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Twitter Helps Astronomers Zero-In On M51 Supernova

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the 140-rads-or-less dept.

Space 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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55 comments

I doubt it (2)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | more than 3 years ago | (#36381904)

The laws of quantum entanglement mean that the electrons coming from hte supernova will be deflected by the twats when they "observe" them and tweet about it -- so this may end up polluting the astronomical signal with so much noise that the supernova's blast will be redirected into another dimesion. Jus another example of how the internet is ruining everything and making everyone stupoider, which is why I never use the internet any more ad neither swhould you!!

Yeah, Twitter did this (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36381952)

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

Re:Yeah, Twitter did this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36386198)

Hey, if it wasn't for Twatter, Anthony Weinerbreath's political career wouldn't be on life-support right now. If he'd just sent a pic of his junk via MMS, it likely would have only gone to one person as intended and we would have no clue that yet another Congressman is a flaming douchebag.

Newsflash: Kid grows up with horrible last name and decides to take his pain out on the world by becoming a liberal.

Magical solves everything... (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 3 years ago | (#36381954)

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

Re:Magical solves everything... (1)

xMrFishx (1956084) | more than 3 years ago | (#36382000)

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.

Re:Magical solves everything... (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36382028)

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.

Re:Magical solves everything... (1)

xMrFishx (1956084) | more than 3 years ago | (#36382058)

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.

Re:Magical solves everything... (3, Insightful)

Graymalkin (13732) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Magical solves everything... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36382480)

Yea except if you RTFA, "This is the first time that we've been alerted via a tweet," said Filippenko. "We've been alerted many times via email, and in a sense, I was alerted via an email message, but it was from a colleague who was alerted through a tweet."

So yea twitter is great and all, but this guy at the telescope was alerted by good ole email.

I'll leave my post there and inconclusive as you felt inclined to do.

Re:Magical solves everything... (1)

troon (724114) | more than 3 years ago | (#36384560)

No, there's a low signal-to-noise ratio.

Re:Magical solves everything... (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 3 years ago | (#36409994)

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 and Atom feeds blur the distinction. But I can't really give a large enough shit to find out in detail. And I'm considering whether to unsubscribe from Twitter because the three tiny firehoses I sip from are already far too distracting.

Another significant distinction is that Twitter has a nearly universal reach (potentially) ; the number of mobile phones (and therefore SMS recipients) is rapidly approaching the planet's population. Not an infinite number, but large enough.

Re:Magical solves everything... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36382018)

It's by subscription so you find out whether the sender of the message intended it for you or not, and by its popularity the ratio of the broadcast is large. It could have been RSS or something else, but its showing trends in technology not what could have been. Besides supernovas are cool.

Re:Magical solves everything... (1)

skids (119237) | more than 3 years ago | (#36387814)

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

Are they paying, at least? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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?

Priorities? (3, Interesting)

eepok (545733) | more than 3 years ago | (#36382142)

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:Priorities? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36382162)

Because that's what Twitter is all about: running your mouth off endlessly until one tweet in a billion achieves something, and then Twitter giving itself an award and claiming that it's changing the world.

Re:Priorities? (1, Informative)

Shag (3737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36384346)

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. ;)

Re:Priorities? (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 3 years ago | (#36384380)

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.

Re:Priorities? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36384714)

Whereas tweets are not

Re:Priorities? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36384932)

Stars explode all the time.

OMG (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36382210)

OMG, Twitter is just SOOOO amazing!! Like, wow, how did ugly hairless monkeys like us even survive without it?! I just quit college, cuz, like, math and shit is just sooo booorrring (snore), but I still tweet! I twit and tweet and twat and twittle de do da, whooo hooo! I can do ANYTHING with twitter! It's like zombo.com [zombo.com] , only better! Now I'm going to go tweet about this at my astronomy professor, who's such a dweeb he doesn't even know what twitter is ... AND he's such a dork he wouldn't even raise my grade when I offered him a blow job. What a dumb ass.

Re:OMG (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36386340)

Anthony Weiner, is that you?

Re:OMG (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36392274)

Nope. Meagan Broussard. Weiner is straight. Hahaaha. Get it? Weiner is straight?

Bad news and good news (2)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 3 years ago | (#36382226)

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.)

Re:Bad news and good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36382272)

Hmm... but Chandra can see it... There's a story on PhysOrg about SN 1987A, and one of the comments that was there earlier ref'd Casseiopia A. On Wikipedia for Cass A, they have a composite image (Spitzer, Hubble, Chandra), and the remnant is imaged by Chandra...

Re:Bad news and good news (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | more than 3 years ago | (#36383254)

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.

Re:Bad news and good news (2)

Urkki (668283) | more than 3 years ago | (#36384052)

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.

Better summary? (1)

Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36382246)

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 something of interest form social media instead of being notified through proper/official/established channels? Seem like they should be a bit embarrassed to have to have found out about it by Twitter.

Re:Better summary? (3, Insightful)

east coast (590680) | more than 3 years ago | (#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?

Re:Better summary? (1)

Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36383346)

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 certain events get notified in the most timely and secure (as in reliable and as in no practical joking) way possible...

Re:Better summary? (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 3 years ago | (#36383420)

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?

Re:Better summary? (1)

Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36383542)

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.

Can we quit with the breathless Twitter worship? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36382304)

Why is this news? HOW is this news? Astronomy has been happening on the internet since it was the Arpanet. And boy howdy, we had instantaneous communication through this new-fangled thingy called e-mail? You know, it's like the US Postal service...but on a computer! It's amazing! And it's not limited to a worthless 140 characters either. And not prone to randomly going titsup for no reason and showing us that stupid whale.

I mean I know the idiot mainstream media is utterly obsessed with the stupidity that is Twitter but here on Slashdot? Come ON guys, I thought we knew better? I could carry on a better conversation using AOL's instant messenger. ON AOL. Twitter is a limited, worthless waste of time. We used to laugh and say "the internet routes around stupidity" but I guess it doesn't...it pumps it all through twitter.com until the stupid whale appears and we all just keep clicking reload.

I don't recall this kind of breathless reporting about scientific discussion on USENET back when it wasn't flooded with spam. Imagine that: "Scientist Alexander Abian makes breakthrough: Time has Mass!" "Left-wing Pundit John_-_Winston: Aliens are coming!" "Serdar Argic charges US Thanksgiving Turkey with genocide!"

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former member of filippenko's team (3, Interesting)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36382554)

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.

Current member of the 'other' Berkeley team :) (3, Informative)

Shag (3737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36384324)

(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 (1, Insightful)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 3 years ago | (#36382682)

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:Odd man out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36383068)

Why is it that every time Twitter is mentioned that someone here has to act like the elder statesman that can't figure out social networking? Is it really that hard of a concept how this technology works and what makes it worthwhile? I mean, if you honestly don't understand the technology that's one thing but if you're just speaking shit to get people to pay attention to you that's just plainly pathetic. Most of you are on the plainly pathetic end of the spectrum.

Sure. I know, you're sick of hearing about what Tom Cruise or Justin Beiber had going on in their Twitter. I understand and agree 100%. For that reason I don't subscribe to their feeds. Just like I don't give a shit what is on HGTV so I don't turn it on to find out and bitch about it being something I don't want to watch in the first place. Don't want to join Twitter or subscribe to a Twitter feed? Fan-fucking-tastic. Don't do it. It's that fucking simple.

Twitter is whatever you make of it, just like most other technology.

Re:Odd man out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36387612)

[..] but if you're just speaking shit to get people to pay attention to you that's just plainly pathetic. Most of you are on the plainly pathetic end of the spectrum.

Congratulations! Now you have described exactly what twitter is mostly used for.

Re:Odd man out (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 3 years ago | (#36387940)

Is it really that hard of a concept how this technology works and what makes it worthwhile?

No one has a hard time figuring out how the technology of twitter works. Many are stuck, however, on the question of what makes it worthwhile.

Besides... I'm a marketing guy, and can tell you that while most online channels are continuing to climb, twitter has peaked and is slowly fading. I don't expect to hear about it five years from now.

Re:Odd man out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36388192)

ok,

no elder statesman.

twit sucks donkey balls.

its proprietary, and shameless advertising, that reads like a bad movie news reel (the ones with spinning headlines) of something getting very successful in 30 seconds, with stupid headlines like this, only it is painfully in realtime. whats next? twit saves the world?

and many people here understand EXACTLY what kind of technology this locked down crap is, and essentially WHY they wont touch it. yet we still have to see stupid crap about how twit is doing, via slashvertizing. the general call here is 1. not what is thing you call twit, but wow, didnt expect this redarded crap to be on this site, and standards are really slipping here and 2 FUCK OFF with the ad as story angle--this means you too astroturfer.

so guess what I dont want to join, like you said, that simple, so fuck off and stop pimping this like your shit doesnt stink

if twit is tech as what people made of it, then the only real world example would be some drunk idiot dropping their "smart" phone into a very dirty toilet--no matter how water, piss, shit and idiot proof that phone is, it will NEVER be the same again.

Re:Odd man out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36394474)

Wow. You're a dumb cunt. LOLZZ!!!!onehundredeleven!!!! Was you're boyfriend fucking you in the ass so hard last night that you're in such a fucked up mood? I don't have these problems with twitter. Probably because I know how to use twitter. Have a nice day faggot.

Re:Odd man out (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 3 years ago | (#36383126)

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 people are doing, well, that's a separate issue.

Twitter -- Because newbs are users too! (5, Funny)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#36383164)

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!

Re:Twitter -- Because newbs are users too! (1)

ToasterMonkey (467067) | more than 3 years ago | (#36384222)

Please do AOL and Facebook next!

hate @ Internet

Re:Twitter -- Because newbs are users too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36387368)

Best funny-yet-true comment I've seen here for ages.

Thank you.

Re:Odd man out (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 3 years ago | (#36385886)

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 two programmers of games I play.

Re:Odd man out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36386382)

There's a few open-source programs that I follow where release notes get sent real-time over Twitter. That's pretty much all I use it for; a glorified RSS.

I love the future! (1)

Progman3K (515744) | more than 3 years ago | (#36382898)

Getting tweets about suns explodin' is a normal occurrence.

ZOMG gamma rays LOL (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 3 years ago | (#36383376)

Check out my weiner! 8===D

Why twitter? (2)

VincenzoRomano (881055) | more than 3 years ago | (#36384708)

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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Re:thanks (0)

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Freedom fries motherfucker!

hello (1)

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Wow... (0)

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