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Social media and popularising space: Philae Lander (@Philae2014) and the journey to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Ryan, L. (2017). Social media and popularising space: Philae Lander (@Philae2014) and the journey to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Space Policy, 41, pp. 20-26. doi: 10.1016/j.spacepol.2017.04.007


The popularisation of space activities is concerned with the public support of, interest in, and understanding of, the benefits to citizens of space science and space exploration. The media, traditional and new, play a significant role in popularising science. While scholars have acknowledged the potential of social media to support public engagement of science, the communication of science by Twitter, a micro-blogging platform or by other social media, is largely under-explored. This paper considers the role of social media in popularising space activities. It focuses on the official Twitter feed of the lander of the European Space Agency's Rosetta Mission (Philae Lander, active between October 2010 and September 2016, to illustrate an instance of popularisation. In particular, it foregrounds a specific element of popularisation, that is, ‘doing science in public’. The resulting analysis illustrates that the topics communicated include themes beyond the overt, expected topic, that is, ‘the journey of the lander’. Additional themes include references to complex scientific experiments (‘space science’) and to the business, or organisation, of science, the earthly ‘backstage’ of Philae lander and the Rosetta mission. The contextual web within which Twitter operates is discussed and the paper concludes by considering the potential role that social media can play in communicating scientific endeavours in space, achieving the goals of informing, enthusing and engaging publics.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2017, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Q Science > QB Astronomy
T Technology > TL Motor vehicles. Aeronautics. Astronautics
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
SWORD Depositor:
[thumbnail of SPACE POLICY revised April 2017 RYAN.pdf]
Text - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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