Keep watching the skies!
One of the things that constantly amazes me about astronomy is how much we can learn from so little. The only information we get from stars and galaxies is the light they give off. Whether this light comes in the form of visible light, infrared radiation, radio waves, x-rays, and so on – it’s still just light. We can’t go see these galaxies ourselves, even by robotic probes. We can’t bring samples back. We can’t even get a different view of the galaxy – we are stuck here on Earth, watching from one location. And if something in the sky changes – as it does constantly, sometimes dramatically – we can’t say “hey, I missed that. Do it again!”
Given these constraints, it is sometimes amazing to me that we learn anything at all. But we have learned so much about the sky – everything from our planet’s place in the Solar System to the origin of the universe!
Since all our knowledge of astronomy is gained by looking, it makes sense that we should look as hard as we can. That’s the premise of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which you’ve heard a lot about, since it’s the source of all the images you see on Galaxy Zoo. The Sloan used a 2.5-meter telescope in New Mexico, USA to look up at the sky every clear night for five years. Its goal: to use these observations to make a map of the universe.
The more we look at the sky, the more likely we are to see something interesting. That’s the guiding principle of astronomy, of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and now of Galaxy Zoo.
Many of you are now scanning through SDSS images, classifying galaxies by shape. This is a critically important thing to do, but computers find it difficult, so it takes people watching carefully. And, as we have all seen with the Voorwerp (described here once, twice, three times), the more you look, the more you see.
And starting in 2013, the new Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will watch the sky as never before, viewing the entire sky at a higher resolution than the SDSS – every four nights.
It’s an exciting time to be involved with astronomy, and we’re glad that Galaxy Zoo has been a part of that. Keep looking up!