Guest Blog: Memories of the Antipodes
Today’s guest blogger is veteran forum member Geoff Roynon.
My interest in the night sky (and astronomy) goes back to the late 1950s when I was growing up in South Africa and we were blessed with dark skies. I soon learned to spot the Southern Cross and Orion and various other “star shapes” in the night sky. We also saw some of the early satellites going by overhead so this must have been 1958/59.
I was interested in science from an early age and was a regular visitor to our local library where they didn’t seem to mind a young lad taking out science books which would seem to be beyond his years! I can’t now remember the titles of any of the books I read at that age but they were from most areas of science (except biology, I wasn’t very interested in the life sciences).
When I started high school we all had to fill out a questionnaire and one of the questions was something like “What do you want to be when you leave school?” I put down; Astronomer, Geologist, or Archaeologist, and I haven’t been any of those yet!
One incident from my young days in South Africa still remains with me – I went to the planetarium in Johannesburg with a friend of mine. The show was very good and the main item was the Crab nebula which was explained to us by the astronomer giving the lecture. He then went on to say that the expanding shell of energy and matter from the Crab was moving at an enormous speed, and specified something much larger than the speed of light! Afterwards I went up to him and complained that he’d got it wrong (the arrogance of youth!) and he said that he always used a larger speed to make it sound more exciting and that no-one else had noticed before! That got me thinking about why he thought that the speed of the expanding shell (which is about 1,500 k/sec) needed to be “enhanced”. Astronomers work with such vast distances and speeds as compared to the everyday experience of everyone else that 1,500 k/sec probably seemed pedestrian to him so he increased it. Astronomers have a different mind set to the rest of us when it comes to distance and speed!
Talking of the Crab nebula, this is a very interesting and useful object. It lies almost on the plane of the ecliptic of the solar system and was used to measure the depth of Titan’s atmosphere when Titan transited the Crab nebula. The Wikipedia article is well worth a read
I first found out about Galaxy Zoo in July 2007 from the SlashDot site which I read each day to keep up with technology related news. I signed up on the Galaxy Zoo site, did the tutorial and started classifying immediately. It was a wonderful feeling looking at pictures of far off galaxies that maybe no-one else had seen before! It was also exciting not knowing what the next object would be, usually a fuzzy orange blob, but every so often an amazing spiral galaxy or an immense elliptical.
Soon after I started classifying I also joined the Galaxy Zoo forum and had the same “newbie” problems as everyone else when trying to post objects and links in the threads. The forum is the best one I have been a member of due to the helpfulness of the other users and moderators, and the short shrift given to trolls and other trouble makers. It was a bit daunting at first with all the different threads containing different aspects of what is going on in the Zoo. One of the great things about the forum is the discussions that start up about different aspects of astronomy, for instance, galaxy spectra, which ended up with a “tutorial” written by one of the resident astronomers and posted to the forum for anyone to read.
I’m looking forward to the future Galaxy Zoo projects, helping to count craters on the Moon and on Mars. This will help me fulfil the second ambition I had in high school of getting involved in geology! Now if only they could find ancient alien ruins on Mars they could fulfil my third ambition as well!