Astronomers and Their Dobs: Paying a Twitter Tribute to John Dobson

Amateur astronomer Stephen Uitti and his Dobsonian telescope.

Amateur astronomers love their Dobs. As we said in a previous article, “A Dobsonian is simplicity in itself; a simple set of optics on a simple mount. But don’t be fooled by this simplicity. Dobsonian telescopes are incredibly good and are great for amateurs and professional astronomers alike.”

And so, we were all saddened to learn of the passing of John Dobson, the inventor of this beloved telescope. We asked our followers on Twitter to tweet pictures of their Dobs, and our feed got flooded with pics and remembrances. See a bunch of our retweets below:

You can see more on our Twitter feed.

Captain Kirk Tweets the Space Station

 Chris Hadfield’s response to William Shatner got quite a bit of attention on Twitter

You know that you’re living in a very special point in time when you can watch a man who became famous playing a starship captain on television send a tweet to a man who’s actually working in a spaceship orbiting the Earth — and get an amusing response back.

Which is exactly what happened earlier today when William Shatner got a reply from Chris Hadfield, currently part of the Expedition 34 crew aboard the ISS. For many people Shatner was the first starship captain remembered from TV in the late ’60s, and in a couple of months Chris Hadfield will become the first Canadian astronaut to assume command of the International Space Station.

(Shatner, by the way, is also from Canada. Hmm…maybe there’s something more going on here…)

‘Live’ Tweeting Apollo 17’s Mission

Lunar and Planetary Rovers covers both the manned rovers used on the final three Apollo lunar missions with the unmanned rovers used to explore the surface of Mars - under one book. Photo Credit: NASA/Jack Schmitt


40 years ago on December 19, 1972, Apollo 17 splashed down on Earth, marking the end of the manned moon missions. The astronauts came back with a treasure trove of rocks collected in 22 hours of extra-vehicular activity on the lunar surface, including “orange” soil that ended up coming from an ancient volcano.

Twitter wasn’t around back then, but anyone tuning into several Twitter accounts recently week would have a chance to experience what it could it have been like. Using mission transcripts and historical accounts of Apollo 17, these folks took it upon themselves to tweet the Apollo 17 mission, moment by moment, as “live” as possible.

Universe Today caught up with two of the tweeters. This is an edited version of what they said about the experience.

Liz Suckow (@LizMSuckow), a NASA contract archivist who tweeted on her own time

Researching a mission is divided into two parts, prelaunch and flight. For prelaunch, I use whatever official NASA documents, histories, and relevant astronaut and mission controller autobiographies I can find.

From what I’ve seen on the missions I’ve tweeted, until Apollo, no prelaunch conversation was transcribed at all. For Apollo, the last hour or so before liftoff is on the mission transcript. So, I can schedule those tweets. But, prelaunch activities for the astronauts start as long as 10 hours before liftoff. So, I use whatever resources I can to find references to the time of important events, and the rest of the prelaunch scheduling is educated guesswork. Flight is easy.

I have been trying to tweet as if I was the Johnson Space Center public affairs officer during the particular mission. When I joined Twitter in November of 2010 and was looking for accounts to follow, I came across a dead feed from JSC, I can’t remember the account name, that tweeted what had happened during a shuttle mission in real time.

Apollo 17, the only lunar mission to launch at night. Image Credit: NASA/courtesy of

I thought, “Wow, that’s cool! Somebody ought to do that for the historical missions.” The celebration of the 40th anniversary of Apollo was still a big deal at NASA at the time, and the next mission up was Apollo 14. I figured someone else at NASA would have the same idea, but it was never mentioned.  So, I figured I would do it on my personal account, just to see if it could be done and if anybody else (even if it was only a few people) liked the idea.

I am definitely going to be doing another one. I think the next anniversary is either Gordon Cooper‘s Mercury flight in May 2013, or the first Skylab missions. Not quite sure how I want to handle Skylab yet, may throw that one open to followers for ideas. Why do I do it? I do it because it is fun. Sometimes, I get so mentally involved the mission I get excited for what’s coming next as I am scheduling the tweets (even though I know full well what’s going to happen).

Buck Calabro (@Apollo17History), space fan who live-Tweeted along with Thomas Rubatscher

I’m live tweeting because I’m interested in Apollo. It’s a life-long interest. I myself live Tweet mostly by actually typing the tweet into or I have collaborated with Thomas by creating a spreadsheet of candidate tweets that he can upload into HootSuite’s bulk uploader for time-delayed tweeting.

My tweets mostly center around the command module pilot, Ron Evans. He spent three days all by himself in the CM, doing photography, mapping and other experiments. Not exactly the same sort of fame that the moonwalkers got. It’s a different kind of grit. Imagine being Evans, as AMERICA goes around the limb of the moon, completely cut off from every human being in the universe. Nothing but some fans, pumps and procedure to keep you going.

I have no plans for leveraging the Tweets. I’ll probably do another one someday. It’s a lot of work. As far as resources, I prefer source material. I have copies of the original transcripts for ground-to-air communications. The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal is a treasure trove of images and transcripts for the lunar surface portion of the mission, and the Lunar and Planetary Institute has an extensive catalog of imagery by camera magazine (which can be found in the transcripts.) NASA has scanned vast quantities of Apollo-era documentation, and the experiment results are likewise mostly available in the public domain.

Memorable Space Tweeps of 2012

To space Tweeps, Twitter is so much more than just a news service. It’s a community, a spot where everyone can showcase their interests and form professional bonds with each other.

The most prominent space-themed Twitter accounts of 2012 somehow transcended their original purpose, too. A NASA Mars Curiosity account ended up hobnobbing with comedian Steve Martin, and a space-station-passing service suddenly found itself in bit of a Twitter controversy.

Here are 10 of some of the most memorable Twitter accounts from this year. Yes, there’s a lot of Mars reflected here, but the entities quoted below explore all over the Universe.


Dutch astronaut André Kuipers spent the first half of 2012 orbiting Earth. From his perch aboard the International Space Station, he participated in the historic SpaceX docking in May and finished 50 experiments. But rather than dwell on these achievements, he spent his tweeting time in space showing his gorgeous pictures of Earth. Maybe that old Apollo phrase about going to space and discovering Earth still has resonance today.


Phil Plait is a good scientist-cum-journalist to follow in general, because his tweets constantly show his love of the universe. (“Embiggen!” he would perhaps shout at this point.) What made him stand out in 2012, though, was his willingness to use his immense Internet fame to showcase the work of others, such as his frequent Tweeting and posting of great space images and timelapse videos, or helping to ‘kickstart’ new projects and help them get off the ground, such as the Uwingu astronomy startup. He shows that Twitter most definitely has altruistic use.


Chris Lintott demonstrated how to handle a situation when a close, beloved colleague passes away. The co-presenter of The Sky At Night was among the first official voices giving word of Sir Patrick Moore‘s death, and he retweeted messages of remembrance from colleagues and ordinary people. Nicely done, during what was a difficult time.


Hard to believe Clara Ma is a mere 15 years old when reading tweets like this. The Kansas-based teenager named the Mars Curiosity rover. This year, she has been graciously fielding interview requests from journalists, and messages of support from NASA employees, ever since the rover made it to Mars in August.


OK, I’ll admit my bias here: I’m Canadian. I’ve been watching Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield since he was selected 20 years ago. But in the Twittersphere, he’s made an impact. My fellow journalists publicly speak about his work, with respect. His tweets showing his astronaut training are favourited and retweeted by people all over the world. And as the first Canadian to command the International Space Station next year, Hadfield will be a force to watch in 2013.


Three NASA employees are behind the “hive mind” of @MarsCuriosity. The official feed for the Curiosity mission skyrocketed to fame in 2012, receiving tweets from celebrities ranging from Britney Spears to the aforementioned Steve Martin. In this case, happily, “official” doesn’t always mean “staid.” The Twitter account has been a bevy of jokes and cheerful updates in between the standard scientific results.


At 35 years and counting, the two NASA Voyager spacecraft have ventured into the newer field of social media. The accounts received more attention as Voyager 1 reached the edge of our solar system in 2012. It’s hard to summarize solar and interstellar physics in just 140 characters, but this official NASA account does it quite well.


Nothing says pop culture as seeing your catchphrase — “Let’s Do a Science!” — repeated ad nauseum by planetary scientists on Twitter. The brainchild of Jason Filiatrault, this account is a parody of the official Mars Curiosity Twitter and depicts a rover angrily making its way around Mars after being ordered there by unfeeling humans. Besides wry observations of Martian life, the rover broadcasts its point of view on recent discoveries in a unique way.


Not often that a corporate account uses four exclamation marks in a row, but the space geeks would argue this is justified. SpaceX made headlines and history in 2012 when the Dragon spacecraft berthed with the International Space Station — a first for a private spacecraft. SpaceX’s Twitter not only broadcasts mission news, but also seeks out mentions of the company and adds commentary.


Just before the International Space Station passes by overhead, @twisst gives you a heads-up that you’ll be able to see it. This popular account’s service was briefly shut down in 2012 due to Twitter’s concerns about the duplicate accounts required to make the service work. But a few tweaks later, @twisst returned — to the delight of its thousands of followers.

Two Days of Tweetness: Witnessing a Shuttle Launch

Space Tweeps Unite! NASA Tweetup participants gather at the launch clock on Friday, July 8, 2011. © NASA HQ Photo

It’s been over a week since the NASA Tweetup and I’m still thinking about it. For good reason, of course… it was awesome.

Over the course of two days I saw a capsule that had been to space and back, talked with five astronauts (one currently in orbit!), toured Kennedy Space Center, met a muppet, touched a piece of the Moon, made dozens of new friends and, of course, watched, heard and felt the launch of the last space shuttle to leave Earth. (And managed to talk my way into a delicious barbecue sandwich inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.) All with less than six hours of sleep.

Not too shabby. 😉

Continue reading “Two Days of Tweetness: Witnessing a Shuttle Launch”

SpaceX Seeking Tweets From The Final Frontier

SpaceX has been working to increase awareness of its Twitter account, @SpaceXer - this is to provide the public with greater awareness of the company's events and activities. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/


Space Exploration Technologies — or SpaceX as they are more commonly known — has gotten pretty good at launching rockets. Now they want the rest of the world to follow along – one Tweet at a time. The social media site Twitter allows users to post brief comments (under 140 characters). SpaceX views this as a means to keep the public informed about the company’s activities including the upcoming launch of the firm’s Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX can be found under the name of @SpaceXer. The NewSpace firm will post regular updates about the company’s activities on Twitter. SpaceX has been working to increase its public and media relations efforts lately. The push for more viewers on Twitter is part of these efforts.

“There are a lot of amazing things that are taking place at a daily basis at SpaceX,” said SpaceX’s Vice President of Communications Bobby Block. “We want to invite the public, everyone really, to follow these events on our Twitter account.”

SpaceX currently plans to launch the next of its Falcon 9 rockets this September. It will be another mission to prove out the Falcon 9’s readiness to begin cargo flights to the space station. For this mission, a flyby of the International Space Station is planned to test out communications equipment. The Dragon spacecraft will then reenter Earth’s atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX is planning to launch a third of its Falcon 9 rockets this fall. This mission will send a Dragon Spacecraft on a flyby mission to the International Space Station to test rendezvous and communications equipment. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

This will be the third time that SpaceX has launched a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. This past December SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft to orbit and retrieve it safely from the Pacific Ocean. It is accomplishments such as this that SpaceX wants to broadcast to the world.

“SpaceX has successfully demonstrated not only the viability of the Falcon 9 as a launch vehicle – but also the capabilities of the Dragon Spacecraft,” Block said. “This is just the beginning, now we want the world to come ride along with us.”

SpaceX was selected for not only the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract with NASA – which has a $1.6 billion value but for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev-02) contract as well. Add to that the many business deals that SpaceX has made to send payloads into orbit – and SpaceX has a lot to tweet about.

SpaceX and founder Elon Musk have made it public knowledge regarding their plans to one day launch astronauts to the International Space Station, build a far larger version of its Falcon 9 dubbed the “Falcon Heavy” and to reach out to the planet Mars. SpaceX thinks with plans such as these in the works, space fans and novices alike will be very interested in following along.

Of course, SpaceX is not the only space organization that has recognized the value of social media like Twitter. NASA has embraced Twitter, with almost all of the missions and spacecrafts having Twitter accounts, and fans are finding Twitter to be a great way to find out the latest details from space. Additionally, NASA regularly hosts “Tweetups” when large events are scheduled to take place, such as the upcoming final launch of the space shuttle program.

Are you plugged in? SpaceX is hoping that you soon will be - to their Twitter account - @SpaceXer Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

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

How the transit of transit of the dwarf planet Haumea by its moon, Namaka would have looked if we could have seen it directly. Credit: Mike Brown


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

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 (

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

Geminids by Bob Yen / APOD.


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”