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Science live, tweeted by a killer of Pluto

mikebrown_small.jpgOpen notebook science, in which scientists post their data publicly as fast as they collect it, is taking a fresh turn with the release of results in real time via Twitter. On 11 June, astronomer Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena sparked huge interest by live-tweeting his observations of a transit of dwarf planet Haumea by its moon, Namaka.

Brown was at the 4-meter William Herschel telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands, when he released multiple plots showing in real time how Haumea dimmed as Namaka passed in front. “The observations were just spectacular,” he says.

Brown tweets under the twitter name @plutokiller, inspired by his role in discovering the dwarf planet Eris. The discovery triggered a debate over the status of Pluto and its 2006 demotion by the International Astronomical Union from planet to dwarf planet.

He admits that his decision to release observations of Haumea in real time made some colleagues uncomfortable, both because of the probability that he might have incorrectly predicted the transit – and so have nothing to report – and because of the possibility that others might misinterpret the data. But he thinks those risks were worth it. “I just think it’s fun to get people excited about how astronomy works.”

In that spirit, we’ve decided to hold a Twitter Q&A with Brown about his observations of Haumea – which were surprising in several respects – and about the phenomenon of livetweeting science, on Thursday June 16, at 6pm UK time (6pm BST, 1pm EST, 10am PDT).

Updated 16 June: Edited Twitter Q&A

Image: Mike Brown


  1. Report this comment

    leenicole said:

    Well, look at what technology can do. I think having people get interested back in things like astronomy (even if it’s through twitter) is better than having them play on the PS3 all day.

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