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Twitter Helps Astronomers Zero-In On M51 Supernova 55

Posted by samzenpus
from the 140-rads-or-less dept.
astroengine writes "A tweet about last week's M51 (the 'Whirlpool Galaxy') 14-magnitude bright stellar explosion was picked up by University of California, Berkeley, astronomers... who just so happened to be enjoying some observing time on one of Keck Observatory's monster telescopes. Although the weather wasn't perfect, the Berkeley team were able to quickly observe a spectrum from the M51 brightening to quickly confirm that it was a Type II supernova — the core collapse of a massive star, some 8 times the mass of the sun. 'This is the first time that we've been alerted via a tweet,' Alex Filippenko, lead astronomer of the UC Berkeley team, told Discovery News."
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Twitter Helps Astronomers Zero-In On M51 Supernova

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm glad Twitter was invented. Remember the dark days when we couldn't communicate with other people using text?

  • How exactly is this particular case different from the one where another technology (like e-mail, telephone, carrier pigeon...) would have been used?

    • by xMrFishx (1956084)
      Probably data path propagation, where the former three are mostly one to one (mailing lists are one to a finite number) where as twitter messages are one to many (larger finite number - towards infinity). I don't really know how to describe that further, but you know what I mean. It's not magic, just slightly different.
      • by BitZtream (692029)

        Fine, usenet then.

        Or if you really want to get technical ...

        Twitter is just a blog where your posts are limited to a ridiculously stupid small post length limit, both are just web pages.

        • by xMrFishx (1956084)
          Oh, yes forums are essentially, twitter I guess, just with less publicity. I just mentioned it in that way for the technologies listed (email, camels, cups and string) but your point stands, of course.
        • by Graymalkin (13732) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @08:22PM (#36382232)

          I'm no fan of Twitter in general as there's an enormous signal to noise ratio but for people that use it it's a convenient service. These astronomers could have set up a network of RSS feeds where events get posted and diligently check them. They could have posted to Usenet and hoped the message propagated fast enough to be useful.

          Instead they had Twitter accounts set up so they could send a message by whatever cell phone they had in their pocket at the time and all their followers could pick up on it. They could also just post a message with a hash tag which is a home-grown taxonomy for tweets. Joe Amateurastronomer could have used the #newsupernovas hash tag which professional astronomers might follow. They then turn their nice high powered telescopes and get a spectrum of the event. Astronomers on mountain top observatories with cellular signals but not necessarily reliable internet connections can still receive and send Twitter messages.

          The downside to setting up a network of RSS feeds is it's a top-down organization. Astronomers are only going to check the feeds in the "official" list as there's no way Joe Amateurastronomer will get a professional astronomer to look at their feed. With Usenet messages propagate slowly anymore, likely too slow to be useful in this particular situation. That of course assumes astronomers bother to read and post to Usenet groups as so many have been overrun with spam and general crap postings. Few people are willing to run their own network of Usenet servers, they might as well just use more readily (and freely) available web-based systems.

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        where the former three are mostly one to one (mailing lists are one to a finite number) where as twitter messages are one to many (larger finite number - towards infinity).

        Rather more importantly, email and web pages (blogs etc) are generally "pull" services, where the user needs to make some action to "pull" the data towards them, whereas Twitter works as a "push" channel with the data being pushed out to people who have elected to have that data pushed at them (in some way).

        I guess that things like RSS

    • by skids (119237)

      Because it is Twitter! As we know, anything that involves tweets is instantly newsworthy!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is Twitter paying for the slashvertisements? Or are you also going to run stories about how someone found about about something "via phpBB" or "via Mrs. Jones the hairdresser", and so on?

  • Priorities? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eepok (545733) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @08:10PM (#36382142) Homepage

    Why in the world is the observation of supernova the secondary topic in this article? How is the use of Twitter for simple communication more important to the explosion of a star 8 times the mass of our sun?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Shag (3737)

      Well, pretty much any night of the year, professional astronomers are observing this kind of supernova, so that part is not (to those of us in the field) particularly newsworthy. ;)

    • Why in the world is the observation of supernova the secondary topic in this article? How is the use of Twitter for simple communication more important to the explosion of a star 8 times the mass of our sun?

      Because Supernovae Type II are extremely common.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @08:22PM (#36382226) Homepage

    So the bad news is that this has to do with Twitter. The good news is that the star which went nova wasn't Betelgeuse.

    (Ok, yeah, I know that most likely under current models, Betelgeuse going nova won't be that bad for Earth. However, this joke is slightly justified in that last supernova that was visible from Earth 1987A wasn't even a star that we expected to nova. And the neutron star that should be in the remnant still hasn't been found. There's a lot we don't understand about how stars die.)

    • So the bad news is that this has to do with Twitter. The good news is that the star which went nova wasn't Betelgeuse

      How is that good news? It would be awesome to see. Once in a lifetime photo op.

    • by Urkki (668283)

      The good news is that the star which went nova wasn't Betelgeuse.

      (Ok, yeah, I know that most likely under current models, Betelgeuse going nova won't be that bad for Earth. However, this joke is slightly justified in that last supernova that was visible from Earth 1987A wasn't even a star that we expected to nova.

      To nitpick, "nova" and "supernova" are different, separate things, one is not a subclass of the other. Nova is specifically just a runaway fusion reaction (read: nuclear explosion) of hydrogen that has accumulated on the surface of a white dwarf star. Supernova is entire start exploding due to it's core collapsing, for differrent reasons for different types of supernova.

  • The summary might have mentioned that the tweet resulted from: "It all began on May 31, when French amateur astronomer Amedee Riou detected...." etc.

    So several amateurs detected a supernova before the pro's and the pro's heard about it by Twitter? Well that could be one story but as I recall Riou reported the suspected supernova directly to professional astronomers... if so then what exactly is the significance of the later tweet? That some astronomers have crappy official channels and had to find out so
    • Re:Better summary? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by east coast (590680) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @10:31PM (#36383156)
      I know Tom Reiland as we are fellow members of the same astronomy club and he's the director of the observatory I go to. I was there the night he noticed this but had left early. I was back the next night and got a chance to observe the SN. To the best of my knowledge he didn't use Twitter at any point with this discovery but I will have to ask him and see what he has to say.

      Seem like they should be a bit embarrassed to have to have found out about it by Twitter.

      Why? I think it's fantastic that there is still a community in a science like this. Isn't the idea behind all of these machines and networks suppose to be exactly what happened here? If not why are we doing it? What would you have us be doing with this technology? Twitter is a great platform for exactly this kind of communication. In the area of supernova, waiting for the IAU to come out with a release would be a waste of time. It is important to get as many eyes and CCDs on this kind of thing as quickly as possible. Damn the whole "I'm a professional, thus I only do things one way" culture.

      Instead of belittling professionals for using the tools of the public maybe we'd better spend out time helping these cultures come together. Obviously we have something to gain from both sides. Why shit on one for taking advantage?
      • Hmmm touched a nerve there. My point was that professionals shouldn't be relying on social networking tools to disseminate important time critical information. As a back up, sure, fine. As primary means? No, I don't think so.

        As soon as one reputable organization is informed, and perhaps attempts verification if that is possible, then I would suggest things like phones (and or phone trees), email mailing lists, SMS text messages, ICQ etc all organized so that professionals who want to be notified of certai
        • Touched a nerve? No. Lacked vision? Yes. Skirted my questions? Yes.

          I would suggest things like phones (and or phone trees), email mailing lists, SMS text messages, ICQ etc all organized so that professionals who want to be notified of certain events get notified in the most timely and secure (as in reliable and as in no practical joking) way possible...

          Why shouldn't Twitter be allowed? Email, SMS and ICQ can't be hacked like Twitter? Tell me why these channels are considered legitimate but Twitter isn't
          • Touched a nerve? No. Lacked vision? Yes. Skirted my questions? Yes.

            ok obviously you are looking for a fight; sorry I'm not looking for one. One correction - I never said Twitter shouldn't be allowed.

            You are entitled to your opinion as I am to mine.

  • by scapermoya (769847) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @09:09PM (#36382554) Homepage
    this is only getting media attention because twitter is "hip" these days. supernova hunters don't care how they get tipped off about a new burst, and all kinds of avenues result in rapid assessments. i've heard of text messages, emails, you name it. we have a system for rapidly alerting the supernova community based around email, i doubt that twitter will replace it.

    the interesting and cool thing about this is that alex happened to be at keck when the news came through, which allowed him to quickly point the monster scope at m51. supernova usually last for months and months, but it is rare for us to get such early data with such powerful machines. it can only really happen randomly.
    • by Shag (3737) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @02:02AM (#36384324) Homepage

      (The one up on the hill.)

      Early data on stuff from Keck, Gemini or Subaru is rare, yeah, unless you have a bunch of Target-of-Opportunity time or can persuade people to take a few shots for you during their programs. But even on Mauna Kea, there are lesser (but still "huge" to most people) scopes where time's easier to get, so when your survey pipeline (from KAIT or PTF or QUEST or whatever you want) throws you a new target, you don't have to wait more than a couple nights before going after it.

      We [lbl.gov] have somewhere around 40% of the time on the 2.2-meter [hawaii.edu] on Mauna Kea, which is our usual tool for going after SNe, although of course some of the bigger names in the collaboration (Perlmutter, Aldering) get time on Keck as well.

      If there hadn't been a lightning strike at the 2.2-m during last weekend's snow-and-lightning storm, I would be observing the M51 supernova this evening (and not for the first time). Pesky lightning! :(

  • Odd man out (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DigiShaman (671371)

    Ok, I give up. I admit, I don't have Twitter account, nor do I plan on getting one. Could someone - for the love of God - tell me what's so damn special about Twitter that it's worth using? The whole concept of "Tweeting" sounds like a bunch of dogs barking at the moon and sniffing their own butt.

    • Imagine an RSS reader that would automatically summarize the blog posts of a few dozen of your friends into two lines each. You'd have time to look at that. Except that technology doesn't exist yet, so they invented microblogging. Be concise, and link if you have to .

      I also feed my IM status, my Facebook status, my LinkedIn status, etc. off of my Twitter feed, so it serves a second role as a status centralizer for the user.

      If you can't imagine why you'd want to keep up with what a few dozen interesting

    • Twitter is awesome because it combines the immediacy of lurking in an IRC server along with the permanence of IRC chat logs, with the exclusivity and privacy of a proprietary public web service, without all that needless distributed redundancy or openness! Best of all, it's available for free to everyone* -- even the most computer illiterate website visitor can use it!
      * everyone except advertizers or developers who wish to aggregate its data.

      Twitter is similar to IRC, except it's accessible via a web page (like mibbit, or webchat.freenode). Essentially: everyone gets their own IRC channel, and Twitter keeps a massive global chat log. To "follow" someone is to /j [roomname]. Each room is permanently OPd by only one user, and no one can have /mode +v except the op. To have a conversation people have to /join each other's rooms or send /privmsg (dm) to each other.

      Twitter is also similar to IRC in that the implementers agree the system isn't quite as efficient as it should be, and service errors can occur. Except that when a net-split happens (fail-whale), no one can use Twitter whereas some IRC users may be temporarily disconnected, but can still talk.

      Twitter is so much better than IRC, because unlike IRC (or usenet, or a BBS / forum), you are limited to 140 characters, and there is a simple API for advertisers to search a single common database for customer interests and trends. The 140 character limit is neat because it penalizes pompous-assholes that like to use big words like "monosyllabic", and this also promotes URL masking (shortening), so you never know if a link is goatse or not... More importantly the character limit restricts everyone to the lowest common denominator: people sending messages via mobile phones (you know, the dumb phones that don't have an IRC client or Internet capabilities). With Twitter: Now there's no-excuse not to be sharing your most insightful quips with the world at all times!

      Twitter is amazing for famous people because they can point to the number of people idling in their chat room and say, "Look at how much marketing potential I have!" even while most people are AFK.

      Also, (now, this is the most important difference) Twitter is better because anyone can run their own IRC node and start their own social network, but only Twitter can host Twitter!

    • by Hadlock (143607)

      Twitter is asynchronous IRC for journalists with a low barrier of entry. No wonder they love talking about it.

      For marketing types, it fits a niche somewhere between word of mouth and press releases for informing customers, without being so formal as to attract the attention of financial houses.

      And for tweens it allows them to express their every "individual" thought to their friends in real time.

      I don't use it except to keep track of a few things like the whitehouse feed and one or t

  • Getting tweets about suns explodin' is a normal occurrence.

  • Check out my weiner! 8===D

  • by VincenzoRomano (881055) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @03:19AM (#36384708) Homepage Journal
    Any communication medium would have been enough to "help"!
    From carrier pigeons and smoke signals to telephones and BBSes up to email, mailing lists, web sites and blogs ...
    This claim about twitter should read instead "internet". But then the article would loose a lot ofits glamorous taste, I fear!

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