Stuart Lowe (Astronomy Blog, The Jodcast) started something a little while ago called LookUP. This simple search box allows you to enter the name of almost any astronomical object and it returns RA/Dec coordinates along with a plethora of handy links. Go and try it out using the link.
LookUP works by asking the right databases the right questions. If you ask for a planet, the LookUP will query one astronomy web service. If you ask for a comet, it may ask another. You can read more about this on the LookUP about page.
Before long, an iPhone app was been developed and then several other ways of interfacing with the new service. Now I have thrown my own contribution into the mix: a Twitter bot that connects you to LookUP in those situations when only Twitter will do.
Tweet ‘@lookupastro Orion Nebula’ and you will get a reply with the data on where to find M42 in the sky.
@lookupastro is a simple Twitter bot that when tweeted with the name of an astronomical object, will reply with its RA and declination and a link to the LookUP page. This is achieved by querying the Twitter stream for @lookupastro mentions and dealing with them in a way that can be parsed through the LookUP JSON outputs. Stuart’s data service is robust enough to reply sensibly to most things thrown at it and so the Twitter bot has been running fairly smoothly.
You don’t need to follow @lookupastro to use it, just tweet it. For example tweet “@lookupastro Orion Nebula” and you will get a reply with the data on where to find M42 in the sky and a ‘more information’ link. It’ll even suggest spelling corrections! Give it a go.