• Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Redux
  • Flickr
  • RSS

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

On 18 September, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR, @dlr_en) and the European Space Agency (ESA, @esa) invited 60 lucky Twitter followers to the first European SpaceTweetup.  Among them some of our most prominent members, @flyingjenny, @herrea, @CraftLass, @travelholic, @amoroso, @marcozambi, @SpaceKate, @DrLucyRogers and @rocketman528. I (@akanel) was also lucky to be invited – and this was my first Tweetup ever!

The SpaceTweetup took place on German Aerospace Day at the joint DLR and European Astronaut Centre site in Cologne.  It was an amazing day, which not even the German grey and rainy weather could spoil!  …it did, of course, make our photographs a bit murky, but that’s about it!

The SpaceTweetup program was full and exciting.  So many thrills packed inside approx. 10 hours that could have easily been the object of two or more separate events.  For those who didn’t get to attend, a four hour (!) long selection of the best moments is available on ESA’s site.


Photo credit: @SimSullen

The day started very excitingly.  We visited and learned about the SOFIΑ Project (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), DLR and NASA’s impressive airborne telescope.  Mounted on a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, SOFIA has a 2.5 meter reflecting telescope, which makes measurements during flight!  High above the disturbances caused by Earth’s atmosphere, but also easily accessible for maintenance and modifications, SOFIA combines the advantages of space telescopes, like Herschel and Hubble, with the ease of ground based telescopes.

The science done on SOFIA is planned by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI) under the leadership of NASA Ames Research Centre.  Observing mostly in the far infrared, SOFIA will be used to study many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, such as e.g. star birth and death, formation of new solar systems, identification of complex molecules in space (such as organic materials necessary for life), planets, comets and asteroids in our own solar system, nebulae and dust in galaxies and black holes at the centre of galaxies, helping to answer many fundamental questions about the creation and evolution of the Universe.

SOFIA Telescope. Photo credit: @Brigitte_Ba


The Future of the James Webb Space Telescope


Image credit: NASA

Greetings Space Tweeps,

I just wanted to drop a quick line for all to see concerning the fate of the James Webb Space Telescope. JWST promises much for the field of Astronomy and science in general. It will be able to see far earlier into the history of the universe than ever before, provide help in examining extrasolar planets, and bring humanity answers (and indeed more questions) about our reality. Most importantly, it will provide science jobs, research and inspiration right here in the US of A. While its goals are noble, there is controversy about its cost. NASA has addressed the budgeting issue and put JWST back on track. Nevertheless, on Nov 18 2011, the US House of Representatives will be voting on that funding.

If it is of interest to you to #saveJWST then please see this link for more information. Also check out #saveJWST, #3×10, and #write4flight hashtags on Twitter.

If you do not support the telescope, then feel free to ignore this post. I do not wish to discuss the merits of JWST here. This is just a friendly reminder that you can do something to #savethistelescope .

Science and space travel are humanity’s two most important assets. The more people know about what NASA does the better off humanity will become.

@neoteotihuacan (#NASATweetup @NASAJPL alum May 6 2011)

The James Webb Space Telescope

Hello fellow members of the #spacetweepgeekdom !

It’s a great morning here. I am a #NASATweetup alum of the June 6, 2011 #NASATweetup @NASAJPL in California some weeks ago. It is a pleasure not only to be so much more involved with NASA now, but to interact with other spacetweeps. You truly are a people I grok.

I am writing this post for only one quick, simple reason. The James Webb Space Telescope is in danger of losing its funding. Congress will be voting in part to eliminate its funding this Wednesday July 13, 2011. If you are interested in the fight to prevent this, then I have some links for you:

Sign the petition to save James Webb



I only want to bring this to your attention. Some of you no doubt are interested in this. Others may not think it is worth the time and effort to save JWST. That’s fine on both counts. If the above links are useful, then take them. If not, then please just ignore the post. There is no reason to have a discussion of the merits of saving/canceling JWST here on the Space Tweep Society website.

Thanks for your time, and do have a great day =)


Insights from Hubble at the American Museum of Natural History

Insights from Hubble at the American Museum of Natural History

New York City area tweeps, ever wonder what astronomers study with the Hubble Space Telescope? In this program, Jackie Faherty will explore some of Hubble’s most exciting results through the 3D datasets available in the Hayden Planetarium’s Digital Universe, the world’s most complete atlas of the cosmos.

Insights from the Hubble Telescope with Jackie Faherty
Tuesday, February 22, 6:30 pm
Hayden Planetarium, Space Theater
$15 Adults, ($13.50 Members, students, senior citizens)

Total Lunar Eclipse from Nicaragua

One of the most wonderful astronomical events available without the need
of any particular artificial optical instrument, and shared almost
instantaneously in a whole hemisphere is without doubts a Lunar Eclipse.

And the Eclipse from December 21st, 2010 was no exception to the
previous statement, with so many good astro-friend in may Countries that
were as expectant as I was for this event.

This particular eclipse coincided with the Winter Solstice for the
Northern Hemisphere and happened to be one of the most “darkest”
(meaning that: one where the shadow of our planet fell almost perfectly
over the lunar disc) in the recent times.

With so many expectation and nerves, a small group from ANASA
gathered at the fields of the Pierre & Marie Curie elementary
school, in the outskirts of Managua; battling against mosquitoes and the
late hour of the event. For Nicaragua, the Penumbral part of the
eclipse began on Dec. 20th, 23:30 hours.

Around some 40 people joined us, mostly kids; willing to observe
their first Lunar Eclipse. Weather forecast were reserved for us,
talking about heavy clouds and strong winds.

We were able to enjoy the eclipse just until a few minutes past the
initial part of Totality, where those dreaded forecasts became true:
clouds rapidly covered our sky and stayed there for a very long time,
whilst a dark-reddened Moon hovered above us, hidden from our sight.

I had the chance to peek at the Moon for a brief time, using my small
telescope, in a window among the clouds, and I was amazed how really
dark it was! I was able to hint some blue and purple tint on the less
darker areas, something I had never saw before during a total eclipse.

I was glad to spent this time with my wife and several friends from
ANASA: Ricardo Ruiz, Sergio Melendez and Nohelia Ocampo. Also it was fun
to receive updates via SMS from Adelmo Sandino and Javier Ramirez,
while a diligent Luis Arguello kept an open line by phone, reporting
several times.

Sergio was so kind to bring with him the smallest telescope I have
ever seen: it resemble pretty much to a can of potatoes chips. The
resulting end: kids love it!

I invite you to share with the us the experience, by watching the pictures already posted in my Picasa web album.

Clear skies!

Save the Dates: April 2011 is Global Astronomy Month

gam-awb-2011-smallApril 2011 will again be a busy month for
amateur and professional astronomers, educators and astronomy
enthusiasts as Global Astronomy Month (GAM) returns for its second
edition. The annual event, organized by Astronomers Without Borders,
celebrates the Universe in the spirit of the International Year of
Astronomy 2009 cornerstone project “100 Hours of Astronomy.”

Astronomy clubs, science centers, schools, educators, and other
astronomy enthusiasts worldwide are invited to reserve dates in April
2011 for public outreach, hands-on activities, observing sessions and
more while sharing the enthusiasm with others across the globe during
Global Astronomy Month. Everyone is invited either to join the global
programs or initiate their own activities during April 2011.

This is the second edition of GAM, after its launch last year, when
Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) coordinated seven global events
dedicated to remote observing, fighting light pollution, world peace,
observations of the sky and cultural manifestations, as well as
encouraging the organization of local events.

A growing list of global programs are scheduled for GAM 2011. The
month kicks off with the lord of the rings on April 2/3,
designated as Saturn Watch. With the planet at its
closest to Earth, it’s a perfect night to admire the unequaled beauty of
the ringed planet. On April 9 the Global Star
will unfold as darkness sweeps around the Earth. This is
the night to set up your telescopes and share the wonders of the sky
with others. From April 10 to 16 it’s Lunar
as our gaze turns toward Earth’s natural satellite. Just
as the Moon has captured our imagination for millennia, it never fails
to fascinate with close-up views of its craters and mare. Educational
and cultural events dedicated to the Moon are also planned. On April
we switch from night to day, dedicating ourselves to our
closest star on SunDay. The month closes on a high
point with a peak – of meteors. On April 21/22 get
comfortable in something warm and spend the night scanning the sky for
meteors caused by debris left behind by Comet Thatcher. An incredible
show awaits during Lyrids Watch.

More programs are to come as GAM grows with every group of people
that joins us in the celebration of the Universe. Among these are Remote
Observing Programs
and a Cosmic Concert.

If you need another reason to join us during Global Astronomy Month,
try these:

  • GAM lets your science center or astronomy club participate in an
    internationally recognized project;
  • GAM provides several events to attract visitors to your institution
    or astronomy club;
  • GAM allows you to connect with your local community, including
    public authorities and the media;
  • GAM gives you the chance to inspire young people to look up and
    wonder. Show your commitment to educating young people.

“There’s something for everyone”, says Mike Simmons, President of
Astronomers Without Borders. IYA2009 showed the way to involving more
people than ever,” and GAM is riding that wave of excitement in the
discovery of our Universe.”

Join the celebration in April 2011 as Global Astronomy Month brings
together thousands of passionate individuals and hundreds of
organizations worldwide to share their enthusiasm in innovative new
ways, connecting people through a great sense of sharing the Universe!
It’s a month of celebrating Astronomers Without Borders’ motto – One
People, One Sky!

Save the dates – April 2011 is Global Astronomy Month.


More information:

Astronomers Without Borders

Astronomers Without Borders is dedicated to fostering understanding
and goodwill across national and cultural boundaries by creating
relationships through the universal appeal of astronomy. Astronomers
Without Borders projects promote sharing, all through a common interest
in something basic and universal – sharing the sky.

For further information please contact:

Mike Simmons
President, Astronomers Without Borders
Chair, GAM2011 Working Group
+1 818 486 7633

Thilina Heenatigala
GAM2011 Coordinator
+94 716 245 545

Oana Sandu
GAM2011 Public Relations Coordinator
+40 724 024 625

Music and Astronomy Under the Stars

Recently, I was asked to participate in a wonderful event funded by NASA. It’s called Music and Astronomy Under the Stars. Dr. Donald Lubowich, Coordinator of the Astronomy Outreach Program at Hofstra University, received this funding to give concertgoers a view of the cosmos at the Tanglewood Music Festival. This event was co-sponsored by The Dudley Observatory, of which I am a member. Also participating were members from the Springfield Stars Club.

Tanglewood is a beautiful place nestled in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts and it provided a wonderful setting for this astronomy education and outreach program. Once our telescopes were set up on the spacious lawn provided to our group, curious musicians, staff and concert attendees began to approach us and ask questions about our various telescopes, celestial objects and recent news they’ve read. Although it was early in the day, we were able to provide some fantastic views of a large sunspot, which prompted even more questions that led to the recent reports of the possibility of seeing an aurora that night.

I was elated to see the amazement on the faces of children and adults who viewed a sunspot for the very first time. While witnessing this, I finally realized why astronomy truly has drawn me to look at the sky, read all I can, and share my information and views. Astronomy is a potential source for answers. When I heard the children’s questions, the epiphany was that we all have a child’s curiosity when we look up.  The increasing amount of knowledge provided by clearer views and the increasing amount of data are providing answers to the many curiosities we had as children, and if we’re fortunate, still have. The night’s clouds may have disappointed some, but I’m sure the day’s events and discussion will encourage many to continue to look up to satisfy their urge to know more about who we are and what is our place in this magnificent universe.

Buying The Right Telescope – A Rough Guide

Just to let everyone know my guide to buying a telescope is online at:


It’s a general overview of what is available, what to consider and what you can do. A lot of folks have asked me about this since I got my own telescope, and attended a talk on the topic by Sky at Night magazine’s Reviews editor Paul Money.

Sidewalk Astronomy: showing the wonders of the sky to your neighbors!

Space, the final frontier. No matter how many times I gaze up toward the starry night, I always find it amazing, mesmerizing, fantastic!

The wonders of Space and the secrets it keeps have haunted me since I was a 5 years old kid. Living in a Nation in a period of time where science and public information was restricted, I’ve desperately looked for information where possible: newspapers, TV news, Sci-Fi movies, magazines, whatever mean possible. My Dad helped me, sending me articles from foreign newspapers, while he traveled to Panama and Colombia. 

I remember one time when, after gaining access to a private store in Managua (the only one allowed to sell  products in US Dollars, open only for Diplomatics), I found a 2 inches refractor telescope, awaiting in one corner. My eyes grew wide at the view and rapidly requested my Dad to buy it for me. He looked at me and, with the seriousness that characterized him, he denied me my request. No matter how many times I pleaded that day, that telescope remained in the store and I left the building with a sad feeling.

Several decades later, I clearly understand his decision: being an unexperienced kid, with no knowledge at all about observational astronomy and no possible ways for finding a mentor, no matter how hard I could have tried: at the end, I would have ended frustrated, deeply.

Now, as an Amateur Astronomer and father to 3 kids, I can teach them the wonders of sky, in a way I could have only dreamed at their age. They join me at the backyard when I point one of the telescopes that I now own toward the Moon, or Saturn or Jupiter. They recognize the objects on the computer screen and start making questions about planets, comets and meteors.

But, besides the joy of sharing my passion with my Wife and Kids, I found another reason for loving Amateur Astronomy: To show the Night Sky to my Neighbors!

Every time I place my telescope at the sidewalk, it is inevitable! Swarms of kids and young people gather around, and beging making all possible questions from “What are you looking at?” to “Are there Aliens in the Backyard?”

Once I managed to set a little order, one by one everyone of them peered into the eyepiece and the look in their faces is priceless. Many of them lined up again for a second, third or fourth time!

The Moon and its mountains and craters causes a great impression on them, but always the Winner is Saturn and its rings. Using a low power eyepiece (75x) I challenged them to spot Titan and all of them start making a more detailed observation. Then, if I have my laptop nearby, I open up Stellarium and show them what were they looking at. And one more time questions arise.

Trust me on this: there is no better way and tool to help kids in their quest for science and knowledge than Astronomy! Let’s transmit to them our joy and passion, and teach them their way to the stars!

Remember, they are our future. They are the ones that will walk on the Moon again and fly toward other worlds.

Space, the Final Frontier… let’s help them to boldly go where we always wanted to be!

A Symbol of the Limitless Quest for Knowledge

I’m no longer a
blog virgin!  Lets see how this works.  Here are some thoughts I had on
Hubble’s upgrade, and so much more.  It starts off a bit like a
research paper (guess I wish I was still in school) then veers a little
into left field.  That’s OK though, that’s where I like to hang out…

The Hubble Space Telescope during its nineteen years of service has
produced the most iconic images of our universe that everyone has come
to know, but the best has yet to come.  Three hundred fifty miles above
the earth, in a high orbit, the greatest telescope of all time has just
been released by shuttle Atlantis after its fourth and final servicing
mission.  Yesterday the STS-125 crew set Atlantis down at Edwards AFB
after a challenging but very successful fourteen days and five

This great observatory has been re-upped with a new generation of
scientific instruments, practically rendering it a new machine, giving
it a healthy ten more years.  Hubble has a new gyro system to
accurately and precisely aim at the farthest plots of our
universe.  A Cosmic Origins Spectrograph has been installed and,
without even knowing what is does, sounds awesome.  This scientific
instrument will be a window to the past.  It will show us the workings
of the early elements in primitive space, the prelude to the orchestra,
a masterpiece of creation and life. 

The icing on the new Hubble cake is the new Wide Field Camera 3, or
WFC3.  This newer generation camera will capture wavelengths of light
with much greater sensitivity, and also in ranges not visible to its
predecessor.  This new camera will see visible light, the more
energetic ultraviolet light from the youngest and hottest stars, but
also the cooler infrared regions of the spectrum, emitted from deep
space.  This will make visible the oldest galaxies and nebulas on the
outskirts of the universe.  Their light, as we see it, stretched to a
mere infrared glow as it has traveled for millions of years through an
ever-expanding space.   The product of the WFC3 will be stunning new
views of the celestial systems that we already know, but also countless
new discoveries will be made.

 I’ve been so excited about this mission, because the information
was so available to me.  Following every aspect of the mission in real
time on NASA TV (and I cannot lie, constant Twitter updates from NASA
on my cell phone) has beat out anything else on TV for 14 days!  That’s
real suspense.  It just excites me imagining the wonders of working in
space and seeing the gratefulness and skill of the few that get the
privilege.  With all this having been said, the STS-125 crew members
are my heroes.  I feel like I’ve gotten to know them and the work that
they did, and the things they achieved for us down here were amazing. 
I’ve learned a lot and it has continued the tradition of seeding new
impressions in mind.  

So the question remains:  where does this fascination come from and
what purpose does it serve?  Now this I ask myself often and I do not
know the answer.  Maybe someday I will.

For now I have a conclusion that I am comfortable with.  We’ve been
given these eyes and these minds to teach ourselves, enabling us to be
the guardians of this tiny humble celestial speck we call home.  Our
potential is special, given our imagination and the technology to
realize it, that we can accomplish things before we can even understand
why.  The gifts we have been given should not be underappreciated.

This morning lying in bed I thought of these words and decided to do
a blog.  Ooh, did I really say that?  So I got the bulk of my thoughts
out quickly before they went away, then got up to make pancakes.  When
I sat back down and read this I realized that I still am an
“odd child.”  And I say that with a smile on my face.  The spirit of
exploration is a wonderful thing to have.  Seeing the natural world
like a child makes it so new and big and beautiful, but also make one
realize how small we are.  We are not the boss, the Earth owns us
Ok, a moral of my story, kind of.  We’ve been given everything
necessary to thrive, and we have, but it’s a long way to fall.  If we
continue to abuse what is not ours, then put on your galoshes because
we could be in store for another long rain.  You never know.  The book
has been written by what we can see out there and mostly by what we
can’t see, and now it is ours to read.  Most importantly, reading it
means understanding it and if you understand it, you will listen.

Now, hopefully I will be able to find someone to read this!

 25 May 2009