A few years ago, when I was working on my Masters degree, I was trying to find the coordinates on the sky of a handful of objects I wanted to observe. This was a tortuous process of looking up object names, cross-referencing journal articles, hoping someone listed their position, usually not.
Just a few years later, this process got a lot easier when catalogs came online. It still was a pain, but eventually everything was collected into a single meta-database called SIMBAD, where you could enter the name of an object and it would then return almost everything you needed to know.
And now that process just got even easier. Why go to a web browser when you can use Twitter?
Stuart from Astronomy Blog and Rob Simpson have created LookUP, a twitter account. All you do is send a tweet to it with the name of your object, and it will send you a link with all the info you need. I sent it this command: @lookupastro philplait, and less than a minute later it posted this link, which had info on the asteroid 165347 Philplait, and a link to the JPL site where I could get its current position.
I was just thinking yesterday that it might be fun to see if we could look for some asteroids at the Dragon*Con Star Party (there are a few tickets left, too!), since the get-together is in honor of asteroid hunter Jeff Medkeff, who named asteroids after Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, Mike Stackpole, and me. Mine will have set by the time it’s dark, which is too bad. But with LookUP we’ll be able to quickly come up with other targets, I’m sure.
Fun. And, I think, a glimpse into the way astronomy will be done in the future, too.