Monday, May 05, 2008

When your work is almost as exciting as ketchup...

A bottle of ketchup
Image Source: H. J. Heinz Company
We knew that our press release from last week was not the most earth-shaking astronomy news ever. We put the story out there in the hopes that someone would find it interesting, and to advertise some of the new findings that your tax dollars are helping to pay for. It being the first press release I was directly involved with, I have done some Googling of the news to see where our story ended up.

Our story was picked up by Discovery Channel News, who even linked to it from the Discovery Channel's home page for a time. That was cool. And some other space blogs picked it up, as well as several foreign news aggregators (news outlets that seem to automatically or semi-automatically pick up news stories and publish them; since the stories are all identical to our press release, I'm not sure a human actually looked at them).

I was kind of hoping that a few astronomy news sources might mention our story. I often link to and talk about stories in, Sky and Telescope magazine, and Astronomy magazine, so I kept an eye out there. Nothing. Which is their right, and, as I said, our story is an interesting sidelight of astronomy research, and probably not the most Earth-shaking discovery of the year.

However, I did notice some of the stories that got posted around the same time, and they serve to just about completely burst our bubble. ran a story on how some data from an experiment related to ketchup physics was recovered from the debris of the Space Shuttle Columbia. While I fully admit that this is an amazing data recovery and that the Columbia disaster remains far more newsworthy than anything I've done, ketchup?!!

Some other white dwarf news also beat us out. A story on a supercomputer that will study exploding white dwarfs got some press, too. The computer has only been built; it doesn't have results yet. So, the promise of what may eventually be crucial studies of white dwarf explosions beat out our real data.

Oh well. In the grand scheme of things, this doesn't matter. But maybe next time we should put a little more shine on our work. Like promising to lift the federal white dwarf tax for the summer, or pointing out how terrorists could wreak havoc with a cube of white dwarf material (never mind that they couldn't obtain it), or speculating on how a white dwarf superdelegate might vote for president (probably for the most degenerate candidate).

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