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Highlands Astronomical Society

Twitter IYA 2009

The following is from an email sent to the Society by Steve Owens, who is organising the International Year of Astronomy 2009 events in Scotland, and helps to explain about how Twitter is being used to further astronomical events.


 Dear All,

Sorry for the mass email. I am contacting you as the most active amateur astronomy societies in the UK, and I would like your help. In conjunction with Newbury AS, we are looking to run a series of Twitter astro-events over the next few months. That might need some explaining!

For those of you who don't know Twitter, it is a social networking site where you can post short 140-character messages about what you're doing. You can also post pics, audio and links. People then choose to follow you and they will receive all your messages, or tweets. Likewise, you can follow other people and get all of their tweets. It has really taken off in the past year, and you have no doubt heard about it in some form or another. It is mainly used by individuals to keep in touch with friends, but it is increasingly being used by professionals and organisations as the most effective and direct way to get news. For instance, the comet impact on Jupiter on 19 July broke on Twitter. I and many other astronomy twitterers heard about it before it appeared even online blogs, and well before it appeared in print media and TV.

One very new aspect of Twitter is the fact that it allows you to organise events very flexibly. (An extreme example of this is the protests after the Iranian elections, which were organised almost exclusively by Twitter). Newbury AS are one of the fastest-growing and most active astro-Twitterers in the UK (they tweet at @NewburyAS). In May this year they organised an impromptu Twitter Moonwatch. They waited till they got a clear night and then announced they were going to be taking images of the moon and other astronomical objects and tweeting them live. They would also be answering any questions that non-astronomy followers might have. Because of the incredible flexibility of Twitter, within hours thousands of people were taking part, viewing their images online, asking questions etc. (I took part myself; I was sitting in the garden with friends when I got the tweet from Newbury AS. I got my telescope out and using my iPhone camera I tweeted this image via the @astronomy2009uk Twitter feed: Not the best pic, but it had over 1200 hits!)

There were lots of tweets bouncing around about the event that night, which ran from 9pm until the small hours of the night, and all the time Newbury AS were uploading images live to Twitter. The tweets were marked "#moonwatch", the hash-tag allowing you to search for all tweets relating to your event.

So, why am I telling you this? Well, we want to run more Twitter astro-events this year, and make them even bigger. If we had even a few other societies taking part, either tweeting images from your scopes, or answering questions, we could extend the range of the event to many thousands of people.

The first thing you need to do in order to take part is to get familiar with Twitter. Get a Twitter account for your society and start tweeting. The more you tweet the more followers you get. At the moment @NewburyAS has around 500 followers, and my @astronomy2009uk feed has nearly 900.

If you're interested in taking part, go to to create an account. I would suggest you use the name of your society with either the "AS" or "Astro" suffix. e.g. @NewburyAS, @HighlandsAstro, @DumfriesAstro which all already exist.

If you're not too up-to-date with Twitter you might want to ask the person who runs your website to help. Remember, your Twitter account will allow you to build a following, promote your local events, and keep you up to date with astronomy news, so even if you don't want to take part in our Twitter astro-events, it's worthwhile getting in to Twitter.

Let me know whether you do join up. If you do, start by following @astronomy2009uk and @NewburyAS and we'll spread the word amongst our followers, hopefully boosting your numbers.

Once Newbury AS and I have fixed a date for the next event we'll let you all know what and when it is, so you can help us make this a great end to IYA2009 

Many regards ,

Steve Owens
International Year of Astronomy 2009
UK Co-ordinator

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