Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting Away to a Distant Place

Taking a Journey of the Mind Through
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

Someone once asked in a LinkedIn question how writers "get away" or relax between projects.

I thought it was a good question. LinkedIn is a professional networking site, so it's a good place to share not only connections, but also ideas. I told about sitting on my screened-in porch and enjoying the quiet of nature behind our home. Or going on the Tivo/DVR and cleaning out the clutter of old programs.

One of the non-work projects I was involved with that is resurfacing is It started in 2007, completed to compile its data and submit scientific papers, and is now going into beta for phase 2, and so it's become open for people like me who find it not only interesting science but also an interesting diversion from work when you need a break.

Galaxy Zoo is a collaboration between UK and US astronomers to compile classification data about galaxies through human observation of images. They originally took existing images and tried to have computers classify galaxies, but it turns out that computers aren't nearly as adept at it as humans are. So scientists opened the work to everyday people like you and me. They expected a few hundred to a few thousand volunteers, but in the end 150,000 became involved. We viewed a million galaxies.

The original project -- Galaxy Zoo 1.0 -- asked us to decide whether a galaxy was either a globular cluster or a spiral, and if it was a cluster if it spiraled clockwise or anticlockwise.

The new project -- Galaxy Zoo 2.0 -- is more complex and more challenging. We will look at shape, tightness of sprial, number of spirals, bulge density and shape, and whether there is anything "odd" about the image. It's under development and I've begun working with the beta site, and it's going to be great fun!

Why would a business writer want to spend time sorting through galaxies? It's very relaxing, challenging, entertaining, lets me enjoy my fascination with astronomy and science, and it allows me to contribute to science without devoting my career to it. And it gives me a brief break from work for as long or as short as I want.

I suppose you should be an astronomy geek to try this, and you should have a good set of eyes. But most important, you should also have curiosity and a sense of wonder at the distant universe, because these galaxies are a long way away. Come join the fun!