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Twitter Helps Astronomers Zero-In On M51 Supernova 55

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 on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:49PM (#36381980)

    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?

  • 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.

  • Odd man out (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @09:26PM (#36382682) Homepage

    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.

  • 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?

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982