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
  • @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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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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National Astronomy Meeting – NAM 2011

The UK Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2011) was held last week (Sunday April 17, 2011 to Thursday April 21, 2011) in Llandudno, North Wales. I wasn't at the meeting, but it sounds like it was outstanding. Listed below are links to some articles I thought were interesting:

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NEAF 2011 – Final Thoughts

I'm sorry to say that NEAF 2011 is behind us and it's time to start thinking about 2012. I don't know about you, but I really enjoyed looking forward to this year's NEAF and I'm going to miss the anticipation that I've felt everyday for the past couple months. Anyway, before moving on to other things, here are some random thoughts about NEAF 2011 (please feel free to add your own comments below):

  • Alan Traino is an amazing guy. In case you haven't heard his name before, Alan is the Chairperson of NEAF. Every year he outdoes himself and this year was no exception. NEAF 2011 had about 140 vendors, probably around 15 speakers and almost 6,000 attendees. NEAF is the largest astronomy expo in the world. Organizing an event of this size can't be easy but Alan makes it look easy. We all owe a big thanks to Alan for a job exceptionally well done.
  • The diversity of exhibitors and the wide range of products at NEAF 2011 was amazing. We were able to see:
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NEAF 2011 – Pictures – Set 3

Yesterday was cloudy, rainy and cold at NEAF 2011. Today was mostly sunny which was good news because the Solar Star Party was able to proceed as you can see from the image below (remember to click on any image to see a larger version):

NEAF Solar Viewing

While the Solar Star Party was in full swing outside, the exhibit hall was filled with activity inside. As I mentioned in yesterday's blog posts there are a lot of different types of vendors at NEAF. The following image is good example. This is an 11.5 foot ExploraDome II with an optional bay extension.
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