Hubble observations – any week now!
Speaking of the long-awaited Hubble observations of Hanny’s Voorwerp – where are they? We know certain windows when each can be done, and is supposed to be carried out. One such week-long window has already gone by without getting data, so things are narrowed down a bit. The next possibility is a set of near-infrared and ultraviolet images with the new Wide-Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which could be done from March 23 – April 26 or May 3-17. The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) images, in narrow filters tracing the ionized gas, could be done between April 12-19 this year. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) observations looking at fine detail within the galaxy IC 2497 may come last, between May 3 and June 19. The weekly timeline comes out by Thursday preceding the week; when we see observations coming up, we’ll announce it on the forum and on the Galaxy Zoo Twitter feed (or my own as well).
More to the point – when do you see the pretty pictures? That’s slightly complicated. We’ve been torn between two worthy goals. One one hand, the Zoo team has tried to show the process of science as openly as possible (Voorwerp fans recall seeing a lot of early ideas hashed out on the forum and unfolding on the blog). On the other, if the images are as spectacular as we expect, there might be a unique chance to get a lot more attention for the Zoo if we can make a big public image release, supported by NASA and ESA. The problem is that news organizations want, well, news, so they all have to get it at the same time rather than reproducing something that’s been crawling around the Web already. That means if we show a nicely processed color image, or a set of black-and-white images someone could use to make a color image, on the forum or blog, the image would already be out in public and news interest would drop. After a long discussion with the STScI public-outreach people and among ourselves, the best solution we can find is to talk about the science as it unfolds, show what we can without jeopardizing the image release, and work as rapidly as the science allows toward a public release (which might well attract thousands of additional Zooites).