Monday, 26 January 2009

Lecture in Bristol

Update, 8th July: I have been astonished to discover that people are still downloading and listening to this talk. If you'd like to hear it, it is just over 35 minutes long. It details why Galaxy Zoo was first thought of, takes the audience on a quick tour of what the SDSS telescope can see and some Zoo 1 galaxy classifications, and tells of some of our findings and our projects of the future.

Download it here, and scroll down this post for some of the slides.

Last Friday I gave a lecture to between 50 and 60 people at the Bristol Astronomical Society. It came about as a result of another lecture I'd given three months before, to the West Wales Astronomy Group - Rick Nowell spotted the topic and very kindly arranged it.

It was a shorter sort of journey than usual to Bristol - that is, four hours rather than eight on the train - and the Bristol Astronomical Society are very friendly and well established. They meet in the Sixth Form Club at Bristol Grammar School, on the hill near the university and some wonderful old buildings. The Sixth Form club is a colourful spacious room. Rick came to pick me up at the station, but had to depart to get some very scary (and heavy) equipment; so I was met by Aziz, who was running the show that evening. Apparently it is unusual - "interesting", in Aziz's words - for the speaker to help set the chairs out. I immediately made an executive lifelong decision: in the unlikely event that I become a world famous speaker much in demand, I shall continue to help set the chairs out.

Rick and Aziz quickly chatted before the lecture. The other speakers were all getting 10 minutes. "And Alice is getting . . ." ". . . ten hours." (I am sure I could talk about Galaxy Zoo for that long, but I would have run out of slides.) As luck would have it, I managed to crash the laptop as I began. The projector froze on the desktop background; it was a picture of a NASA plane above the clouds. I welcomed the patient audience to an evening all about an aeroplane with "NASA" painted on its tail. A kind soul, whose name I am probably supposed to know, stepped up and informed me quietly that this only ever happens when they have an extremely distinguished speaker. I laughed and said it happens whenever I come near technology. He reassured me that Wolfgang Pauli had exactly the same tendency. There's hope yet . . .

Anyway, you can read more on the Galaxy Zoo Forum and Blog. You can either download the podcast of the talk on Rick's website, or from the blog (thanks Kevin!). People not only wanted a podcast, but they wanted slides . . . I don't want to provide the whole lot, not just yet. I don't want to give away my whole "product", because this is - so far - the only professional lecture I can give (though of course I adapt it to each audience and to each new piece of news). But here's a selection.

I usually start by explaining what a galaxy is, and talking about light years and looking back in time and the Hubble Deep Field, and showing various pictures of the Milky Way such as this and this. However, this was an audience of astronomers who didn't need that. So I began with the SDSS telescope: this map of its sky coverage, zooming in towards the Plough to M51.

I adapted a few slides, including the first of the following, from Zookeeper Bob's lecture to us at Herstmonceux. But I made this presentation, so nobody else is responsible for any errors!

One of the forum pedants has asked me if the figure of -80 degrees is correct, as that is a lot warmer than the temperature of liquid nitrogen. That's what I've been told; it may be they are not cooled to liquid nitrogen's temperature, or that the figure should have been in kelvin. He's contacted SDSS to ask; I look forward to the answer!

This is the point of my error when I say that Kevin was Chris's student. The top left picture is from a meeting some of the team had in Portsmouth. I can't show you a picture of the whole team, because not only have they never once all been together, none of them has even met everybody else!

This prepares them for Galaxy Analysis! The next few slides were screenshots.

This was one of my attempts to show how weird the anticlockwise bias seems to be - that wherever we look we see more. If we look in one direction and see clockwise, and the other anticlockwise, that's a bias pointing somewhere. But to see anticlockwise no matter where we look indicates something really freakish.

Some of our discoveries, such as the peas and rings. I usually talk about the forum first - but I wanted to show how our discoveries led into each other. In a sense, the Voorwerp and the red spirals between them - the whole business of the gas - explain the red spirals/blue ellipticals situation. If I understand it correctly, this is something of a revolution in understanding of galaxies.

This picture shows the typical scenario - and what we used to think . . .

That was from the Guardian article. It's also one of the things about Galaxy Zoo of which I am proudest.

This is some of the things that we're working on ourselves, a not-top-down project. I made a slight mistake with the asteroids; apparently I managed to say there were 7000+ unknown ones in our sample. Actually it's just 7000 generally, many of which are known. (I'm not desperate to put myself down, but I am a stickler for accuracy, and I'm reporting what people are reporting to me! I wouldn't want anyone to walk away with the wrong idea!)

Some lovely Irregulars. If you haven't seen Waveney's irregulars project yet, please come along.

It's in the above link that Kevin said that. It makes me shiver . . .

And this was the penultimate slide I showed them - the final one being the credits slide. I'm spotting a pattern - the public tends to laugh at this while astronomers tend not to. I plan to survey this and find out . . .

There were lots of excellent questions after the talk, but we didn't have permission to podcast those. Ask me as many more as you like. Rick then gave a talk about the peas, which sadly isn't podcasted, but which included his Object of the Day on Markarian Peas. We also had some announcements about the International Year of Astronomy, and a talk about Aziz's recent trip to Saudi Arabia. We nipped outside to have a look at the Orion Nebula through a telescope later, and apparently, while Rick and I got ourselves a well-earned drink, the others had a committee meeting whose agenda involved future policy on podcasting! Hopefully Rick will be able to podcast a lot more.

Very many thanks to Rick for taking a lot of trouble to organise this talk, and then to record and produce the podcast. I feel very lucky.


Aida said...

I listened to the podcast and it was wonderful dear Alice. Keep up the good work! :)

Anonymous said...

Nice slides!

Georgia said...

Hi Alice,
I am completely swamped with schoolwork at the moment, so I haven't listened to the entire recording. However, I listened to enough to tell you that your voice is lovely and you sound very professional! :-) I'm also very impressed with the slides! And finally, I always thought that Kevin was Chris' student, too. Who started that rumor?? ;-)
Nice job all around!

Pat said...

Well done Alice, Your slides are really cool looking!!! :)

Rick said...

Alice's lecture was very good and made for an easy recording.
We are lucky to have such an accomplished forum moderator.