In honor of the Curiosity rover landing on Mars in less than 24 hours (knock on wood), why not check in on its tweets to see how it feels? You read that right. NASA has set up a Twitter account for the Curiosity rover. I was about to declare this the first ever official Twitter for a scientific experiment (while CERN has an account, it’s for the entire organization, and all the LHC accounts are made by enthusiasts). However, it turns out Mars tweets are old hat for NASA, which set up an account for the Phoenix mission back in 2008.
Since robotic intelligence is not advanced enough yet for space rovers to actually talk to us, @MarsPhoenix and @MarsCuriosity are actually run by NASA’s social media team. But it looks like they hope to have updates in almost real time as Curiosity gets ready for major milestones (at posting time, Curiosity last reported getting closer to Mars than the moon is to Earth).
I think these Twitter accounts are great moves by NASA. Twitter’s character limit is a great way to send bite-sized mission updates to the broader public, and judging by its follower count, people love it. Sometimes science in social media gets a bit of flak (I remember a few people saying the CDC’s zombie comic was a money waster), but I’m all for new ways to reach out to the public. Important results should be vetted by peers before we accept things as fact, and the CDC comic was really only super helpful if you read the emergency preparedness guide with it, but there’s nothing wrong with getting people to care about this stuff in the first place by giving them a taste of excitement.