and pictures, and also chatting with others who share one’s interests. It is also a way for project staff to share out announcements and information to the volunteers in a streamlined way. This article explains how the EM2024 Discord is used, and how it innovates outreach while providing a platform for volunteer engagement and unity.

1. Introduction

Discord bot Aelius
Figure 1

The Discord bot, Aelius, created by EM2024’s Troy Wilson. This bot assigns roles and automatically links to social media posts on EM2024 social media accounts (primarily Instagram). Aelius the character was created by the team’s graphic artist, Aurore Simmonet.

Eclipse Megamovie 2024 (EM2024) is one of several citizen science projects funded by NASA to study the Sun during the April 8, 2024 Total Solar Eclipse. The project is led by Dr. Laura Peticolas, Associate Director of EdEon STEM Learning at Sonoma State University. The goal of EM2024 is to engage volunteers in collecting high-quality images of the Sun’s corona during totality. To do this, we are giving 3-D printed equatorial (tracking) mounts for Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras to 100 volunteers who have committed to attending monthly training meetings and gathering over 40 images as close to our "Gold Standard" sequence as possible. Jeffery Reedy, EdEon’s technology leader for the project, has worked tirelessly to ensure that on the day of the eclipse many of our volunteers will be able to click “go” on their laptops, running the software Nighttime Imaging ‘N’ Astronomy (NINA), to collect thousands of images of the sun during the eclipse from across the path of totality. Dr. Peticolas’ plan includes using automatic, software-guided, mounts so that volunteers can take a step back and actually observe the eclipse as it happens, experiencing it in all its splendor.

2. Narrative

Hannah Hellman, EdEon’s EM2024 Communications Specialist, knew that there would be great potential for community engagement in this project. There is a bustling community of eclipse chasers that travel to see and photograph total solar eclipses each year, and this is the community that Dr. Peticolas worked with in 2017 for the first iteration of the Eclipse Megamovie project. EM2024 has a Facebook page, but that page is not likely to attract younger, or less experienced eclipse photographers. So, the EM2024 Discord server was born.

Discord began in 2015 as a platform for friends who play video games together to communicate over long distances. Discord allowed for free voice, video, and text chat at a time when each of these things were only offered through paid subscriptions or a video game, where you could only talk to other people playing the same game.

EM2024 has successfully used its Discord server to engage the Eclipse community in a few different ways. First, we designed the section of the server that would provide announcements from the EM2024 team, a channel to check on any new social media posts from our active platforms, and a place to find resources on how to use Discord. It is worth noting that at least half of our server community is currently made up of people who joined Discord specifically for the EM2024 project. This is a great indicator that we are successfully recruiting volunteers, despite the unfamiliar platform.

Troy Wilson, EdEon’s software specialist who designed EM2024’s website and has helped immensely with the social media effort, designed a “bot” that would allow users to assign themselves roles in the server based on their interest and participation level. The bot can also be used to indicate one’s pronouns, and this option has been very well received by our younger volunteers. There are at least three different ways to participate in EM2024: First, as a mount recipient or professional-level photographer with an equatorial mount that will allow photographs to be acquired nearly in the same way as using an EM2024-provided mount. Second, as a photographer with other equipment that meets specifications for the camera and lens and that will submit pictures to the project. Finally, as someone who wants to stay up-to-date on news and project progress or donate to the project to help others acquire the materials they need to photograph the eclipse.

list of Discord channels
Figure 2

This image shows the list of channels where EM2024 staff communicates and conveys information to its volunteers. The #welcome channel provides an opportunity for server members to welcome new members coming in, the #news channel has links to articles about EM2024 or eclipses in general, and the #resources channel holds helpful resources for volunteers as they pursue their goals of photographing the eclipse.

The community section of the Discord server is where the EM2024 community comes together to talk to each other, ask questions, or offer suggestions. Most Discord servers have a “general” channel that exists as a place for server members to chat with each other, say hello, or simply talk about things that don’t quite fit into any of the other areas of the server.

The “eclipse-chasing” part of the server is the forum, where our volunteers and community members can post their own discussions, as seen in “Mexico Bound!” or ask questions in the “Q&A” forum post. Hannah created most of these posts as a way for the community members to start getting to know each other. So far, the post that has seen the most engagement has been the “Eclipse Photography Setup'' post.

Figure 3

In the “Community” section of the Discord server, volunteers can chat with other volunteers, ask EM2024 staff questions (in the Q&A section), share travel plans, photographs, and even camera and other equipment-related setups.

The EM2024 Discord server was officially launched in September 2023, but it didn’t gain much traction until after the first volunteer meeting on October 16, 2023. The original members were mostly EM2024 staff and perhaps one or two volunteers who found the server through other avenues on social media. As part of the first volunteer meeting held on Zoom, Hannah presented the EM2024 Discord server and showed several “how-to” slides to encourage volunteers to join. The EM2024 staff emphasized that using Discord would be the best way to communicate directly with EM2024 staff, as it enabled volunteers to post questions in a public forum where others in the community could see the answers as well. Questions in the Q&A section that are successfully answered are “pinned” to the channel so that they can be found by anyone without having to scroll through days or weeks of correspondence to find the answers. Users of all levels of experience with Discord have been engaging in the server and posting eclipse and astrophotographs.

3. Conclusion

As of this writing, there are currently just over 100 members in the server. Most of the conversation happens in the general chat, and as volunteers begin to receive their mounts, they have submitted some wonderful photographs. Volunteers have great ideas for how to use the EM2024 Discord server to communicate with each other both before and during eclipse photography setup. There are now text and voice channels dedicated to various states along the path of totality, enabling people to organize carpools or share their eclipse destinations.

To get involved with EM2024 and join the EM2024 Discord server, visit our website at

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