Emerging Technology from the arXiv

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AstroTwitter to Reveal Where Telescopes Are Pointing

The success of the Twitter feed from NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander is leading to a new generation of scientific communications.

  • July 3, 2009


Ever stared at a giant telescope and wondered what it’s looking at?

You’re not alone. So has Stuart Lowe, which is a little odd since he helps run a radio telescope at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, in Manchester, U.K.

But Lowe has an answer. Why not generate a Twitter feed associated with a telescope that announces in real time what it is looking at? He says that it may even be possible to create a mashup that displays the telescope’s target in apps such as Google Sky or Microsoft’s World Wide Telescope. He calls the service AstroTwitter.

Cool idea–and not just because it means that you’ll never wonder what a telescope is looking at again. Astronomers could use the service to check if their observations have been made, as requested. And they could also examine the stats to determine the most and least observed parts of the sky.

Lowe says that he got the idea from NASA’s highly successful Twitter feeds from the Phoenix Mars Lander last year. Various other spacecraft have since developed their own feeds. Telescopes seem a natural successor, although there is no word yet on a launch date for AstroTwitter.

But why stop there? Imagine Twitter feeds that tell us what synchrotrons are studying, or give status updates about the end of the world from CERN, or reveal what lasers such as the National Ignition Facility are zapping to smithereens. The list is endless.

What’s more, Twitter feeds could engage the public like no other form of communication.

Where do I sign up?

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0907.0193: AstroTwitter

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