On Saturday, March 19, I was thrilled to participate in the first ever Sun-Earth Day Tweetup organized by the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. It was also the first time the Smithsonian officially participated in a Tweetup. The event was a great opportunity to give twitter fans (aka “tweeps”) some face-to-face interaction with our research scientists, curators and educators, and provide some fun hands-on learning that illustrated the Sun-Earth connection.
We had discussed the idea of holding a Tweetup at the National Air and Space Museum for some time, so when Aleya Van Doren at NASA Goddard asked our Museum to participate in the Sun-Earth Day Tweetup, it was a no-brainer for me and co-host Isabel Lara in our Office of Communications. We jumped at the opportunity to partner with NASA, learn from their experience, and meet some great Twitter fans. Museum educators, scientists, and volunteers were eager to participate as well, and we enlisted two of our social media friends at the Smithsonian, Sarah Banks (National Museum of Natural History) and Sarah Taylor (Public Affairs), to help us host.
On the big day, 100 Tweetup participants and NASA Goddard team members arrived at the Museum before we opened to the public. Usually, this is a quiet time in the Museum, but that day there was a great deal of activity as staff and volunteers prepared for the Kites of Asia Family Day. After watching the “3D SUN” IMAX film (as perhaps the first group of theater patrons ever encouraged to use our phones – we had to tweet, after all!), everyone split up into groups and took off to explore learning stations setup around the Museum.
RT JoeCLucas: Watching the surface of the sun in 3D on an IMAX screen. Freaking awesome. #nasatweetup#sed2011
The pace was very fast as we moved through the activities. Educator Dr. Steve Williams described Galileo’s observations of the Sun some 400 years ago, and showed copies of his original drawings, which are in the Smithsonian collection. Participants were able to touch a 4.6 billion year old Allende meteorite, leftover debris from the formation of the solar system. Astronomy curator Dr. David DeVorkin talked about telescopic observations of the Sun made from the Skylab Orbital Workshop in the 1970s, and the legacy of Skylab’s Apollo Telescope Mount in today’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Planetary geologist Sharon Wilson Purdy described her work on the Mars HiRISE mission and explained the role of the Sun in studying seasonal and global climate change on Mars. Tweeps got a chance to view the Sun through three different telescopes outside by our Public Observatory. The forecast had been for cloudy skies all week, so we were relieved when Saturday came and the skies were clear. The viewing of sun spots and solar prominences was great! Our three astronomy educators Katie Moore, Erin Braswell, and Shelley Witte, and volunteer Heather Goss, were all on hand to answer questions. Tweeps were excited to learn one of the telescopes they were looking through was a real Dobsonian telescope built by amateur astronomer John Dobson in 1988. Everyone was tweeting the experience and sharing photos using the #sed2011 and #NASATweetup hash tags.
RT @chaalz: Just touched a rock that was created before our solar system was created. #NASATweetup#SED2011
RT: @pilotconway: Saw some sun spots. So cool. #sed2011#nasatweetup
Last but not least, tweeps took a quick tour of Museum highlights led by our knowledgeable volunteer docents, many of whom are pilots, engineers, or scientists and have had amazing careers in the aviation and space industry. Days before the event, I told them not to worry if the group was looking down at their phones a lot; it just means they’re telling everyone about the cool things they’re learning on their tours! Participants saw objects representing early powered flight to landing humans on the Moon and beyond, including the 1903 Wright Flyer, Spirit of St. Louis, Moon rock, Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, and SpaceShipOne.
RT @CG____: Amazing. Only 66 years elapsed between Wright Bros flight and landing on the moon. #NASATweetup @airandspace
All of the Tweetup participants were friendly and fun, but I have to say I have a particular fondness for NASA SDO’s BFF Camilla Corona SDO (aka @Camilla_SDO). She was a big hit with tweeps and visitors alike, posing beside many of our most famous objects and tweeting photos and fun historical facts.
The entire morning was buzzing with excitement. There was plenty of sharing going on, not just among the Tweetup participants, but also via @NASA and others who were following on Twitter. So much so that at one point, we discovered, @airandspace and @Camilla_SDO were trending on Twitter in the DC region. In the end, we all had a great time, learned and shared a lot, and we made a lot of new friends. Before the Tweetup group left to return to NASA Goddard, they posed for a photo outside the Museum.
RT @Smithsonian: Group photo of super fun tweeps who came to @airandspace for the #sed2011#NASATweetup. Enjoy @nasagoddard! http://ow.ly/i/9kRx
Sarah Banks and I were also able to attend the NASA Goddard portion of the Tweetup, where participants watched a NASA EDGE webcast and toured the NASA Goddard facilities, meeting many of the scientists and engineers working on missions like Solar Dynamics Observatory (@NASA_SDO), Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (@LRO_NASA) and more. The NASA Goddard team produced an amazing event and we were so glad to be a part of it.
What’s next? I’m eager to see the Smithsonian host Tweetups to engage more directly with Twitter followers and provide some great behind-the-scenes access to our experts and collections. My Tweetup co-host Isabel and I are actively planning an official Tweetup at the National Air and Space Museum. Stay tuned and follow @airandspace on Twitter for more info! Also, look for the Public Observatory to start tweeting soon!
Would you like to participate in a National Air and Space Museum Tweetup? What would you like to see? Help us plan by sharing your thoughts!
Vicki Portway is Chair of the Web & New Media Division in Collections and Curatorial Affairs at the National Air and Space Museum.