Twitter has helped astronomers get their first images of a new supernova in record time. The supernova was located in the M51 "Whirlpool" galaxy on May 31st, and requests through Twitter for amateur images of the phenomenon has generated enough response for scientists to be able to track the first moments of the event.
The supernova was first noticed by amateur astronomer Amedee Riou, who reported that he had found a new star. The images were confirmed by other amateur astronomers over the following days, before also being picked up by more official facilities like the Palomar Transient Factory.
Now, astronomers around the globe have begun to sift through their recent photographs of the M51 galaxy in the hopes of finding the earliest and clearest images of the supernova. Press releases and media invitations over the last few days have been sent out by various facilities to ask for any images that amateur astronomers may have been able to capture as well.
Amateur astronomers are becoming increasingly important to the science of astronomy as backyard telescopes get better and the ability of amateurs to peruse the night sky increases. Most scientific facilities and professional astronomers have embraced the involvement of amateurs in their field, looking to them to provide additional information on different systems and events.
It was only in January that another amateur astronomer, 10-year old Kathryn Aurora Gray of Canada, discovered a supernova in the galaxy known as UGC 3378. The discovery was verified by several other amateur astronomers around the world before being officially recognized by The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and announced to the worldwide media. She is currently the youngest person ever to have discovered a supernova.
An Irish amateur astronomer also discovered a supernova of his own in October of last year as well. David Grennan was using his own backyard observatory to peruse the skies when he made the discovery, in UGC 112. The phenomenon was subsequently named 2010 IK and was recognized as the first supernova to have been discovered by someone in Ireland.