Comic moments with Hanny's Voorwerp and Galaxy Zoo
Time flies. A week ago, I was still running madly around to make sure everything was ready for a trip to Dragon*Con in Atlanta. FireWire cable, cooler for drinks in room, bag full of snacks, lab coat and Einstein wig to be taken seriously as a scientist, big posters of comic pages, PowerPoints for solo talks – check! What is Dragon*Con, anyway? A long holiday weekend with tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate science fiction, fantasy, science and space exploration, robot building, costuming from all places and times, in our Universe an those so far only imagined. It has developed a reputation for being organized from the ground up, driven more by what the attendees want to see rather than what production companies wan to show. Therefore, it has fit nicely for Galaxy Zoo to have a presence here for the last several years.
These factors made this the perfect venue to host an event marking the launch of the Hanny’s Voorwerp webcomic. As part of the Space Track programming (one of about 25 simultaneous topics available a the Con), a ballroom at the Atlanta Hilton hotel was booked last Friday night at 10 p.m. At Dragon*Con, this is pretty much prime time, since so many attendees keep either astronomers’ or vampires’ hours. Pamela had the printed comic shipped directly there; much relief was expressed when they arrived with a day to spare.
The event opened with live music by the inimitable George Hrab. Among his selections was the Monty Python Galaxy Song; a later selection had lyrics customized for the occasion. Pamela introduced the proceedings, and asked how many people in the audience had ever classified for the Zoo. I counted 23. In fact, I asked this question for all the science talks I did, including panel discussion on the science of Avatar and Firefly. Every time, there were Zooites listening. You can see some of Pamela’s introduction in video edited by someone from the Skeptics Track here, about 4 minutes into the clip.
I spent a few minutes discussing the discovery and scientific followup of Hanny’s Voorwerp. After that, Hanny appeared on screen, Skyping in from Heerlen (and looking extraordinarily awake and chipper for it being 4 a.m. Saturday). For that connection from my laptop, and the UStream coverage, we have Pamela’s little Verizon wireless gizmo to thank – it made the connection via cell-phone network and turned that into a local wireless network, bailing us out when the hotel network wouldn’t quite do it in that room.
After Hanny’s remarks, we passed out the printed comics to the audience, while George Hrab entertained them again. The comic artists, Elea Braasch and Chris Spangler, were in attendance, and the audience had questions about their work and about how strange it was dealing with scientists. Perhaps not so oddly for this age and this project, this was the first time I actually met them.
The event finished off with some of the science programs’ trademark ice cream, made quickly from scratch with the help of liquid nitrogen. We gave away three of the big posters I had brought along as door prizes – I couldn’t bear to part with the fourth, showing Hubble peering past the central black hole in IC 2497, and brought it back for my office. There were also some “door prizes” for UStream viewers, randomly selected.
Meanwhile, for everyone who couldn’t be there, the whole comic can be seen online in several formats here.