Beta-Testing Zoo 2
The serenity of the dreaming spires was somewhat shattered in the Denys Wilkinson building where Chris and Kevin work. Chris’s phone rings randomly when nobody’s calling him, I was defeated in a fight with the coffee machine, and the spirit of headless chickens prevails! The walls, nonetheless, are lined with galaxy pictures. The offices’ doors and walls are mostly made of glass; Chris’s looks like a greenhouse whose plants are books and papers and Post-It notes, and on one of his walls is a nearly-empty bottle of gin, professionally upside down like you get in a bar. Kate used to sit on the right, and Kevin’s office is two doors down. I was pleased to meet Ciaran, the work experience student who wrote our ring galaxies post, and to watch Chris drawing some scary formulae for him on the whiteboard which is part of his office door.Credit: Neha
Because of the fire which brought down our forum, things had fallen behind and I couldn’t actually run Galaxy Zoo II. Chris and Kevin had a list of buttons and questions for me on paper, and I gradually built up six or seven pages of scribbles as I went through the new classification process, detailing my classifications, questions, problems I had encountered, suggestions I dreamed up. They put up with all my opinions (“That shade of green for the buttons is ghastly,” I said, polite as always. “And I can just picture how many people will write in with this question . . .”) but reminded me that I don’t represent all the 140,000 Zooites across the world; nor does the entire forum, even if I can predict what dozens of people on it will say. But hopefully I was some help. I classified the first 53 galaxies on no information at all, after which Kevin gave me a tutorial and I realised I’d had some dire misunderstandings. I will say, it will be very different from Galaxy Zoo I . . .You get used to that forum. It’s my home, and to me, that is Galaxy Zoo. But the kind of mathematics going on here; the surveys and lists and formulae; the vast books and detailed papers to read – I had had a vague idea that this must be taking place, but in this country I was a stranger. Eating sandwiches on a picnic table outside, Kevin and Chris discussed the different factors which might have caused a ring galaxy such as this one to form. I heard about the correlation between the tightness of spiral arms and the mass of the black hole in a galaxy’s centre, and it was the opposite of what I’d have imagined. Between moving a stack of chairs someone had hidden in his office, and various hideous office duties, Chris laughed at a NASA movie of GLAST taking off – they always use the same phrases to remind the journalists what the mission actually is, because they’ll want one brief clip of the excitement of the launch! Kevin had dozens of e-mails to answer about his supernova report, and I proofread the blue ellipticals paper and ended up having to go for a walk because my brain was exploding.Credit: NehaWe finally left the office at about 8pm – the zookeepers do work that hard – and during dinner realised we’d forgotten to take any photos of me classifying for the blog. These photos are a pose, not the real thing. That is my excuse for pulling these ridiculous faces. Well, that and the flash. We’d just come in out of the dark. My real achievement was all those bits of paper on the desk. Good job galaxies don’t know when we’re pointing the SDSS at them. As far as we know!Some time soon, you’ll be hearing more about the buttons and questions, more about what we’re trying to find. I need Chris’s go-ahead for that first. In the meantime, thank you for coming to Oxford with me. It left a deep impression on me; it made me want to remember and think and read. That’s a good mindset. To travel properly to the stars, it is good to start by travelling on Earth, and building the best possible launch pad.