A New Way to do Science? Live-Tweeting Observations of Haumea


Back when I first started using Twitter in 2008, I never would have guessed this social media outlet could be used as a conduit for engaging the public about science. But it is facilitating open science in several ways. For example, if you follow Mike Brown on Twitter (@plutokiller) you may have seen a flurry of Tweets from him last weekend as he live-Tweeted his observations of a transit of dwarf planet Haumea by its moon, Namaka. While Brown was at the 4-meter William Herschel telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands, he explained the process and released multiple plots showing in real time how Haumea dimmed as Namaka passed in front. “This event was particularly live-tweet friendly,” he said on Thursday during a Q&A (again on Twitter) about how he shared his observations live. “We’d know a clear result instantly. Given the chance, I will def[intely] do it again!”

The observations were a success and “spectacular,” Brown said, but it was a little risky in that the transit wasn’t exactly a sure thing, and he might have suddenly — and publicly — had to report that he and his team had incorrectly predicted the transit. But it worked out – after a little hitch – and Brown said that live Tweeting the event gave people a chance to see how science really works in real time. “Normally people would just see the finished paper… the fun part of live tweeting the event was that people could follow as the data came in and hypotheses changed.” (The initial data was much different than expected).

You can see the stream of data as it arrived archived on Brown’s Twitpic page:

“One main reason to watch transit was to measure size & shape of Haumea, since it is so weird,” Brown Tweeted, and said that he’ll be spending the summer analyzing the data he got during the transit to learn more about the football-shaped, spinning dwarf planet.

If you missed the live-Tweeting, you can look back at Brown’s Twitter page), and Nature Blogs has archived the Tweeted Q&A the blog sponsored with Brown on Thursday, June 16, 2011.

It’s science in action.

You can follow Universe Today senior editor Nancy Atkinson on Twitter: @Nancy_A. Follow Universe Today for the latest space and astronomy news on Twitter @universetoday and on Facebook.

Do the #ISSWave All the Way Around the World

C’mon, admit it. If you regularly watch for the International Space Station passing overhead you’ve probably waved or shouted a greeting as it sailed high above you. I regularly salute the ISS, even though I know the astronauts on board can’t see or hear me. But still.

Well, it turns out I’m not alone. Through Twitter, other people have found out that it is pretty common for people to wave at the ISS. So now, as a “celebration of human solidarity during the holiday season” a group of Twitters have organized “ISSWave.” For one week beginning Friday, December 24 through December 31, humans around the world can wave together and show their solidarity with their fellow humans in space (and on Earth) by waving at the ISS as she passes overhead at 28,000 kph (17,500 mph).

You can share your waves on Twitter — either alone or as part of an ISSwave tweetup (a physical gathering of twitterers, or tweeps) — by tweeting your zip/postal code and the hashtag “#ISSwave” along with photos and videos of their waves, thoughts, holiday wishes for the astronauts and cosmonauts, etc. Participants’ waves will be registered in real-time at www.isswave.org.

Astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station may even film themselves waving back at ISSwave participants. At least two astronauts, including Ron Garan, have voiced their support for ISSwave in emails and tweets.

How did this idea come about? Well, the organizers are Lucy Rogers (@DrLucyRogers), Richard P. Grant (@rpg7twit) and Karen James (@kejames). The idea for the wave emerged through a serendipitous twitter exchange among the three, and they discovered that watching ISS passes is even more exciting when done together with other humans, whether they are standing right next to you or watching from afar. To know that you are not the only one looking up in awe at this spectacle of human ingenuity and cooperation speeding across the night sky creates a special connection between us.

“The first time I watched an ISS pass I was surprised by how much it affected me,” said Karen James. “‘We made that’, I thought, ‘there are humans up there!’ All of my worries just seemed so tiny in the face of this symbol of human achievement and cooperation. I want to share that experience with other humans and also show my support to the ones living and working aboard the station.”

‘“I’d always wave up at the ISS if I saw it pass overhead,” said Lucy Rogers. “Someone laughed and said the astronauts wouldn’t see me.” So she asked on Twitter if anyone else waved – a lot of people did – and the communal ISS waving began. “When Karen moved to the USA she saw the ISS at a different time to us in Europe – which prompted the idea of a round-the-world wave,” she says.

We see the ISS because it is lit by the Sun. Sunlight reflects off it’s solar panels in the same way it glints off windows here on Earth. As the ISS travels round the world, the reflection can be seen in a broad sweep across the Earth. Due to the angles involved between the Sun, ISS and our location on Earth, sometimes we see bright, high passes and sometimes we can’t see it at all. During the week 24th – 31st December, most places on the Earth should get a good view of it at some point.

The three formed the Twitter account @ISSwave to coordinate, promote and provide updates on the event. Their hope is that seasoned and novice ISS watchers alike will experience the startlingly emotional experience of an ISS pass, amplified by solidarity with thousands of others watching around the world.

They also have a website, where you can find out how to see the ISS in your location, as well as find more info about joining the #ISSWave.

The team hopes the buzz around ISSwave will persuade those who have never watched an ISS pass to participate, marking an increase in awareness about the International Space Station and the existence of a community of space enthusiasts on Twitter (“spacetweeps”).

The wave also celebrates the 10th anniversary of continuous human presence in space with the ISS, which occurred on November 2, 2010 and the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight into space — the first human spaceflight — on April 12th 2011 (www.YuriGagarin50.org).

Get Ready for the Geminids — In the Sky and Online!


One of the best night sky events of the year is on tap: The Geminid Meteor shower. According to the Royal Astronomical Society, the evening of December 13 and the morning of December 14, skywatchers across the northern hemisphere could see up to 100 “shooting stars” or meteors each hour. This number is what will be seen at the peak of activity, but if conditions are clear you can definitely take the time to observe any time between Sunday night, Dec. 12 to Wednesday morning, Dec. 15.

You can also participate and share in the event on Twitter, with the #Meteorwatch crew.

Of course, meteors are the result of small particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, burning up and super-heating the air around them, which shines as a characteristic short-lived streak of light. In this case the debris is associated with the asteroidal object 3200 Phaethon, which many astronomers believe to be an extinct comet.

The meteors appear to originate from a ‘radiant’ in the constellation of Gemini, and so the name Geminid.

For US skywatchers, Sky & Telescope predicts that under a clear, dark sky, one or two shooting stars per
minute will likely be seen from about 11 p.m. local time Monday until dawn Tuesday morning. If you live under the artificial skyglow of light pollution the numbers will be less, but the brightest meteors will still shine through.

For European, and particularly British observers, the RAS says by 0200 GMT on December 14, the radiant will be almost overhead in the UK, making it the best time to see the Geminids. By that time the first quarter Moon will have set so the prospects for a good view of the shower are excellent.

Meteors in the Geminid shower are less well known, probably because the weather in December is less reliable. But those who brave the cold can be rewarded with a fine view. In comparison with other showers, Geminid meteors travel fairly slowly, at around 35 km (22 miles) per second, are bright and have a yellowish hue, making them distinct and easy to spot.

To watch for meteors, all you need are your eyes. Find a dark spot with an open view of the sky and no glary lights nearby. Bundle up as warmly. “Go out late in the evening, lie back, and gaze up into the stars,” says Sky & Telescope senior editor Alan MacRobert. “Relax, be patient, and let your eyes
adapt to the dark. The best direction to watch is wherever your sky is darkest, probably straight up.”

As with most astronomical events, the best place to see meteors is at dark sites away from the light pollution of towns and cities. You can also check with astronomy clubs or science museums if they are hosting any viewing events.

The Geminids will also feature in a Twitter event, called Meteorwatch, where observers can post their text, images and videos to share them with other observers (and also for those having less favorable locations. Anyone with Internet access can join in by following @virtualastro and the #meteorwatch hashtag on Twitter.

Sources: RAS, Sky & Telescope,

Space Station Twitter Crew Returns Home

The Expedition 23 crew from the International Space Station landed safely in their Soyuz-17 spacecraft, concluding their five-and-a-half-month stay in space. Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineers T.J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi were welcomed by sunshine on Wednesday morning in Kazakhstan (11:25 pm EDT Tuesday). This crew may well be remembered as the ‘Twitter Crew’: Creamer posted the first “live” Tweet from space on Twitter from the now functioning internet on the ISS, which he helped to get up and running. Noguchi’s use of Twitter to post hundreds of images from space documented and shared his experiences in space like no previous astronaut, as he garnered over 250,000 Twitter “followers,” and his images were featured on many blogs and news sites.
Continue reading “Space Station Twitter Crew Returns Home”

ISS Astronaut Sends Twitpics of Chile Earthquake Aftermath

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi, (@Astro_Soichi) who has taken full advantage of being able to use Twitter live from the International Space Station, has been sending down a stream of images he has taken of Chile following the magnitude 8.8 earthquake that hit the country early Saturday. Just recently, he posted the above image, taken directly over Santiago. “Santiago, the capital city of Chile. One day after the Mega earthquake(M8.8) hit the country. We wish the earliest recovery,” Noguchi wrote on Twitter. He also took a video of the ISS astronaut’s view as they flew over Chile earlier today, below.

Here’s another image Noguchi took from the ISS, of the coastline of Chile, near Santiago.

Near Santiago, Chile. Coast line. Credit: Soichi Noguchi

And another, near Concepcion, Chile.

Coastline near Concepcion, Chile. Credit: Soichi Noguchi

For more images from space, follow @Astro_Soichi on Twitter.

Tweet Your Way Into Mission Control


Listen up Space Tweeps: you can now Tweet your way to a personalized tour of Mission Control at Johnson Space Center during the upcoming STS-130 space shuttle mission. Well, personalized with 99 other Twitterers. NASA is hosting a unique Tweetup on Wednesday, Feb. 17 during Endeavour’s STS-130 mission to the International Space Station. Endeavour is targeted to launch on Sunday, Feb. 7. NASA will randomly select 100 individuals on Twitter from a pool of registrants who sign up on the Web. An additional 50 registrants will be added to a waitlist. Registration opens at noon EST on Tuesday, Jan. 26, and closes at noon EST Wednesday, Jan. 27.

“We’re excited to be hosting NASA’s sixth Tweetup,” said NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, who also is known as @astro_Mike. “This is the home of all of the astronauts and the historic Mission Control Center. It’s an outstanding location to provide our Twitter community with an insider’s view of human spaceflight. I’ll be on one of the two mission control teams working at that time to keep Endeavour and space station operating safely. Hopefully a few of my Twitter followers can participate in this exciting event.”

The event will provide NASA Twitter followers with the opportunity to take a tour of Johnson; view mission control and astronauts’ training facilities; and speak with flight directors, trainers, astronauts and managers. The Tweetup will include a “meet and greet” session to allow participants to mingle with fellow Tweeps and the staff behind the tweets on @NASA.

For more information about the Tweetup and to sign up, visit:


And if you don’t make it into the Tweetup, just follow the members of the Space Tweep Society on Twitter. They’ll tell you everything you need to know. And of course, so will I, so follow me on Twitter, too, and be sure to check Universe Today for lots of coverage of the STS-130 mission, as I’ll be live from Kennedy Space Center.

Tweet Your Way to the Next Space Shuttle Launch

Space shuttle Atlantis rolled out to Launch Pad 39A on Wednesday in preparation for the next shuttle flight, STS-129, currently scheduled for liftoff on Nov. 12, 2009 at 4:04 p.m. EST. And in case you haven’t heard, for the first time, NASA is inviting those who use Twitter to view a space shuttle launch in person. The first 100 people who sign up on NASA’s website will be granted access to Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 11 and 12 for the opportunity to take a tour of the facilities, view the space shuttle launch and speak with shuttle technicians, engineers, astronauts and managers. The Tweetup will include a “meet and greet” session to allow participants to mingle with fellow Tweeps and the staff behind the tweets on @NASA. An additional 50 registrants will be added to a waitlist. Registration opens at noon EDT on Friday, Oct. 16. To sign up and for more information click here.

Those chosen are responsible for their own transportation, lodging and food. To be eligible, you must have a Twitter account.

“This will be NASA’s fifth Tweetup for our Twitter community,” said NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage. “Each event has provided our followers with inside access to NASA personnel, including astronauts. The goal of this particular Tweetup is to share the excitement of a shuttle launch with a new audience.”

The STS-129 mission will be heading to the International Space Station to deliver two control moment gyroscopes and other equipment, plus the EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 and 2 to the station. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

This is also scheduled to be the last space shuttle crew rotation flight, and will return station crew member Nicole Stott to Earth.

STS-129 will be commanded by Charlie Hobaugh and piloted by Barry Wilmore. Mission Specialists are Robert Satcher Jr., Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin. Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space.