Doctor Science Knows

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Many, *many* mansions

Recently I've been spending my occasional spare relax-a-time working for Galaxy Zoo. This project uses volunteers (e.g. me) to classify distant galaxies found by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, because no computer program yet can come near to the human visual cortex when it comes to pattern recognition.

Working on GalaxyZoo is an amazing combination of easy and awe-inspiring. In most cases, classifying the galaxies is either very easy:

-- this is a spiral galaxy at redshift z=0.24, less than 100 million parsecs [1 parsec=3.2 light-years] away -- or else it's pretty much impossible:

-- this is a galaxy I called "elliptical" but which might be more honestly called "blob" at z=0.475, well over a billion parsecs away. Although the imaging equipment & programs have looked at these galaxies before (that's how I got the redshift measurements), they had probably never before been examined by the human eye before they popped up on my screen.

It is awesome in every way. Even though I've been a scientist all my life, I've never had such a strong sense of how *big* the universe is, until I look at galaxy after galaxy, going back into the dark.

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