"Hanny and the Mystery of the Voorwerp" goes live!

Here we are again, representing Galaxy Zoo at Dragon*Con. This is an enormous gathering of science-fiction and fantasy fans, aficionados of science, gaming, costuming, offbeat music – all packed into downtown Atlanta’s five largest conference hotels, every Labor Day holiday weekend. It’s a huge Con – the number of people here at one time or another during last year’s event was nearly one-quarter of the total number of people who have ever signed up for the Zooniverse projects.

Dragon*Con banner

An earlier post told of our presentations in a citizen-science panel in 2008. This year, we’re more deeply involved in several themes represented by attendees – astronomy, citizen science, writing, art, and comics. I refer, of course, to the (web)comic Hanny and the mystery of the Voorwerp, which will be released at a launch event Friday night. (Data from several satellites, including the Hubble Space Telescope, are involved, so of course we would start it with a launch). This is a public-outreach project funded by NASA, through the Space Telescope Science Institute, telling the story first of Hanny’s discovery of the Voorwerp, and then of the efforts of many of us to find out what it is and what makes it shine. Pamela Gay, who has been part of the Zoo education team for several years and is well known as a pioneer in using electronic “new media” to communicate science, took the leading role in organizing the project.

In true Zoo style, the writing of the script was a collaborative effort, carried out at the CONvergence meeting in Minneapolis. Under the watchful eye of fact-and-fiction author Kelly McCullough, the story took shape with a cast mostly composed of interested volunteers attracted by the opportunity. Things then sped up – we had to make the deadline to get some printed copies for Dragon*Con, the last such big event of the year. In the end, I’m very pleased with the result, both artistically and educationally, Kevin looked at proofs and mentioned being gratified at how many bits of science we smuggled in (more or less) painlessly. The combination of line artits Elea Braasch and colorist Chis Spangler worked beautifully, giving a very impressionistic feel to some of the panels. (It was an unexpected bonus that Elea improved dramatically on my actual hair).

The opening event is at 10 p.m. EDT on Friday, September 3. That’s 0200 UT on the 4th – 3 a.m. UK summer time and 4 a.m. across the Channel. Nonetheless, Hanny plans to Skype in so the crowd can “meet” her live. They have booked the Crystal Ballroom at the Hilton for the event. Oddly enough, this is a prime event time for the Con, where things happen 24 hours each day. (In fact, I head afterwards to one of my nightly Live Astronomy events where I’ll be taking requests for objects to take images of with a telescope in Chile). We’ll start with a short talk on the discovery and scientific interest of the Voorwerp, some background on the webcomic, handing out print copies to people there, Hanny’s remarks, door prizes, and a “dress like a Voorwerp” contest. (I have been too busy to find out what kind of material glows bright green under UV light, which would be just the thing.) For those not able to join us in Atlanta, the event will be videocast via UStream. That link also gets you to a form allowing you to order printed copies shipped anywhere at cost, and downloads of promotional posters and cards. Since it’s a webcomic, you can also read it online here once we’ve started the premiere event.

Live or virtual, please join us, and share in the story…

About The Zooniverse

Online citizen science projects. The Zooniverse is doing real science online,.

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