Galaxy Zoo West Coast Meet Up

Zooites of the U.S. West Coast organized a meeting.

Michelle described it as follows:

“It quickly became clear to me as a newbie that most of our members are in Europe…but we still have a hefty-and lively-bunch here in America! I (code name diver4skynsea!) was perusing threads one day and stumbled across the information on Galaxy Zoo‘s first member meet up held in February at Astrofest and, too, of the subsequent gatherings since then. Garrett spearheaded the project of trying to get a similar meet up of members started here in the States. I noticed in the thread that a lot of Americans were concerned about how much harder it is logistically for our members here to “gather” as one big group.

Liz (Elizabeth) and others suggested we break meetings up by region- maybe at first…and I agreed. Since Liz and I were in the same region (California)…we took it a step further and decided to run with the idea –and thus the West Coast/California Meet Up was born!

We started out looking for events in the area with science themes that might be nice for us all to attend. At that time we didn’t see much that wasn’t a little expensive- so we took a page from our friends overseas and looked for a group friendly planetarium and observatory. For us, that happened to be Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland-which was pretty centralized for the members that showed interest in joining us. I picked a date early on that gave us time to plan specifics and for members to manipulate their schedules at work or home so they could attend–it was a good 6 weeks.

Chabot was a larger than expected facility in the Oakland/Berkely Hills at the top of one it’s highest peaks overlooking the cities below- which include breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. The facility itself has three observatory rooms and several working telescopes for public and private use. In addition to it’s observatories, Chabot consists of two large buildings full of meeting rooms, a gift shop, café, two floors of cosmology exhibits and two theaters showing a number of short films and science documentaries on their large full-dome digital screens. They also support and organize a number of youth and school programs, workshops and a discovery lab.

I have to admit the initial “meeting” was awkward! We were to meet at the front entrance as a group between 5 and 5:30 P.M. First, each of us had no idea what the others looked like and we didn’t have a solid plan on how to recognize each other (other than watching out for loners rambling around with looks on their faces of confusion)! Second, I was the only one that hit terrible traffic and didn’t get there until 5:30–horrified to discover that nobody had “seen” each other and were all walking around mixing with non-Galaxy Zoo citizens! So imagine me walking around asking everyone, “Are you here for the Galaxy Zoo meet?” 99% of whom said, “Heh?” I was thrilled when I saw a very European looking young man (from glasses to sandals) who also looked way smarter than the rest of us! “Anze?!” I yelled (pronouncing it ANZ), and he looked thrilled to be found, too. It was later I realized his name is pronounced Anje (soft J) but says he is rarely called correctly and answers to anything with an A and a Z.

At last, we all found each other out front just before our guided tour of the facility…and the meet up officially started. I’ll be honest- nobody looked, acted or spoke the way I had imagined. I was wrong on all accounts about everyone! Which, sadly, made it seem like a group of strangers….at first. It didn’t take long, though, for our online personalities to show through and once the conversations moved to galaxies and the Zoo—we soon acted like we’d known each other a long time…

Chabot was beautiful and full of fascinating exhibits. The guided tour was faster that I would have liked, as we didn’t get to mess with a few things that were pretty interesting. It was still great fun to see everyone going through the exhibits like kids… touching, reading and playing with everything. The Galaxy Room was especially wonderful and the tour guide thought it was amusing to test us to see how good we were! When we reached an actual Galaxy Hunter exhibit it was too tempting not to prove that we were pro’s–everyone had to try it out–also proving, once again, as we have often teased, that “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!”

After the tour we saw a film called “The Search for Life,” narrated by Harrison Ford, which was very good (albeit moving a tad too much making most of us dizzy) and I gently reminded everyone not to go yelling out “Spiral!” and “Merger!” as the film progressed through the Universe!

I think we were all in awe going through the observatories to see the telescopes. The first one we were shown was 125 years old and gorgeous, Leia- and despite her age, very much an active telescope. She gave us a great view of Jupiter and her moons after the sun went down. Another telescope was showing Saturn that night, as well. We didn’t stay too long at the scopes because it was unusually warm and clear for Oakland… meaning that everyone and their dog came out of the woods to view the sky that night! We were starving anyway, so off to the pub we went…

We chose Pacific Coast Brewery, well, for Anže- and the beer! He ordered up a Killer Whale and I waiting patiently to hear his opinion on it—he approved! And I was ecstatic since I’d promised him good beer if he came! (whew!) GalacticChick (Miriam) took pictures of everyone’s dinner (which was yummy) and we had a chance to check out the GZ banner she’d sewn-complete with ACW and CW spirals. We learned that WailWulf (Eric) was a schoolteacher and Star Wars fan (woohoo!) who was very interesting and fun to talk to, as well. Of our group- Eric and Liz have been members of Galaxy Zoo the longest—–and sorted through thousands upon thousands of galaxies.

Elizabeth (Liz) is a nurse and for me, was also sort of a guest of honor next to Anže. Her contributions to the site and help she gives newbies are enormous. Having her there was a real treat for me because I remember my first few awkward, awe-filled days on the site when she pounced on me to wish me a warm welcome and to make sure I knew my way around. She taught me how important that is to a site like ours and how doing those little things help keep the volunteers and the GZ experience so positive.

Liz also brought her son’s good friend, Jake, who doubled as an official GZ photographer and seemed very quiet at first (maybe just afraid of what geeks we might be). By the time we got to the pub he had us all laughing with his stories. I appreciated the sound college and career advice both he and Anže gave my high school senior, Dakota, who tagged along with me.

We also learned that night about how substantial Anže’s contributions were to the Galaxy Zoo site and forum. All of us who have grown to love GZ owe him a huge thank you for helping make this all happen. He’s only been in America a year-moving after the site went up- and is a fellow at the newly formed Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics. He told us little things about the GZ we didn’t know-including that it was originally to be called Galaxy Safari…but that the name didn’t sit well politically with some. We all agreed that the Zoo was much better anyway. Anže seemed very interested in our forum and classifying stories, too, and was amazed, I think, at what a deep impact such a little thing could have on so many lives personally—not just on science.

My favorite part of the night was during a conversation when Anže spoke of the discussions about what to do with GZ after the initial project was over, mentioning the phrase “we can’t just shut it down,” and man, I wished I had a video camera recording the audience response to that!! The body language was hilarious! “No, no, no,” and “Can’t do that, ” etc…

My least favorite part of the night was saying “goodbye.” I was amazed at how emotional I felt when that time came -after all I’d only just met these people! But it just reiterated how close we have all become here so quickly in our virtual world and the strength of the bond we share here.

All in all, I was very please with the outcome and want to encourage more bandits like us to grab time together wherever you may be! The common thread we all have is fantastic and makes for fascinating conversations and potential friends for years to come. I do hope we have a general North America meet, as well, and might very well sell everything I own (except my kids…well? No, I’ll keep the kids) to crash a gathering in Europe one of these days, too.”
and Anže confirms:

“It is hard to add anything to a such detailed description of the event. I first heard of the West Coast meeting, when I was alerted about the West Coast meet-up thread on the forum by garrett_cw. It immediately looked that not joining this crowd would have been a heresy, especially given that I live in Oakland and that the place of meeting, Chabot Space & Science Center is literally 15 mins drive from my home. After a couple of further message exchanges on the forum, the date of the meetup was agreed.

In my academic punctuality I was the first to arrive to the Chabot. I was standing outside the entrance, as agreed, and asked every person the looked sufficiently nerdy, whether they came for Galaxy Zoo meetup. This produced a number of strange looks (“Galaxy what?”), but no actual zooites. Michelle was the first to arrive and others came shortly after, one by one. My biggest surprise was what a diverse crowd zooites were: rather than being a bunch a amateur astronomers there were very different people, of all ages and walks of life.

The walk through the center was quite entertaining. For someone who works in cosmology, which is a rather limited subset of astronomy, it was quite refreshing to look at the solar system stuff, meteorites and moon landing memorabilia and the general atmosphere was easy going and entertaining. We were also shown some rather amusing pieces of old technology. The planetarium movie was OK, although I was much more impressed by the LA’s Griffith’s observatory planetarium. After the movie we joined the public observations of planets and yes, even from Oakland one can see Jupiter and Saturn.

Finally, we retired to a Pacific Coast brewery pub, where we had a good diner and some very fine beers and carried on discussing everything from Galaxy Zoo to merits of home-schooling. Michelle topped off the evening by insisting on covering the bill.

It was a great evening out and one to be repeated, with hopefully even more members next time.”

In front of Chabot Space & Science Center. Note GalacticChick’s clock-wise and anti-clockwise spiral galaxies banner.
In front of Chabot Space & Science Center. Note GalacticChick’s clock-wise and anti-clockwise spiral galaxies banner.
Michelle and Anže
Michelle and Anže


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12 responses to “Galaxy Zoo West Coast Meet Up”

  1. Joseph K. H. Cheng says :

    Congratulations to US west coast Zooites ! Keep up the good work.

  2. Pat says :

    Congrats on the meet up and well written Diver!!! Glad you all had a great time. 🙂

  3. Curtis W. Garrett says :

    Very well written. Note this was a self made event, not part of some national or regional astronomy gathering. (Although that’s alright too.) The point is find a group of Zooites within reasonable distance and set a date. Yes, I would like to see a North American meet up, but being practical.

    Michelle covered the bill? I’ll Have to make sure she’s at any meet up I attend. BIG SMILES.

  4. Thomas J says :

    Well done, Michelle. A great read and a well written, humorous blog post. You did well to help get this meet-up idea off the ground, I am pleased that you and all the others had such a great time. Thanks for sharing the story.

    And thank you to Anze for the input, too.


  5. Alice says :

    I’m so pleased to see this posted. Well done, Michelle and everyone else! So glad Anze could come. I hope that lots of you over that side of the pond will be able to go on more meet-ups – there’s nothing quite like actually meeting fellow galaxy addicts you’ve been chatting to night after night on the forum!

  6. Alice says :

    PS and good words about Liz too – well deserved! 😀

  7. Jules says :

    Nice Blog Michelle 🙂 So glad you all had a good time. It all sounds so familiar! May there be many more USA meet ups.

  8. Hanny says :

    Hey great to read you guys had such a good time too! 😀

  9. Geoff Roynon says :

    So glad this went well. Hope you guys are planning future events.

  10. Chris says :

    I’m glad you’re taking care of Anze over in the US – I shall I have to visit, if only to try the beers myself.

  11. lily says :

    good job!

  12. Paddy. says :

    This is really something else.
    Happy, Happy faces.
    Galaxy Zoo has certainly brought people together.
    Its at time like this I wish the world was smaller, so we could all meet up.
    But seeing the photos, and being on the Zoo, for me its like we are all together.

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