Last week, it was confirmed that a type Ia supernova was exploding in M82, and this was then followed by an explosion on different social networks of astronomers. The initial discovery was a excellent demonstration of the usefulness of rooftop telescopes (and when was the last time something was discovered from an observatory in London?), but the really interesting process was watching astronomers share information and try to determine something about this supernova in realtime on twitter and facebook. Results were coming very quickly out on the two social media outlets where even some of the astronomical telegrams were citing them.
Of course, this was very exciting and it was interesting to learn things in almost real time. Along with the reports on the telegrams, it was interesting to learn about the potential for neutrino detections (almost none–but how do you cite a tweet about it?), lack of radio detection (who knew Type Ia’s had no radio emission?), and that this is probably the closest Type Ia in quite some time.
The astronomical telegram isn’t about to be replaced by the astronomical tweet (although it does have a twitter feed), but it does show the power and potential for doing science in the open. There is an opportunity for education, cooperation, and discussion that isn’t possible by the lonely hermit scientist.