Twitter users control Saint Mary's University observatory

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Twitter users control Saint Mary's University observatory

Stargazers around the world now have a new way to explore the depths of the night sky, thanks to a creation at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

The school has what it believes is the world's first Twitter-controlled observatory.

"That means you can interact with the telescope and it talks back," said Dave Lane, director of the Burke-Gaffney Observatory in an interview Monday.  

"For example, you could sent it a tweet, 'Take a picture of the Andromeda Galaxy' —  a very close, bright galaxy — and it would reply and say, 'Yep, I'll take that picture for you.' And then the next time it has a clear night, it will take a picture for you and you will get your own personal image."

After the computer has a list of objects it has been told to observe, Lane said it waits for dark and the skies to clear. It then opens up and starts searching.

"Around Nova Scotia, it gets cloudy fairly often, so if that happens usually the human operators will give up and go home," Lane said. "The telescope doesn't give up. It will just sit and wait. "

He said once the telescope, which uses the Twitter handle @smubgobs, captures the image, it will tweet it out.

Lane said they decided to link to Twitter to reach out to younger people, who are often very connected to their phones. He said astronomy students at Saint Mary's have already been using the telescope to help with their class projects.

Members of the public from as far away as Germany and Toronto have also made requests for images, he said.  

"People seem to like bright stars. They like planets," he said. "Comets are popular."

Lane said while they chose Twitter to start, they may eventually link up with other social networks such as Facebook and Instagram.