Categories: Observing

A New Way to do Science? Live-Tweeting Observations of Haumea

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Back when I first started using Twitter in 2008, I never would have guessed this social media outlet could be used as a conduit for engaging the public about science. But it is facilitating open science in several ways. For example, if you follow Mike Brown on Twitter (@plutokiller) you may have seen a flurry of Tweets from him last weekend as he live-Tweeted his observations of a transit of dwarf planet Haumea by its moon, Namaka. While Brown was at the 4-meter William Herschel telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands, he explained the process and released multiple plots showing in real time how Haumea dimmed as Namaka passed in front. “This event was particularly live-tweet friendly,” he said on Thursday during a Q&A (again on Twitter) about how he shared his observations live. “We’d know a clear result instantly. Given the chance, I will def[intely] do it again!”

The observations were a success and “spectacular,” Brown said, but it was a little risky in that the transit wasn’t exactly a sure thing, and he might have suddenly — and publicly — had to report that he and his team had incorrectly predicted the transit. But it worked out – after a little hitch – and Brown said that live Tweeting the event gave people a chance to see how science really works in real time. “Normally people would just see the finished paper… the fun part of live tweeting the event was that people could follow as the data came in and hypotheses changed.” (The initial data was much different than expected).

You can see the stream of data as it arrived archived on Brown’s Twitpic page:

“One main reason to watch transit was to measure size & shape of Haumea, since it is so weird,” Brown Tweeted, and said that he’ll be spending the summer analyzing the data he got during the transit to learn more about the football-shaped, spinning dwarf planet.

If you missed the live-Tweeting, you can look back at Brown’s Twitter page), and Nature Blogs has archived the Tweeted Q&A the blog sponsored with Brown on Thursday, June 16, 2011.

It’s science in action.

You can follow Universe Today senior editor Nancy Atkinson on Twitter: @Nancy_A. Follow Universe Today for the latest space and astronomy news on Twitter @universetoday and on Facebook.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

View Comments

  • That is sort of an odd video. It appears to be showing a shadow across the dwarf planet. Is this a transit as would be seen on this planet?

    LC

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