The World of Galaxy Zoo – Part 2 of 2
Today’s post from Alice once again, this time talking about the first-ever Galaxy Zoo real-universe meetup. To share the photos from these meetups, I have created a free Flickr account for Galaxy Zoo. You can check out the photos as you read; links to individual photos are below.
Here is Alice:
I can’t remember who it was who thought of a Christmas party back in July, but the idea of actually meeting fellow classifiers stuck in my mind ever since. Chris and I hit on 2008 Astrofest as good venue, especially since some Zooites were likely to be going there anyway. I set up a thread to advertise it, and more than 20 people came, including (this still stuns me) four from abroad!
As ever, friendly Zooites jumped to ask questions, and then to help. Astrofest regulars described the lectures and exhibitions; web-savvy people put up maps and advice on buying tickets. I built up a database of everyone who expressed an interest and wrote updates as we finalised our plans. We amused ourselves thinking up ridiculous tannoy announcements (“Scaryitalian is looking for Fluffyporcupine” . . . “Would all members of the Zoo please meet at the watering hole” . . . “Would you please make your way down to the foyer where infinity is waiting” . . .).
How to recognise each other was also a problem to solve and of course an excuse for further hilarity. We set an exact time and place, and Geoff and Jules kindly made badges for everybody to wear. (By the way, if you do the same, please ask Zookeeper Phil if you want to use the Galaxy Zoo logo – we failed to think of that and then felt very guilty. Any SDSS images are OK, though.)
Apparently, some people’s friends and family were aghast. “What? You’re going out to dinner with people you met on the Internet? You’re crazy! They could be anybody!” Well, we could and we are! But it’s important to remember that if you’re unhappy in such a situation, you’re free to leave.
Actually, we had a lovely day. Within about twenty minutes of Astrofest’s doors opening, I had bumped into Geoff, Scaryitalian and Jules; by lunch time a cheerful gaggle were eating sandwiches outside; and by evening we were laughing companionably over our prior fears – that the people we’d chatted to online were the product of our lonely dreams, or would turn out to be insane and intimidating astronomy geeks. But nobody seemed like a stranger, because we’d all been being ourselves on the forum.
Astrofest itself was just as enjoyable and impressive as I remembered, with its stalls staffed by friendly enthusiasts and selling books, binoculars and pretty pictures. Sir Patrick Moore’s lecture and book-signing also added hugely to the big grins on our faces (photo). I asked him how his typewriter was doing; he told me it was still functioning, just about . . . Chris, any updates here? Then, we went out for an outdoor lunch (photo).
At 5.30 p.m. we had assembled as a group outside, phoning the last few stragglers and waving a “Galaxy Zoo Meeting Point poster” kindly provided by Jules. The only blot on the festivities was the absence of Zookeepers Chris and Kevin, who it would have been very exciting for us all to meet, but who had been called away at the last minute. Edd and Kate made it, though, and it was great to meet them. It was when we arrived at our venue that things began to get interesting.
If you are old enough to remember nativity plays before political correctness ordered their extermination, you’ll know that stars, children and innkeepers don’t always make for a happy formula. I’m a great believer in involving children in Galaxy Zoo. I’m training to be a teacher and I haven’t yet met a school pupil who has seen this site and not liked it. And as you know, it’s a strong policy of ours to keep the forum scrupulously family-friendly and educational too! Besides, I’ve lived in Spain and seen the beneficial effects of including young people in everything, rather than enclosing them in cotton wool capsules.
So I was keen to find a venue that would not throw us out because we were bringing along three extremely polite and interested young classifiers. Unfortunately, whoever had spoken to me when I booked the venue and thought the young people would be welcome was now due to get in big trouble with the manager. Meanwhile, out we went onto the pavement (photo) . . .
It didn’t really matter. Righteous anger plus excellent company only brought us closer together. We’d been on a classifying mission together for months anyway; now we had a “find a pub” one! One Zooite shook my hand and said: “Well, Alice, I don’t know how many years it is since I’ve been thrown out of a pub – I’m very proud to have had it happen, even by association. Thank you!”
Thanks to the speed and kindness of those who knew London well, we soon found an extremely noisy place which nonetheless did good food and wine, and merry conversation flowed on. As night fell and even a few stars began to appear over the streetlights, people began to trickle away amidst many hugs, smiles and appreciations of the excellent fun and company. Eventually, Infinity took us on a tour of Kensington, past Hyde Park and the Albert Hall, until we ended up drinking tea in a hotel that none of us were staying in. Hanny said it was the nicest cup of tea she’d ever drunk, and I certainly thought it was the nicest weekend I’d ever had!
As soon as we’d got home, we started reminiscing and rushed to post our photos, we knew our urgent priority was to have another one. So on Sunday 30th March, we had another lovely day in Greenwich. Geoff Roynon was the star of this one – his organisation was incredible, from pub research to group ticket buying to maintaining a database of everyone coming!
Fewer people could make it this time round, but we were delighted to meet Halibut and Thomas J. While the day lacked the dangerous glamour of Astrofest, it included excellent weather (photo), some very nice shows at the Planetarium, a walk through and a game of rounders in the park, tea at picnic tables, fish and chips by the Thames and food and chat in very carefully chosen pubs. Jules thoughtfully prepared an illustrated greeting for all Zooites who couldn’t make it (photo).
You can read more about both our gatherings, and any future ones (definite or dreamed-of) at the Galaxy Zoo Get-Together Index. It appears that UK meetings will take place roughly every six weeks, whenever there is a school holiday. If you have any ideas for venues or activities, please post them in the Dreams & Schemes sticky.
My main purpose of writing this was to encourage you to come along, or, if you live too far away, to organise a similar gathering yourself. Find out what astronomical events might be taking place near you, or if there is a museum, planetarium or show of some kind other Zooites might like to visit. You can start a new thread in the Café, and I will provide links to it and any help or advice I can.
It’s important to keep track of who’s coming, a way to contact them, whether you can collectively buy a ticket (which is often cheaper), and a way to recognise everyone. If you’re a group and meeting in public, it’s almost bound to be safe. It’s surprisingly easy to organise such a meet-up, and wonderfully rewarding. I’ve seen truly awesome contributions to the forum and to meet-ups by our Zooites, and have made some terrific friends.
If you haven’t met me (or any other classifiers) yet, I hope one day we will. In fact, I’m already looking forward to it – see you there!