Vote Discovery News for a Shorty Award…

…otherwise some Twilight fan site might win. And that would be bad.

I don’t really get the whole smoldering vampire craze that’s going on at the moment, but the movies New Moon and Twilight certainly have fans going nutty about fangs and moody teenagers. I actually saw Twilight the other day, and it was the first film I’ve ever seen acted through… awkward glances. I felt embarrassed watching it. Not because it was bad; it’s that you really feel the teenage angst ooze from the DVD. For that reason alone it was certainly well acted. Will I watch the sequel New Moon? Probably, if I tripped, fell and found myself in a theater with a jumbo bag of popcorn. Of course not! (Might do.)

Anyhow, this Twilight thing has gotten out of hand, and in the “Oscars of Twitter” (the Shorty Awards), a Twilight fan club is powering up the charts in the #news category. Yes, that’s #news (note the bold hashtag there).

As none of the mainstream news heavyweights appear to be in contention for the #news title, Team Discovery News has decided to dominate this category, aiming to at least catch up with the teeny vampire fan club. But it’s not going to be easy, they have 450 votes. We have… 16. But from small acorns, a Discovery News Shorty Award may grow! Plus we only started campaigning today, so anything could happen.

So, if you’re a fan of the sci-tech news we produce at Discovery News, and you’ve been following our informative, witty, awesome tweets, please consider voting for us by tweeting:

I nominate @Discovery_News for a Shorty Award in #news because [insert reason here]

For example: “I nominate @Discovery_News for a Shorty Award in #news because their science news rocks my cosmos,” or “I nominate @Discovery_News for a Shorty Award in #news because vampires suck cheese.” You get the picture.

Alternatively you can place your vote on the Shorty Awards page and keep track on how @Discovery_News is doing.

As always you can also follow my awesome tweeting action on @Discovery_Space and @astroengine. My pet rabbit has also taken to microblogging, so you might want to get the inside scoop from him too: @Barney_Bunny.

Thanks to our Discovery News sustainable tech writer Alyssa Danigelis for the tip-off!

@Astroengine Got CNN’d (and other epic things)


I’ve been pondering a word that could describe today.

I drew a blank.

It’s a very hard day to sum up in one word. In fact, this entire week has been something of a unique one. From a space point of view, it’s been busy, largely due to the endless supply of space science research spewing from the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Puerto Rico.

However, last night (and early this morning) is what topped it all off. The NASA LCROSS mission slammed into the lunar south pole at 4:31am (PDT) and I was there tweeting away, keeping abreast of all the juicy LCROSS news. That was until Time Warner Cable decided to pull the plug on my internet connection 10 minutes before the main event (I’m certain they did it deliberately, it’s the only explanation). Panic-stricken — and really peeved that I’d spent the whole night excited to see the glorious end to this Moon mission, only to be foiled by my ISP — I checked the TV, and it was working, plus a local channel was covering the event. Phew.

As it turned out, there wasn’t much to see. Oh well.

Anyway, on waking up this morning, I was shocked to find my inbox was stuffed full of Twitter follow messages and notes of congratulations from my team at Discovery News. CNN had picked me, with four heavy-hitters on Twitter as their #FollowFriday. But it wasn’t an ordinary #FollowFriday, the guys at CNN Technology posted this #FollowFriday on their site!

Editor’s note: In this new weekly feature, we highlight five recommended Twitter feeds about a hot topic in the news. Today’s list focuses on space-related tweets and NASA’s plan to crash two spacecraft on the moon Friday in a search for water in lunar soil.CNN Tech

So despite my internet woes, CNN had chosen me (@astroengine) with @BadAstronomer, @Astro_Mike, @LCROSS_NASA and @NASA_AMES. So I was in the company of an entire NASA facility (Ames), a NASA mission that had just hours before slammed into the Moon (LCROSS), the first astronaut to tweet from space (Mike Massimino) and the one, and only, Phil “The Bad Astronomer” Plait.


They also added this very flattering description of @astroengine:

4. astroengine — Astroengine is the Twitter name of Ian O’Neill, a British-born physicist with a long resume and a healthy sense of humor. It’s also the name of his blog, which gathers articles and posts on such light-reading topics as quantum mechanics, solar physics, relativity, cosmology, space flight science and “some of the more bizarre theories that drive our universe.”

Number of followers: more than 1,700

Sample tweet: “Europa, Jupiter’s Moon, Could Support Complex Life (I, for one, welcome our alien Jellyfish Overlords)”

So, I’d like to take this opportunity to say “hello” to my hundreds of new followers!

And did I think of a word that describes today? Actually, I think I just did:


Social Media Aggregates Space News For Breakfast

Getting the full experience: Twitter provided a ring-side seat during today's Hubble servicing spacewalk (NASA).
Getting the full experience: Twitter provided a ring-side seat during today's Hubble servicing spacewalk (NASA).

Earlier today, 500 people meandered through, and I was a little confused as to where they came from. I checked the social bookmarking sites, but this particular page wasn’t listed. Normally, an excess collection of visitors will appear from the aether after quasi-randomly plopping onto my server from StumbleUpon, or blasting my bandwidth during a Digg surge, but this traffic was different. The visitors found my website after clicking a link on a new website called A Portal To The Universe. I knew the site existed, but I hadn’t had the time to check it out. But it is awesome.

Astroengine’s regular readers will know that I have a fascination with the movers and shakers in the world of social media, and I have found various ways to use it for my evil intelligence gathering methods. Also, I’ve met some fantastic people along the way and made very good friends. This time last year, if someone said, “Ian, you will make real friendships online in 12 months,” I would have thought, a) OMG, I’ll be more of a geek than I am now! or b) that is the saddest thing I’ve heard in my life, I never want to see this laptop again.

But then, the web mist cleared, and I saw the light (with a little help from my good friend Avi). Social media isn’t about connecting with a bunch of strangers who have little care for who you are or what you do, it’s about forming social links with like-minded people who have a genuine interest in what you have to say. It’s not quantity (@aplusk-style; why would you want the responsibility of entertaining over a million followers on Twitter anyway?), it’s quality that counts.

Before I realized it, I was collaborating, communicating and collecting space news from real people with real science to distribute. I was tweeting, digging, stumbling, reddit-ting, mixxing and generally socializing my heart out. Along the way, certain platforms fell by the wayside, and now I’m currently enjoying Twitter (more than I should), StumbleUpon and pretty much all the Google applications. Facebook has been steady and so has Digg (for better or worse).

Information reloaded

Building a community is the mainstay of social media, but what do you do if you have too much information flooding your bookmarks? You might use an RSS feed aggrigator, or you might filter your Twitter messages, but wouldn’t it be great if you had a website that helped you find the specific information you are looking for, and helped you find other like-minded people in an ocean of chatter?

But now it would appear space news is welcoming social media with open arms. Two exciting projects have appeared online, using the best information gathering techniques on Web 2.0. Finally, it would appear space science is getting the attention it deserves.

Portal to the Universe


In celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009), the Portal to the Universe was launched at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (JENAM 2009), that took place at the University of Hertfordshire, UK, in April.

It is a fantastic news platform with featured news from a range of blogs and news sources. Real-time data is also available from many missions with a wealth of socially generated topics. In the spirit of social media, the Portal grabs community-based space news, displaying all the relevant news to the astronomy and space community. An amazing resource I have been using since it was launched.

Keeping up-to-date with cutting-edge astronomy and space science breakthroughs has just become that much easier, thanks to the Portal To The Universe, the latest Cornerstone project of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009). As a high-tech website embracing Web 2.0 technologies, the Portal To The Universe aims to become a one-stop-shop for astronomy news.Portal to the Universe



This website actually came as a surprise to me. Ricardo J. Tohmé, founder of AstroSpaceNow, contacted me on Twitter and mentioned they were starting up a social astronomy blog. Fortunately, I went to the site to check it out and was impressed with the design of the “coming soon” page. Feeling I’d be left out if I didn’t, I signed myself up for the newsletter and forgot about it.

Then, as promised, a week later, the site went live.

Looking at the pages of AstroSpaceNow, there is a very real Twitter/microblogging feel, and at first, I was a little cautious. There has been a massive surge of the bold-colour/bold-type websites over the last few months, so I didn’t want this to be just another Twitter aggregator with a space twist.

As it turns out, AstroSpaceNow is tremendously powerful. It uses the power and speed of Twitter to keep up to date with key space-related Twitter accounts. Each account is tagged and colour-coded so you can quickly scan through the lists. Each Twitter stream is categorized and the site refreshes every five minutes.

So, if you want to find out what the space news buzz is all about right now, and find the interesting people who are buzzing, this is the site for you. It’s another fantastic resource for space bloggers, as one glance at the pages of AstroSpaceNow and you know exactly what is going on.

Could Active-SETI Learn From… Twitter?


The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been an ongoing endeavour for the last 50 years. Detecting radio communications from an alien civilization would be the most profound event in mankind’s history; its effect would change the way we view our origin and our place in the Universe. It could mean that far from “being alone” we could be existing in a cosmic ecosystem, where life is more common than not and advanced extraterrestrial civilizations are no longer science fiction. A positive SETI signal would affect us globally; science, religion, society, daily life would alter radically.

Unfortunately, SETI is currently drawing up blanks. Apart from one or two inconclusive signs, it looks like we live in a dead part of the galaxy. Life As We Know It™ is an Earth-only affair. Who knows, we might be searching for another five decades and still be no closer to answering the question “are we alone?

Not to be too downhearted, scientists have been trying to make our presence felt by reversing SETI; we’ve been Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI, a.k.a. “Active-SETI”) ever since we attached a plaque depicting the human form and a handy galactic map to Earth to the side of the Pioneer probes in the 1970s. Now we send a variety of radio signals to the stars in the hope of attracting ET’s attention.

But what signal do we send? Do we send a message with only good stuff from Earth? Or should we send a more gritty message, detailing our flaws as well as achievements? What actually makes a “good” METI signal in the first place?

Perhaps SETI could take some advice from the evolving social media scene, after all, when done right, there’s no more efficient way of conveying a clear message via 140 characters or less…
Continue reading “Could Active-SETI Learn From… Twitter?”

Twitter Hearts Space Science Blogging

© Oliver Widder/Geek & Poke
© Oliver Widder/Geek & Poke

It’s Friday Saturday [get comfortable, this turned into a long post], and I’ve been bogged down with a HUGE project I’ve been keeping under wraps for a couple of months (you will find out what that’s about on Monday), so I’ve been blogging in fits and starts. All going well, I’ll be back up to speed on the growing list of space news on and the Universe Today very soon. However, as it’s the end of the week, I feel like posting my thoughts on Twitter, a microblogging platform that has become an invaluable tool not only for my science writing, but for meeting wonderful, like-minded people…
Continue reading “Twitter Hearts Space Science Blogging”

Twitter Physics: #physics140


If you are familiar with Twitter, you will have come across search tags (words with the hash character in front, i.e. “#searchterm”). So today I decided to create #physics140 where any Twitter user can submit an everyday example of physics.


@MDBenson: Cat with wet paws jumps on handbasin for a drink, slips and falls off with a crash and a lot of spitting. Friction Fail #physics140

@astroengine: Turns out that putting ur coffee mug ontop of a subwoofer during NTrance “Set You Free” vibrates said mug onto the floor. #physics140

We’ll see how this works out, but it could be fun as well as educational. So, get onto Twitter and include your piece of everyday physics in 140 characters or less!

For easy tag browsing, check out the #physics140 @tagalus listing (thanks @natronics!)

The Anatomy of a Los Angeles Earthquake… on Twitter

The July earthquake in LA caused chaos in the shampoo & conditioner isles...
The July earthquake in LA caused chaos in the shampoo & conditioner aisles...

Sitting at my desk at 7:42pm (Friday), doing some research on the web (read: procrastinating), I felt something odd. It was as if somebody walked behind my chair, shunting me forward slightly. I turned, and of course no one was there. Slightly confused, I heard my wife shout from the living room, “Did you feel that?” Then I knew I wasn’t dreaming, there had been an earthquake.

That wasn’t my first experience of a quake, back in July 2008, Woodland Hills felt a seismic wave from the magnitude 5.4 earthquake epicentre near Downtown LA. That’s the only way I can describe it, a rolling wave. We were outside at the time, and I was amazed to see the water in the pool slosh over the sides. Now that was my first quake, and I found it pretty exhilarating (as I ran inside to get my video camera to take an eyewitness account of any other tremors, but there were no more to follow).

Today’s was a short and pretty wimpy magnitude 3.4, just a tiny burst of energy. However, interested to find out more, I turned to one of the best breaking news resources out there, Twitter
Continue reading “The Anatomy of a Los Angeles Earthquake… on Twitter”

Twitter Journalism: Methane on Mars, The Signature of Life?

The distribution of atmospheric methane originating from three principal regions on the Martian surface (NASA)
The distribution of atmospheric methane originating from three principal regions on the Martian surface (NASA)

Today, NASA held a press conference detailing some significant discoveries from observations made of the Martian atmosphere. Using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility and Keck Telescope, scientists from the University of Hawaii and NASA were able to deduce the spectroscopic fingerprint of methane. Although scientists have known for a long time that methane exists in the Martian atmosphere, the big news is that there is lots of it, it appears to be constantly replenished and it is a huge indicator of biological processes under the surface.

Fortunately, I was able to watch the NASA TV broadcast of the press conference at 11am (PST), so I thought I’d try, for the first time, to do some live microblogging of the announcements using Twitter. So, rather than going into vast detail about today’s methane news (as the web has exploded with articles on the subject anyway), I thought I’d publish my Twitter feed during the conference
Continue reading “Twitter Journalism: Methane on Mars, The Signature of Life?”

Follow Astroengine on Twitter!

Astroengine on Twitter...
Astroengine on Twitter...

As if I’m not spending enough time in front of my computer already, it appears there’s another social web application I’ve been neglecting! I actually signed up to Twitter in August, but forgot about my Twitter account’s existence until now. After an explore, I realised it’s actually a very powerful tool, providing up-to-the second updates (in under 140 characters) about, well, anything.

First things first, I’m going to use it for personal stuff (although, “I’m doing my teeth,” or “I’m hungry” probably won’t feature) plus Astroengine article updates. I’ve now seen, that if I get enough followers, it might also be a good way to notify everyone about forthcoming Astroengine Live shows (next one is on Wednesday at 4pm PST – don’t forget! I’ll post another reminder later if you fancy tuning into my banter on the airwaves…). There will also be various updates for articles I post on the Universe Today.

So, if you are currently Twittering, follow me on the Astroengine Twitter feed, otherwise, sign up for a free account and start making sweet Twitterings…

See you there!

Cheers, Ian

Phoenix Welcomes in Sol 90 and Mars Winter

Phoenix sees the Sun dip below the horizon for the first time in 90 sols. It's going to get pretty cold here on in... (NASA/JPL/UA)
Phoenix sees the Sun dip below the horizon for the first time in 90 sols. It's going to get pretty cold out there... (NASA/JPL/UA)

This stunning image was taken by Phoenix on the 90th sol (Mars day) – or August 25th here on Earth – of its mission to the Red Planet. Until now the Sun has remained in the sky continuously due to the Mars Arctic summer, perfect for the landers solar panels to receive 24-hour solar energy. Sol 90 marks colder days and less sunlight for Phoenix as we push into Mars winter…
Continue reading “Phoenix Welcomes in Sol 90 and Mars Winter”