This is my first time….
This is my first Galaxy Zoo blog posting and being one of the oldest members of the team (42!) I’m a bit lost with this new technology – sign of old age. Galaxy Zoo 2 was launched only a few days ago and Chris L rang me this morning to tell me we already have 2 million classification, so you guys are averaging a million galaxies a day.
That is staggering for us astronomers as we are usually expect our experiments to take a lot longer. For example, if one wants to use a telescope to study something in the sky, one must write a proposal 6 months in advance, submit it for scrutiny, and then await your allocation of time on a telescope. The process can take nearly a year and then after your night staring at the stars, it can take a further year to analyse the data (assuming it wasn’t cloudy!). Only then are we ready to ask questions of the data and test our observations against our original hypothesis written two years ago in a haste!
With the Zoo, it’s all a little too quick! For example, I can ask the question “how many galaxies have a bar through the middle of them” and typically I would embark on a career-long quest to answer this fundamental question. I may even recruit some poor graduate student to eyeball 50,000 galaxies to answer the question (like they did with Kevin!). But now, two days after the launch, we already have the data to address this question and it’s a little too fast for an old-timer like me. This story does however demonstrate the impact of technology on science. Thirty years ago the arrival of CCD digital detectors on telescope revolutionized the way we did astronomy. We could see deeper and faster than with photographic plates and surveys like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) became a reality. The internet is clearly the revolutionary technology of this generation of astronomer. Youngsters like Chris and Steven have embraced it and Galaxy Zoo is an amazing demonstration of how powerful this new tool can be used to address new questions.
The future does look bright as our ability to build bigger and better digital detectors allow us to scan the heavens faster and deeper. This year a new telescope called Pan-STARRS1 will start operations and will scan the northern hemisphere repeatedly looking for killer asteroids and supernovae. This new technological advance will open up the time-domain in astronomy and soon we maybe be showing you movies of each individual galaxy. How many galaxies change in time? Who knows… Therefore, science and technology are intimately linked. The desire of scientists to do better science drives technology, while new technologies open up new science capabilities. We need to fund both of these endeavours. I will end here with my thanks again for all your clicks and encourage you to keep going. You are part of a revolution and it’s a little scary, as all revolutions are.