UKEdMag: One Giant Tweet for Mankind by @DannyNic

Twitter and Space Science

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.

This article was originally printed in the October 2015 edition of UKEdMagazine

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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 this 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?

At a recent conference I listened to an Ofsted inspector extol the importance of making science lessons relevant to the wider world of science. He expected any good science teacher to be keeping an eye on breaking science news, and if something important was happening, taking lessons off-topic to cover it. The general consensus from a recent #ASEChat session was that the benefits from the discussions this generates can outweigh the loss of planned curriculum time.

“Interest in science was stimulated by teachers’ regular references to science in the media. It meant going off topic for some of the lesson, but helped pupils to connect abstract science ideas to concrete news events; the recent meteorite entry over Russia was one such example.”

Ofsted. Maintaining Curiosity. (2013) Social Media

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 will soon increase when astronaut Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) becomes the first Briton to go into space since Helen Sharman in 1991. He’s due to head up to the International Space Station in December 2015 and spend 6 months in space. Follow him now for updates as he prepares for the mission.

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!

Space Agencies

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 at

Space Missions

One of the big moments in space science last year 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). Meanwhile Cassini (@CassiniSaturn) is currently cruising around Saturn, studying its moons and rings and the Juno probe (@NASAJuno) will be arriving at Jupiter in April 2016.

In addition 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.

Mars Missions

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 …

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Danny Nicholson is an independent trainer and consultant. He is a former science teacher and now delivers Computing and Science training to teachers all over the UK as well as overseas. He is a PGCE Science lecturer for Billericay Educational Consortium on their Primary SCITT teacher training course, and also delivers science and ICT sessions on several other PGCE and B.Ed. courses. He is one of the authors of Switched on Science for Rising Stars. He regularly blogs about educational technology at and can be found on Twitter as @dannynic.

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