National Geographic partners with Facebook for the platform's first 360-degree live video

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Astronomers are interviewed about their experience in Mars-simulated pods in the hour-long event

On Tuesday, National Geographic was the first to go live on Facebook in 360 degrees.

Facebook announced its new "Live 360" feature on Monday in a blog post. "Live 360" combines the platform’s real-time capabilities with a 360-degree video format. Later this month, Facebook will make live 360 broadcasting available in the Facebook Live API, and by next year, it will be offered to Pages and users. The move came eight months after YouTube became the first platform to roll out support for 360-degree live videos.

"Live video on Facebook gives people an immediate, authentic window into what’s happening in the world right now," wrote Supratik Lahiri, product manager at Facebook and Chetan Gupta, software engineer at Facebook. "360 video immerses viewers fully into the scene, letting them explore on their own and experience a new environment."

National Geographic used "Live 360" on Facebook to capture its latest science experiment at the Mars Desert Research Station facility in Utah. Over the past 80 days, eight space scientists were living in complete isolation in pods meant to stimulate life on the red planet in an effort to study the psychology and science of living on Mars.

During the live event, hosted by journalist Cara Santa Maria, viewers were given a tour of the living spaces inside the pods and the mock Mars landscape. The scientists were interviewed about their experience by space experts John Grunsfeld, Stephan Petranek and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The topics ranged from eating freeze-dried meals to the temperature inside the pods. The panelists appeared to be floating in separate video-chatting screens across from the scientists.

The scientists discussed their expectations for future research and predicted when humans will step foot on Mars. The hour-long live event took place on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 3 pm ET on Facebook and attracted the eyeballs of more than 26,000 people at its peak. By the end of the livestream, the video garnered more than 47,000 reactions and 10,026 shares. Seven hours after the event, the video received 2.1 million views, the number of reactions rose to 53,000 and the amount of shares increased to 11,717. 

Matt Zymet, executive Director for Digital Media at National Geographic Channel, said the company chose to do a live 360 event on Facebook to promote its new "Mars" miniseries. Set in 2033, as well as the present, the show has scripted elements about humanity’s first mission to Mars mixed with documentary-style interviews with space scientists such as James Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, and Elon Musk, the CTO of SpaceX. The six-episode series, which began on November 14, is almost over, and will be available for streaming on December 24.

He said that "Live 360" allows the viewer to become even more absorbed in the experience. "This new technology takes the currency of ‘Live’ and makes it truly immersive by giving the viewer a sense of presence at the event."

Merging 360-degree video and a live feed is Facebook’s latest move to promote its live broadcast options. At the end of October, the platform released its first social and TV ads for Facebook Live as part of a campaign that cost the platform a reported $16.4 million.

Facebook-owned Instagram is also touting its own live stories. On Monday, it rolled out live video to all U.S. users with its own live video that disappeared in 24 hours. Since Instagram has consistently followed in the lead of its parent company, it’s likely that marketers will see 360-degree live video also come to the platform.