23 October 2020

How to Find Astronomy News Before It’s News

This article is for journalists eager to get their hands on astronomy-related press releases and other astronomy news in the absence of the AAS press-release-forwarding service, which ceased operation on 4 December 2020.

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Introduction: Sources of Astronomy News

Most astronomy-related news stories are prompted by press releases issued by universities, observatories, national laboratories, government agencies, scientific societies, and scientific journal publishers. Topics include discoveries in the astronomical sciences; major mission or project milestones; prestigious appointments, awards, and grants; and widely visible sky phenomena.

Most press releases about discoveries are prompted by the publication (or acceptance for publication) in a peer-reviewed journal of one or more research articles. Others are occasioned by an author's presentation of new research findings at a scientific conference — in a talk or poster and perhaps in a press conference.

Press releases, journal articles, and scientific conferences aren't the only sources of astronomy news. In astronomy and many other sciences, preprints (advance copies) of journal articles are posted to an online repository called a preprint server. Exactly when they get posted varies widely, depending on authors' goals and preferences and their institutions' rules. Usually it's either upon submission to a journal or upon acceptance for publication by a journal, meaning that some newsworthy scientific findings are "hiding in plain sight" weeks or months before possibly being highlighted in press releases.

Science writers who happen to live near a college or university that has a sizable physics and/or astronomy and/or planetary science department have another valuable source of astronomy news: department colloquia or seminars that attract speakers from around the globe. Occasionally the first report of an important new scientific finding is offered in such a setting, providing an opportunity for a journalist to get an early interview and perhaps a scoop.

Astronomers were among the first to jump on the internet, which is now rife with astronomy-related webpages, blogs, and social media posts. Sometimes in a discussion forum, Twitter feed, or other online platform a scientist will tease an exciting discovery of their own or speculate about potentially newsworthy findings they've heard about from others. Much of this chatter is public, so again science writers have an opportunity to pick up on something that hasn't yet made it to a preprint, conference presentation, or press release.

Where to Find Press Releases

There are many online services that aggregate and/or distribute scientific press releases, some operated by nonprofit scientific associations and others by for-profit corporations. Most give you several options, including viewing releases on the web, receiving them via an RSS feed, and receiving them by email. Science writers generally don't have to pay to read/receive press releases, but institutions generally do have to pay to post/distribute press releases — that's how these services make money.

Press Release Services

Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of the most popular services that aggregate and/or distribute astronomy-related press releases. Most of them also cover other disciplines but allow you to specify which fields you're interested in when you sign up for email or RSS updates so as not to inundate you with irrelevant material. We recommend that you try several of these services and see how they compare before deciding which one(s) to use for the long term. Based on surveys of the AAS Press List, the most-used services are EurekAlert (operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS), Phys.org, and ScienceDaily.

Press Releases from Journals

Some scientific journals that publish astronomy-related research articles put out a "press package" to alert journalists to articles in the coming issue that the editors deem newsworthy. These may include press releases, advance copies of journal articles, or both. They are available only to journalists who agree to abide by the journals' publication embargo, i.e., not to publish anything until a specified date and time, usually coincident with online publication of the journal's new issue. Journals with press packages include these:

Note that both PNAS and the Science family of journals distribute their press packages and press releases via EurekAlert.

The publishers of other journals sometimes issue press releases about articles in their latest issues. Among them are these:

Press Releases from Institutions

Most funding agencies, observatories, universities, national laboratories, other research institutions, and science-related foundations allow journalists and others to sign up to receive press releases by email and/or RSS. Despite its length the following list is not comprehensive, but it includes the sources of the vast majority of press releases distributed by the AAS in recent years. These links point to pages where you can sign up for press releases, or to media contacts whom you can ask to add your email address to their press list, or to collections of press releases. A good way to identify a media contact at an organization that doesn't otherwise list their media contacts is to look at a recent press release.

Press Release Headlines & Links

Even with the AAS no longer forwarding other institutions' press releases by email, we will continue to post press-release headlines and links on our website and on Twitter.

AAS Nova

AAS Nova provides highlights of recent articles from the AAS journals — AJ, ApJ, ApJL, ApJS, PSJ, and RNAAS — to inform you about discoveries you might otherwise overlook. You can sign up on the site to be alerted by email every time a new post goes online.

What's Up in the Sky?

One of the most authoritative sources of news about upcoming sky events is Sky & Telescope magazine, founded in 1941 and, as of 2019, published by the AAS. The magazine is prepared well in advance of the month of issue, but the website is updated daily or as often as necessary to cover late-breaking news of celestial happenings. In addition to the magazine's website, we list a few other sites that feature reliable information about widely visible sky events.

Astronomy-Related Journals

Here's a list of the most important English-language journals that regularly publish research results in astronomy and related sciences. For nearly every astronomy-related press release that cites a research article as its source, that article comes from one of these journals.

Many of these journals — including the AAS journals (AJ, ApJ, ApJL, ApJS) provide free access to working journalists through EurekAlert. Science writers can get free access to others (e.g., Nature, Nature Astronomy) by registering with them directly. And some, including the AAS's Planetary Science Journal and the AAAS's Science Advances, are gold open access, i.e., freely available to all immediately upon publication.

Preprints & Telegrams

In the astronomical sciences, the place to go to find preprints of research articles is astro-ph (pronounced "astro-pee-aitch"), the astrophysics section of arXiv.org, often simply called "the archive."

There are also two telegram services that alert subscribers to newly discovered celestial transients, including comets and asteroids, nova and supernova explosions, variable-star outbursts, fast radio bursts and gamma-ray flares, and tidal disruption events.

Astronomy-Related Conferences

Every year's calendar is chock-full of astronomy-related conferences. The following links point to conference organizers (usually scientific membership associations) or to conference pages or listings. The AAS and most other scientific societies invite science writers to attend their conferences with complimentary press registration in order to encourage media coverage of their events.

If you have a correction or suggestion for this page, please email the AAS Press Officer.