Saturday, June 04, 2005

short GRBs - what happened

So, May 9th I arrive early in the office, and see there was a GRB just after midnight;
it was a classic short hard burst (~ 30-50 msecs), Swift caught it and caught an associated x-ray transient (9 - 11 photons over a period of few minutes, depending on how you count), and localised it to within about 10 arcseconds (that is a small area of the sky).
Nifty; early followups showed a bright elliptical at low redshift right next to the x-ray error circle, and faint blue dot that might have been an optical counterpart (but wasn't). Later imaging showed a lot of faint blue crap, the sort of high redshift star forming galaxies you'll see anywhere on the sky with deep enough imaging.

Interesting: I blogged it, just for fun - I was not working on GRBs but I had in the distant past, and some of my former collaborators were involved. I also e-mailed "heads up" notices to a few people, letting them know something interesting was up and what the summary was (ie "go read my blog").

Then I got calls/e-mails from reporters... ones I had talked to before about different astro news, and they basically wanted to know: was this interesting? why was it interesting? was I doing it? and who should they talk to?
So I told them - yes, because, no and these people (including specifically Swift's PAO).

Fun - oh, and I e-mailed people and warned them the press was going to be looking for them.

Then NASA called, they were trying to put together a hasty press conference, basically to sell the event and to some extent to manage the news - would I come in as the "outside, unaffiliated pundit"? I was going to be in DC anyway, and had read up on it, so sure why not.
This also had the effect of shutting me up - no more talking or commenting, not on public info; not on confidential info I then started receiving. Them's the rules, you get involved in formal events, you go under embargo.

Then the press conference was cancelled, the optical counterpart was not confirmed, which clouded the snap theorising of association with the low redshift galaxy (I still think that is the case, but the evidence is blurrier). And, the press was already on it, so why have a conference? Some NASA folks were miffed, they like to control these things, but there is a fundamental problem - all Swift data is immediately public. And the essential info goes out as "GCN telegrams" - emails really - and is on a public website and is generally explicitly citable!
And there are smart knowledgable science reporters out there, who know to scan the GCN/IAUC/MPEC telegrams and look at arXiv everyday (and the helpful blogs which now highlight exciting preprints).
So the oldstyle manages press conferences are in danger of being, shall we say, less prevalent for the really hot news.

Anyway, then the real surprise: for these 3-4 days I had no involvement with the actual science - I have no association with Swift, I am not part of any of the pre-arranged collaborations which followup on GRBs (I have been in the past but am not currently - it is a thankless task, and people with young children should not be on "drop everything no matter what the time and go to work").

But, my kibbitzing, in particular on stuff going back to Bloom etal 1999, had added up to "science" and all of a sudden one of the competing groups working on this had roped me in as a co-author. Tricky. Not the group with significant membership of colleagues from my own institution - in fact after I got back from DC I had to avoid them to avoid any perception of poaching their thoughts, or leaking our work.

Anyway, paper is out as preprint - see below - and it was presented at an AAS press conference at the Mineapolis summer meeting earlier this week.

Press release + material is below. The slides are pretty. Go look (or I'll inline them someday soonish).

UCB press release


Lesson from all of this: don't do science press releases the week Deep Throat's identity is released...


Post a Comment

<< Home