"Hand"ling Information in Today's World

We've been publicizing and distributing Chandra results for nearly ten years now. One interesting trend we've watched over this time is how much things have changed in how people get their information. Back in the day, we would write a press release – sometimes even printing on paper! – and this would go to science reporters, who, in turn, would write articles for their newspapers, radio programs, or TV reports. The public would generally learn about our results by seeing them through these outlets.

Over the years, we've shifted to a completely electronic distribution of news and information like everybody else. While email and websites have been the standard for many years now, the social networking and new media seem to continue to push the evolution of how people get information. These days, our information is just as likely to be read directly by the public instead of being filtered through the media. And it seems like the flow of information is no longer a one-way stream from us to the media to the public. Instead, today's world of information is apparently one of free-flowing conversation with many voices having an ongoing dialogue.

This became most apparent to us with the image we released earlier this month. On April 3rd, we put out PSR B1509-58 as part of our segment on the "Around the World in 80 Telescopes" webcast. The text for the caption noted that there was a hand-like shape in the pulsar wind nebula's structure. The image got posted to a couple of astronomy-related websites in the following days and we thought we had seen this image's moment come and go.
PSR B1509-58

And then the blogosphere noticed it. Almost instantaneously there were references to this image showing the "hand of God." Astronomy has seen
Face on Mars and Eye of God
this before - the face on Mars, the "eye of God" nebula, etc. But what's interesting to us is that because of the chatter on these blogs and websites, the so-called mainstream media started taking a look. So some ten days or so - nearly a lifetime in a news cycle -- after we originally put this image out, media such as CNN, MSNBC.com, and the New York Daily News ran stories about the image.

As far as we can tell, this is the first time that the buzz about a Chandra image has worked this way. As the world of information continues to change, we'll do our best to change with it. The forms of the information may have shifted over the years, but we promise that the quality and accuracy of the information we put out about Chandra and X-ray astronomy won't.

-Megan Watzke

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