The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘galaxies’

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! 🙂


Posted in education, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Evolution Education: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 11, 2010

In the ongoing fight to promote good science education in the United States, sometimes I think it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of thing.  The U.S. has some of the best universities in the world, and we do a huge amount of cutting edge scientific research in a variety of fields – indeed, our federal budget for scientific research dwarfs that of other nations.  Yet, at the same time, there is a very dedicated creationist movement in this nation which seeks to tear down any kind of science they view as contrary to their fundamentalist religious views. And they’re willing to destroy the scientific education of the country’s young people in the process.

Case in point, here are two recent stories outlining this dichotomy:

1. Hubble Space Telescope shows earliest photo of the universe – This is an example of what I was referencing as the best the U.S. has to offer in terms of cutting edge science.  The HST has generated an optical photograph of the early universe, a mere 600 million years after the big bang (which is very soon after the big bang, since the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years old).  The photograph shows evidence of the formation of the earliest galaxies in our universe, and it adds yet another layer to our knowledge of cosmic evolution and how the first stars & galaxies formed.  Indeed, it is hard not to be awestruck when contemplating the full implications of such a scientific discovery – here’s the photo…

When understood in the full context of the big bang, the expansion & evolution of our universe, the formation of our own solar system, and the evolution of life on Earth, this is an amazing thing!  As the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “We are star stuff – a way for the cosmos to contemplate itself.”

I am eagerly sharing this new information with my colleagues, students, and friends & family.  Hopefully, this new discovery will be added to the wealth of knowledge in our public schools’ science curriculum and more students in the future will learn about it.

Alas, sadly, this leads me to my second point…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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