Not on Twitter? You’re missing out.

I believe that many readers of this blog are amateur astronomers. I also believe, based on my own subjective experience, that a very small number of amateur astronomers are active on Twitter. When I ask friends and colleagues why they aren’t active on Twitter, I usually receive mumbled replies mentioning Justin Bieber or just the simple statement “I don’t do those things” (I guess in reference to Twitter and Facebook or maybe they’re also referring to Justin Bieber). In any case, if you are interested in astronomy and space exploration and you’re not on Twitter then you are really missing out.

Like the internet itself, Twitter is an amazing resource with information on every conceivable topic including astrophysics, planetary science, manned space flight, robotic space missions, etc. You can follow nobel prize winning physicists, post-doc students, governmental organizations, universities, observatories and professors. I am currently following 202 people or organizations on Twitter and I think they’re all great. Listed below is a cross section of some of the Twitter accounts I follow:

  • @NASA – NASA has multiple Twitter accounts that correspond to specific missions and organizations. I guess you could call this account an umbrella account because it has information about many NASA missions as well as general space information (e.g., asteroid 2012 DA14 passing close to Earth on February 15, 2013).
  • @KarenLMasters – Karen is an “astronomy researcher at University of Portmouth (involved especially in Galaxy Zoo project and LOFAR-UK)”.
  • @RadioAstroGal – @RadioAstroGal is the Twitter account for a woman named Tania who is a “science writer and Media Producer for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.”
  • @SOFIAtelescope – SOFIA stands for Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy. You may have seen pictures of it – it’s a 747 aircraft that is the largest airborne observatory in the world. “It’s a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center.”
  • @Caltech – this is the Twitter account for the California Institute of Technology.
  • @CatherineQ – Catherine describes herself as an “astrophysicist, science communicator, over-thinker”. She’s also a university professor.
  • @seanmcarroll – Sean is a theoretical physicist at the Moore Center for Theoretical Cosmology and Physics at Caltech. He’s also the author of “The Particle at the End of the Universe”.
  • @astrobetter – A blog and a wiki for professional astronomers (I’m not a professional astronomer but I read it anyway – let’s keep it our little secret).
  • @closefrank – This is the Twitter account for Frank Close “scientist, author and broadcaster. Currently writing a book about Bruno Pontecorvo – the physicist who inspired the standard model but was he also a spy?”.
  • @cosmicpinot – This is the Twitter account for Brian Schmidt who describes himself as “An overly busy Cosmologist, Grape Grower, Astronomer, Wine maker, Dad and Husband.” He is also a Nobel Prize winner (2011 Physics).
  • @MarsCuriosity – This is NASA’s Twitter account for the Mars Curiosity rover.
  • @davidwhogg – David Hogg is an “Associate Professor with tenure, Department of Physics” at NYU. His main interests are in observational cosmology.
  • @astrobites – Astrobites is a blog written by astronomy grad students. @astrobites is their Twitter account.
  • @ESO – The European Southern Observatory.
  • @sarahkendrew – Sarah is a “Postdoc Astronomer-slash-Engineer, Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg”. She also has a very good blog at http://sarahaskew.net.
  • @AAVSO – American Association of Variable Star Observers. The “world leader in variable star research”.

As you can see, this is a pretty varied group of individuals and organizations. However, this list just scratches the surface. As I said earlier, I follow 202 accounts on Twitter. If you’re interested in astronomy you owe it to yourself to join Twitter and start learning. Today.

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Here I am on a Mountain Top. Now What?

Those of you with keen eyes will notice that its been quite awhile since I last published a blog post. I’m sorry about that. 2012 is a blur. We sold our house in San Diego, California and moved to a mountain top in the Southern part of New Mexico (not far from Apache Point). We have an observatory and we have a house that’s about 50% complete. Maybe. (Any of you who have built a house before know exactly what I’m talking about.)

So, here I am on top of this beautiful mountain. Now, what? A lot of astronomy, that’s what. And, more frequent blog posts. I really like writing my blog and I’ve been gratified to see how many hits it continues to get each week even though I’ve been a slacker.

With regard to my astronomy future, I have a two-pronged approach planned. First, I will be moving toward a life of citizen science. I will start by improving my imaging skills, then I will learn how to effectively use a grating spectroscope and then move on to low-to-medium resolution spectroscopy with a slit spectrograph. Once I have achieved the necessary skills and knowledge, I would like to participate in one of the many pro/am collaborations that are available to citizen scientists. I will also start participating in one or more of the Zooniverse projects.

The second prong of my two-pronged approach is to learn more about professional astronomers and their work. Why? I guess just because I want to. I don’t mean for my answer to flippant. I am just fascinated with the world of professional astronomy and I want to learn more about it. I follow many astronomers on Twitter (more about that in my next blog post) and I want to understand more about their work and their professional lives. How am I going to go about doing that? One approach will be meeting more of them. I’ll try to attend events aimed at undergraduates, graduates, post docs, professors, etc. Maybe I will do more interviews which are my favorite posts on Share Astronomy. My second approach for understanding the lives of professional astronomers will be to learn how to use some of the tools they use. For example, I am currently learning the Python computer language for scientific computing. Python is widely used in professional astronomy and my background is in information technology so it seems like an area where I can be successful.

As I move forward with a life focused more on astronomy and citizen science I will document my experiences in these blog posts. There will be successes and I’m sure there will be some failures but hopefully readers of these posts will learn along with me.

In my next blog post, I will talk about why Twitter is an amazing resource for anyone interested in astronomy.

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Welcome! Again.

This is the first post for the blog-only version of Share Astronomy.  Welcome!

It took me longer than planned to convert the original version of Share Astronomy to this blog-only version but the work is done and I can now focus on new blog posts.  All the blog posts from the previous version of Share Astronomy have been moved over to this version.  If you have trouble locating a particular post please take advantage of the Search box or review the Categories list in the right column.

I will continue writing about a variety of topics and I encourage you to stop by here frequently.  Please feel free to add comments.  I like your feedback!

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Changes to Share Astronomy

This will be the 60th blog post that I've written for Share Astronomy. I really enjoyed writing the first 59. Unfortunately, this one won't be fun. This is the blog post I never wanted to write. I am sorry to inform you that Share Astronomy, in it's current form, will be going away.

I really believed that a web application designed to promote the sharing of astronomical ideas, projects and images couldn't fail. This seemed especially true given that membership was totally free and unlimited free disk space was being provided to imagers and project posters. Unfortunately, we never achieved the membership numbers and therefore, the advertising dollars, that were required to make this endeavor financially feasible.
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JPL Tweetup 2011

Yesterday I had an amazing experience – I attended a tweetup at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. (A tweetup is a meeting of Twitter users.) The tweetup was organized by JPL and limited to a certain number of participants (in this case about 110 people) who were fortunate enough to be chosen randomly to participate in this event. When I was selected I knew I was lucky but I didn't really know how lucky – the tweetup was just fantastic! Why? Primarily because of the people. Everyone involved – organizers, speakers, engineers, scientists, project managers, graphic designers, visualization producers, rover drivers, graphics programmers, social networking communicators, you name it – had an incredible passion and enthusiasm for their job and for the space program in general. We as a society may take the accomplishments of these people for granted from time-to-time but we shouldn't. They accomplish amazing things and we should all be very proud.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is currently managing 17 active missions and 9 instruments. The basic format of the tweetup consisted of a series of presentations about current and upcoming missions as well as tours of various facilities at JPL. Specifically, our agenda included:
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SAS Symposium 2011

I spent most of last week in Big Bear Lake, California at the Society of Astronomical Sciences 30th Annual Symposium on Telescope Science. I had a great time and I learned a lot. Despite it's name, the symposium had relatively little to do with "telescope science" per se and a lot to do with astronomical science.

If you are an astronomer ("amateur" or otherwise) interested in using your skills for scientific study this conference has a lot to recommend it:
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Tom Field – RSpec and Real-Time Spectroscopy

Tom Field at NEAF Amateur astronomers frequently spend the majority of their time focused on one of three activities: visual observing, imaging or science. The scientists often specialize in photometry or spectroscopy. At NEAF 2011, I finally got to meet two very influential and important people in the world of amateur spectroscopy: Olivier Thizy of Shelyak Instruments and Tom Field (shown in the image to the left) the creator and developer of the RSpec program. I had interviewed Olivier in August, 2010 but I hadn't interviewed Tom yet. When I got back to San Diego I wrote Tom and asked him if he would be willing to do an interview and I'm happy to say that he graciously agreed. Included below is our email interview.

What functionality is provided by RSpec?
RSpec is a program that allows a beginner or expert to capture and process spectrums of stars and planets. The program makes it easy to convert the rainbow-like smudge of a spectrum to a calibrated, annotated graph. These graphs reveal the composition and other physical properties of the star or planet you're observing. It's really quite exciting to be able to do this easily.
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