One of the important things about science is that it is not a fixed subject. New scientific discoveries are being made all the time. It’s important that students learn that scientists do not know everything. We make the best guesses that we can using the best information available at the time, and as new information comes in our understanding and models can change.
The working scientifically strand of the science curriculum require teachers to encourage students to develop an awareness of how science works, and how ideas develop and change over time. And space research is a good example of this kind of science. For example only last summer the New Horizons (@NewHorizons2015) space probe sent amazing information back about the geology of Pluto that has changed many ideas about the (dwarf) planet. We learned that Pluto has an atmosphere, 3km mountains of ice and unexpected geological activity. New Horizons is now heading off into the Kuiper Belt, who knows what it might find?
The explosion in the use of social media, and specifically services such as Twitter has allowed researchers to share what they are doing directly and instantly with the scientific community. It allows live, up-to-the-minute, information to be shared and discussed.
Agencies such as NASA and the ESA have embraced social media, and all of their current and in-development space missions have their own Twitter accounts. They are able to share news and data as it comes in and is processed.
While not every account is constantly tweeting breaking scientific discoveries, many of them also provide a look behind the scenes and interesting snapshots of real scientists at work, as well as plenty of images and videos that can be used to provide moments of awe and wonder in the classroom.
British interest in space has increased since astronaut Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) became the first Briton to go into space since Helen Sharman in 1991. He’s currently on the International Space Station and will spend 6 months in space. Follow him for photos and videos from space. Oh, and music quizzes.
The nature of Twitter also provides us with the chance to interact with these accounts. It is possible to tweet them back and ask questions to researchers and astronauts directly. Many of these accounts get a lot of tweets, and it’s not possible to guarantee a response, but you might be lucky!
The obvious space accounts to start following are NASA (@NASA) and the European Space Agency (@ESA). Both of these accounts aggregate information and news from their many space missions, plus provide links to live news conferences and launch videos. Another good account is the ESA Education office (@ESA_Education) which aims to keep students and teachers informed about current student opportunities, educational material and new projects. There are some great ideas for class projects.
Also worth a follow are other agencies such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (@ISRO) and private space companies such as Space X (@SpaceX). The official twitter account for the International Space Station (@Space_station) is worth following to find out the Twitter usernames of the current crew of astronauts, many of whom regularly tweet photographs and videos from space.
Do also follow the @NASA_Astronauts account to hear from NASA astronauts, as well as to receive updates on astronaut activities. For a full list of tweeting NASA astronauts, take a look here.
One of the big moments in space science in 2014 was when the ESA Rosetta mission landed a robotic probe onto the surface of comet 67P after a 6.5 billion km journey. Both the Rosetta craft (@ESA_Rosetta) and Philae the probe (@Philae2014) have twitter accounts and were able to provide regular coverage of the approach and landing.
Philae may have gone quiet now, but Rosetta is still sending back data and spectacular images of the comet as it approached perihelion and beyond.
I’ve already mentioned NASA’s New Horizons craft (@NewHorizons2015) and its mission to Pluto and beyond but another dwarf planet, Ceres is also currently being studied by NASA’s Dawn probe (@NASA_Dawn).
In addition to these, there are 19 different NASA missions currently studying the sun and how it affects Earth and the rest of the solar system. You can find out more by following @NASASunEarth.
As one of Earth’s nearest neighbours, there’s always been a lot of interest in Mars. Since Mariner 4 was launched in 1964 a total of 15 robotic missions have visited the red planet.
There are several missions currently tweeting from Mars with several more planned for the future. Expect this to increase as NASA continues its current plan to put people on Mars in the 2030s with the Orion Spacecraft (@NASA_Orion).
These include Mars Curiosity (@MarsCuriosity) a robot which has been roving around the surface of the planet since August 2012 and MAVEN (@MAVEN2Mars) a mission to explore the upper atmosphere. Also in orbit around Mars is the Indian mission Mars Orbiter (@MarsOrbiter) which is India’s first mission to Mars. The probe has been orbiting the planet since September 2014. NASA’s InSight mission (@NASAInsight) was due to launch in 2016 with plans to plant a seismometer on the surface of Mars to study geological activity. Sadly this mission is now delayed.
Awe and Wonder
Whilst not providing up-to-the minute breaking science news, there are many other Twitter accounts that can inject a little awe and wonder into science lessons with some spectacular images. This includes Astro Pic of the Day (@apod) which tweets a different space photograph every day along with a brief explanation by a professional astronomer. The Hubble Space Telescope (@HubbleTelescope) is still taking amazing photographs of space, Hubble will eventually be replaced by the James Webb Telescope (@NASAWebbTelescp) in a few years’ time, follow it now to track its development.
How to follow these accounts
You can view these Twitter streams without signing up for twitter by simply clicking on the links above. I’ve also created a Twitter list, which includes all the accounts above, plus a few more space-related accounts you might like. You can see the space list here.
But it’s better if you sign up for a Twitter account (it’s free to do so). If you sign up for an account you can aggregate all these twitter accounts by just following them. You don’t even need to tweet, you could just use it to follow other accounts. It would probably be a good idea to keep it separate from any personal account you have, especially if you plan to show the twitter stream in class.
Note : This article first appeared in the October edition of UKED Magazine. Click here to read the original.