Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Object of the Day: Inspecting Spectra

I thought you might enjoy this nice new angle to the blue ellipticals/red spirals discovery made by Galaxy Zoo: "Tuesday 9th December 2008", today's Object of the Day, written by me and Fluffyporcupine. I'm no expert on spectra - I know more about why we shouldn't use them as classification tools than about spectra themselves. I love the theory behind them, but as soon as I'm shown one and asked to apply it to a real-life situation I make a lot of mistakes.

I didn't think I'd be any good at collaborative writing, because I'm so bossy and inflexible - I can't resist wanting everything to be done my way. That didn't matter this time, because Fluffyporcupine is saintly as well as clever. She's the one who knows how to find great galaxies with telling spectra, and I'm the one who has had the practice of putting it into a story. If you write a lot, I'd actually recommend collaborating with someone to see what new things you learn. I certainly learnt a lot from Chris after he sent me his comments on my CERN article. And I learnt a lot this morning too - and was completely absorbed. In fact, I was more entranced writing something with someone, than I generally am when writing on my own.

I've been bowled over by the zooite contributions to Object of the Day - it's wonderful to give our hardworking, knowledgeable and very witty and imaginative zooites the stage for a day; and it's fascinating to see what they come up with. That's one of my favourite things about Galaxy Zoo - we're all students and teachers together, all at different levels. I think some Objects of the Day have been written jointly, and it's a great exercise. You can play to your strengths - and then perhaps later could try swapping over!

One advice I'd give anyone writing Object of the Day is not to try and tell an entire story. In astronomy, one story leads to another, which leads to another again. If you start talking about spectra, you could start talking about chemical elements. That might then go on to sizes of stars and nuclear reactions. That might go on to supernovae or quasars. Or maths. Or telescopes. Or . . . In any case, every year we'll have about 365 posts, so there is plenty of room for stories. That's one way you can have the stage, but you don't have to write a novel. I hope more zooites will volunteer to write an Object of the Day once the busy Christmas period is over. It's great fun, and hopefully useful and enthralling too.

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