The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for March 7th, 2011

Galaxy Zoo and Citizen Astronomy

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 7, 2011

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to do some really awesome educational outreach work with Dr. Pamela Gay: skeptic, astronomer and co-host of the popular Astronomy Cast podcast (and one of the most awesome people I know).  During the outreach event, Pamela made use of a wonderful online tool called Galaxy Zoo to emphasize that in today’s age of the Internet, ordinary people can engage in “citizen astronomy” quite easily.  Since there are a limited number of professional astronomers in the world, and there is far too much astronomical data for them to comb through easily, what is needed is fresh eyes… lots of fresh eyes.

By allowing everyday citizens – teachers, students, and just plain old curious folks – to have access to the vast databases of galactic imagery (from the Hubble Space Telescope) and some simple protocols for classification, people can have a great impact on the science of astronomy.  In fact, sometimes this leads to some pretty amazing discoveries, such as the anomaly called Hanny’s Voorwerp…

The object, now referred to as a “voorwerp”, is about the size of our Milky Way galaxy and has a huge central hole over 16,000 light years across. The voorwerp is false colored green, a standard color to represent the presence of several luminous emission lines of glowing oxygen. It has been shown to be at the same distance from Earth as the adjacent galaxy, both about 650 million light-years away. Image source: Wikipedia

If you’re interested, check out Galaxy Zoo or any of the related “citizen astronomy” tools available at the Zooniverse Project, and pass it along! 🙂

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