Dr Becky Smethurst closes 2019 Astronomy For All Lectures with journey through Galaxy Zoo
Oxford Astrophysics’ Dr Becky Smethurst closed 2019’s Astronomy For All Lecture Series with an enthralling talk about citizen science and the groundbreaking results that emerged from the Galaxy Zoo project.
Dr Smethurst, a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, began the evening with an overview of what galaxies are and how they can be identified, before going on to explain the purpose of the Galaxy Zoo project, which began at the University of Oxford.
She explained: “With a million images of galaxies and you want to classify them, but there are only a limited number of astronomers in the world, what do you do?”
The answer? Ask the public!
Galaxy Zoo was an online project where members of the public from around the world could view different images of galaxies, along with instructions on how they could be classified.
The project was a huge success, attracting more volunteers than anticipated, meaning the classifications were finished far quicker than expected. Dr Smethurst said: “There were one million galaxies each classified 40 times in six months. That’s incredible.”
During the talk, Dr Smethurst described some of her favourite discoveries from the project, including how a simple question from a Dutch schoolteacher, Hanny van Arkel, asking what a blue mark on a picture of a galaxy was, led to the groundbreaking discovery of a rare astronomical phenomenon, now known as Hanny’s Voorwerp.
Dr Smethurst also spoke about how she couldn’t have done her own PhD, a population study of galaxies, without the data collected from Galaxy Zoo.
The Galaxy Zoo project is ongoing and Dr Smethurst revealed several other people-powered research projects are also taking place on Zooinverse.org, asking volunteers to help with everything from identifying the movements of animals in the Serengeti, to the behaviour of penguins in Antarctica or transcribing World War I correspondence.
Dr Smethurst concluded her talk by saying: “Whatever it is that is your science that gets you excited there is probably a project on there, you just have to go out and find it. I hope maybe you will go to Zooinverse.org and help us out, people doing PhDs, and contribute your own little patch to science.”
Listen to the full podcast below:
The Astronomy For All Lectures Series is convened by Green Templeton Associate Fellow Charles Barclay, Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society and Director of the Blackett Observatory. He began the lectures in 2006 as a way of strengthening and reinforcing the link between Green Templeton, home of the Radcliffe Observatory, and astronomy (the Oxford Astrophysics Department in particular).
The other two talks in the 2019 series were:
Reaching young stars: British Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad
Wednesday 23 January 2019 at 18:00
Speaker: Charles Barclay
The gravitational sky
Wednesday 20 February 2019 at 18:00
Speaker: Professor Mike Cruise, President of the Royal Astronomical Society
Podcast and report