365daysDate: July 31, 2009

Title: Now Tweet This: Reaching Beyond Mainstream Media


Podcaster: Rob Keown and Tavi Greiner

Link: A Sky Full of Stars –

Description: With the ever-increasing neglect of Astronomy and Space Science in mainstream media reporting, enthusiasts and professionals alike are finding ways to share the night sky and all its wonders with the world. This podcast focuses on the oft-misunderstood social-networking application, Twitter, and its potential to bring Space Science and the realities of the Universe to the masses.

Bio: Rob Keown and Tavi Greiner are co-creators of A Sky Full of Stars, a collection of thoughts, facts, questions, and answers about what we feel when we look up and when we look inward – two humans in an alliance to explore nature and share what we learn with others.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Joseph Brimacombe, a beyond-enthusiastic amateur astronomer based at the Coral Towers and Macedon Ranges Observatories in Australia, and the New Mexico Skies observatory in the United States. This episode is dedicated to: The late Sir Fred Hoyle: maverick mathematician and astronomer whose science fiction book “The Black Cloud” got me interested in radioastronomy; whose non-fiction book, “The Intelligent Universe” made me realise that life on earth could have arisen elsewhere; whose work on stellar physics enabled me to understand where most of my atoms came from; and whose use of the anthropic principle to predict a specific energy state of carbon still ranks for me as the most inspiration moment in scientific history. We the astronomy community apologise for implying that you coined the term “Big Bang” as an insult, when in fact you were helping radio listeners of the 1940s grasp the rather difficult concept of a moment of creation. Sir Fred, your ability to think outside the box is dearly missed.


Rob: Thursday March 12, 2009 was an ordinary day. I was developing a project for work at my home office in Pennsylvania, and Tavi was busy homeschooling her children at her home in North Carolina. I noticed a program called Twhirl had just alerted me to a Twitter message, called a Tweet, about a possible impact – what NASA calls a “red conjunction” – between a piece of space junk and the ISS.

Tavi: What transpired over the next hour was extraordinary; but the drama of the potential ISS evacuation was only part of the story. The other part was how we experienced it.

Rob and I, and dozens of other fellow space tweeps, followed the unfolding story in real time in a very unique way. Using the social networking tool, Twitter, to interact with dozens of other space and astronomy enthusiasts, we followed moment by moment updates as the station’s crew battened down the hatches, took cover … and waited.

Rob: And then we all breathed a collective sigh of relief once it was determined that the space debris had safely passed the ISS and the crew were able to resume their usual activities.

Tavi: Having experienced that event, with others, as it occurred, has left an indelible impression on many –one that goes far beyond simply reading of the event after it occurred, and one that isn’t really possible in a global community without a tool like Twitter.

Rob: Twitter is one of a few very popular social-networking applications. We aren’t going to go into detail about the technical aspects of Twitter, but we are going to share how you can use it to join a thriving group of astronomy and space enthusiasts.

Tavi: And, more importantly, how you can use this tool to encourage non-enthusiasts to Look Up! One of the greatest misconceptions about Twitter is that it is pointless diatribe, but quite the opposite is true.

Rob: Twitter functions by allowing users to create a network of friends, organizations, and institutions that share text, links to websites, images, and multimedia. All communication is accomplished in plain text messages of 140 characters or less called Tweets. Twitter’s intended use isn’t to completely communicate a complex subject; rather, it can alert you to interesting content on the web, or provide a perspective about a person, or the job they do.

Tavi: Users can choose amongst dozens of applications that integrate with the site Almost all of these applications are free or very-low-cost. Users subscribe to one another, a process called “following.” When you “follow” another Twitter account you will see their messages, called Tweets or updates, immediately appear on whatever user application you choose.

Rob: Often times (but not always,) someone you follow will also follow you. This is the heart of the social-networking aspect of Twitter. When a group of like-minded users starts to follow one another, you have an informal community of people who see what each other shares.

Tavi: Did you know that NASA is on Twitter? They have dozens of Twitter accounts – some that share general NASA news, some that offer live updates of meetings and conferences, and others that feature Space missions like Cassini and LCROSS.

Rob: One of NASA’s first Twitter accounts was the Phoenix Mars Lander, which adopted an interesting technique of Tweeting as though the lander, itself, was composing the messages. This gave the mission a very personal touch, allowing followers to interact with a Mars-based craft. Those who followed Phoenix not only received alerts and insights long before the science or general media coverage kicked-in, they were also able to have their questions answered directly and sometimes immediately.

Tavi: Equally important is that NASA hasn’t imposed many regulations on their employees when it comes to Tweeting, so you really do get an inside look into the people that are involved with your favorite mission. Mars Rover Drivers, Pad Rats at Cape Kennedy, astronauts-in-training, are just some of the people who share aspects of their lives with their followers.

Rob: Mike Massimino, the last human space-walker to touch the Hubble telescope, was the first Twitter-user in space. While he couldn’t tweet directly from the Shuttle, NASA relayed his Tweets before, during, and after the STS-125 Hubble Repair mission, and they plan on continuing the Tweets from the ISS and Shuttle with plans to allow direct Tweeting in the future.

Tavi: NASA’s outreach using Twitter isn’t limited to Cyberspace. Rob and I recently attended NASA’s 2nd “Tweetup” at NASA headquarters in Washington DC – an event that connected nearly 200 Tweeting space enthusiasts with the STS-125 Hubble astronauts, face-to-face!

Rob: It was a remarkable experience – seeing that Tweetup audience and realizing that we were part of a new grassroots journalism, one that didn’t involve just mainstream media, but individuals and groups that traditionally would not have access to such an event. All of this brought about by Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking technologies.

Tavi: Now what has this to do with astronomy and reaching out to others? Well, that comes in the networking, of course. My interests aren’t limited to space and the night sky. My network includes other interests, such as photography, homeschooling, philosophy, cooking, and travel – and those interests are all shared within my network, between those I follow and those who follow me. Just as a fellow space tweep’s expressed interest in cephalopods might broaden my zoological horizons, my post about a particular sky event piques the interest of a fellow homeschooler who never knew we can see planets from our backyards – and this sharing of information, from enthusiast to non-enthusiast, is viral. It reaches beyond Twitter when that homeschooler shares with her neighbors and children, and they then share with family members and classmates.

Rob: Likewise, those of us who are passionate about the night sky are able to learn of discoveries and sky events by following like-minded people and entities. A great example is Jupiter’s recent Wesley Impact Scar. I learned about this early in the morning from a Tweet and immediately shared the Tweet with others. A follower, who had very little astronomy background, saw my message and called to question if it really happened. Typical to science reporting in the mainstream media, she hadn’t seen anything on the news channels. She went on to learn more about this event, and the Shoemaker-Levy 9 event in 1994, and now knows where to find Jupiter in the sky!

Tavi: Twitter and other social-networking tools have created new opportunities for outreach and exposure to astronomy and space. In light of the greatly reduced science coverage by news networks around the world, these tools are providing a way to learn, collaborate, and stay up-to-date with one of the most fascinating and inspiring aspects of humanity.

Rob: So go on – get yourself a Twitter account and start spreading the science word. We’ve included a few astronomy and Space-related Tweeps, including the 365 Days of Astronomy and the International Year of Astronomy, in the show notes to get you started!

Thank you for listening. This has been Rob Keown

Tavi: And Tavi Greiner for A Sky Full of

You can sign up for your own Twitter account at

You can find fellow space and night sky Tweeters at:

365 Days of Astronomy:

International Year of Astronomy 2009:

NASA Twitter accounts:

Space Tweep Society:

Star Stryder’s Astronomy Twitters:

We Follow – astronomy:

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at Until tomorrow…goodbye.