Spreading the Word

When Chris Davis mentioned on the forum that he would be speaking at an event promoting Citizen Science I thought I’d go along and combine a bit of sightseeing with a bit of crowdsourcing. Last Tuesday’s Celestial Skies: Public Eyes evening was billed as an event to discover how people power is shaping modern astronomy. The DANA Centre in London had invited Chris to talk about Solar Stormwatch along with Zookeeper Rob Simpson to give an overview of Zooniverse projects and Stuart Eves from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited to talk about his research into William Herschel and the mystery of Uranus’ 6 moons and ring. Each speaker was given 10 minutes to do their stuff. Ali Boyle, curator of astronomy at the Science Museum made sure things ran to plan.

Rob was up first and talked about the success of Galaxy Zoo and how that led to the creation and expansion of the Zooniverse. He mentioned all the current projects including Old Weather and the upcoming Milky Way Project and Papyrus Zoo. Chris was next and did a great job of telling people about all things Solar Stormwatch and Stereo in his allotted 10 minutes and managed to cover details of the Stereo mission and the twin spacecraft, basics of solar physics, the idea behind Solar Stormwatch and what stormwatchers do. Stuart told the fascinating story of why he thinks William Herschel discovered Uranus’ ring 190 years before its official discovery in 1977 and why Uranus is shown as having 6 Moons on an 18th century orrery (built using Herschel’s observations) at a time when only 2 had been discovered. Each speaker was equipped with a nifty Madonna mic but sadly no singing or dancing was involved.Smiley

Then followed a practical taster session with computers set up to have a go at Hubble Zoo, Moon Zoo and Solar Stormwatch. Lots of people tried out the sites and I saw a couple of groups working their way diligently through the Solar Stormwatch tutorials. Several people said that they would have a go at home when they had more time.

A Q&A session followed with some quality questions from the audience!

The first question concerned Earth’s magnetic field flipping.
Chris answered this one and said that this happens every 100,000 years or so and explained how a record of the magnetic field at the time was trapped in layers of sedimentary rocks.

Is there a link between climate change and solar activity?
Another one for Chris who explained that while a small amount of global warming could be down to solar activity the majority of it is man made. More here.

How did scientists feel about having amateurs involved?
Rob said that although a few professional scientists were naturally sceptical at first the majority welcomed the use of amateurs into the world of data collection. He stressed that while computers can do many things they are not so good at the complicated pattern recognition required for Zooniverse projects and there are only so many undergrads and PhD students around to use as data collectors! Chris said he was rather pleased to suddenly have 10,000 research assistants to help him out.

What is some people deliberately set out to spoil the results?
Rob assured everyone that each image or video is classified several times and that the nice Citizen Scientists by far outnumbered the idiots. (He actually used a slightly more colourful description but the effect is the same!)

Why do people do Citizen Science?
Rob answered this and referred to Jordan Raddick’s motivation study carried out using Galaxy Zoo data where the most popular reasons people gave for taking part were an interest in astronomy and being able to contribute to science.

The evening ended with a bit of a free for all and general chat. I also bumped into eatyourgreens – former SSW team member who has moved on to pastures new but who can still be found on the forum. And Chris told me that some very interesting science is about to come from all our work!

It nicely rounded off a bit of a solar themed day having spent most of the afternoon in the Science Museum where I saw these:

A quarter size model of SOHO
London Science Museum

De revolutionibus – Copernicus daring to make the Sun
rather than the Earth the centre of the universe

The DANA Centre is a good venue for this type of event. They use the cafe space to host a variety of science themed talks so food and drink is available. If you get the chance I’d recommend going along.

The Natchos are good too.


Jules is a volunteer moderator for the Solar Stormwatch forum

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About The Zooniverse

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

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