Guest Blog: Newbie at Heart
Today’s guest blogger is Thomas J from the Galaxy Zoo forum.
My interest in astronomy goes back almost as far as I remember. I recall, after dinner with my grandparents one afternoon, my father sitting down and telling me about the Big Bang. I was amazed at the concept and my interest was piqued, although at the time, I didn’t really understand it. If I am totally honest, I understand it little more today! I should really say that, at that age, it was more of an interest in ‘space’ diluted with plenty of science fiction. After all, it’s much easier for a child to comprehend ‘Flash Gordon and the Mud Men’ than the angular separation of galaxies. I did, however, own a large hard back book on astronomy which I would read in bed almost every night.
I am still now a keen astronomer with some modest observational equipment, a sizeable book collection and a horde of journals, which by the way, has built up month by month into an untidy pile of magazines. It was in one such journal, (no need to mention which) that I discovered Galaxy Zoo. I immediately signed up and got started with classifying galaxies. It was within a few clicks that I just stopped, sat back, and stared at the screen for a moment, realizing what was in the image before me. I was looking at a galaxy, an entire system containing billions of stars/suns, floating billions of light years away. It was a profound and emotional moment (and I don’t have many of those), I am happy to say that, many clicks later I am still able to call up that emotion and enjoy the wonders contained within these images.
It was quite some time later that I realized there was a forum attached to the site, so I signed up and became a fervent poster, stamping my name in as many threads as possible in true newbie fashion. I went through the same initiation process as many others; over posting other peoples images and posting things in the wrong threads etc. but I was taken aback by the amazing friendliness and helpfulness of the other members. I know it has been said many times before but I must say myself that the Galaxy Zoo forum has a wonderfully friendly atmosphere, and I put that down to the excellent work of the moderators. It was one such, kindly, moderator (I won’t mention Alice’s name) who showed me the ropes and helped me master the subtle workings of the forum, and for that, I am grateful.
In early august there was a press release about our ‘Hanny’s Voorwerp’, which was followed by an incredible influx of new, fervent, posters. Armed with my forum skills, I decided to help as many newbies as I could (along with the other oldbies, of course). It was one night (four am), whilst holding my eyes open with one hand and attempting to type with the other, that I realized this endeavor was not going to be as easy as I had, at first, thought. So, to that end, with plenty of coffee, I devised a cunning plan. I decided to create a place just for newbies; there they could post images and ask questions to their hearts content and learn the secret art of ‘searching’.
I posted the topic at 05:07pm on 11 august and just after midnight that same evening we hit ten pages. The thread ran for the next two weeks at around twelve pages per day (official forum speed), and as I write, we are well over 5,000 posts. I must admit that I had quite a few sleepless nights and even took some time off work to make sure that each question got an answer as the forum is indifferent to local time and there were many newbies from all over the Globe. I would like to express my gratitude to the first run of newbies who came back to help out with the second influx after the Sky at Night feature. I must make one last mention to all the regulars that came on board to help out. I won’t mention names but you know who you are.
To wrap up I would like to mention that, since becoming a member of Galaxy Zoo, I have decided to follow my childhood dream. I am now studying with the Open University towards a degree in ‘astronomy related physics’. I don’t say this to try and impress you all, but to try and impress upon you all (do you see what I did there), how this internet behemoth has given me the energy to follow my dreams and allowed me to be involved in an area of science that I truly love.