Monday, 10 October 2011

Twitter: An Amateur Astronomer's Tale

As you sit in meetings today or plan lessons and listen to people telling you how terribly bad twitter is and is just used by students to waste time here's a simple little example of how you might try and change some views. I've often looked up at a night sky and wondered what the stars were and occasionally, very occasionally in the past, seen a shooting star streak across a black background above me. In the last few months I have learned a little about meteors and meteor showers and shown my children and friends where to look and when to see some of these wonderful sights themselves.

I'm really not the type of person to stand in a field at night staring at the sky at all but someone called @VirtualAstro inspired me to do just that. I don't know his name. He lives in Berkshire somewhere and that's his twitter name. I've been following him for a while now and he tells us in simple terms when there is likely to be something worth looking for. An amateur, with equipment he'd collected over years and spent all his savings on, he also publishes great pictures of what's going on up there for the benefit of those of us who may have missed a nice display.

I can't remember how I started following him. I expect someone I was already following must have mentioned him in one of their tweets and that was it.

This morning his news was not about the stars. Someone had broken into his house and stolen all his equipment, including some really old but valuable bits and pieces. Gradually, in a series of short bursts of less than 140 characters each, the story unfolded. The police had been. The insurance company had said the valuable bits weren't covered. He couldn't afford to replace them. The police catch the burglar. Some idiot had sold everything for £200 to buy drugs. He refused to identify the dealer who had got the equipment now. The police said he wouldn't see it again. The poor fellow was angry and devasted. Then he gets a pile of kind messages from followers and donations from some of them too. I don't know how much he has got so far but he's obviously amazed. You can just tell from his words that in a matter of hours he turned from being totally distressed to overwhelmed by the good nature of people he's never met.

This isn't much to do with education of e-learning, I know, and I'm sure there are far more dramatic stories out there that twitter or other social networks have featured in. I just felt that I had to write about this one. It happened this morning.

And if you hear of any Japanese Series 4000 super wide and ultra wide eyepieces for sale, let me or @VirtualAstro know. I have no idea what they are but the twitterverse will and it would be so good if someone somewhere can bring a happy ending to this episode.

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