14 Sep 2012 15:30:02.487
You can now literally — yes, literally — write your name in the stars, thanks to a University of Nottingham academic.
Dr Steven Bamford, a senior research fellow in the University’s Centre for Astronomy and Particle Theory, created an unusual font as part of his work with Galaxy Zoo — a Citizen Science project that enlists members of the public to classify the observable universe’s billions of galaxies on the web.
The Galaxy Zoo volunteers have classified over a million galaxies over the past five years — and found some which look strangely familiar. These were used to create My Galaxies, an online tool which allows you to write messages using these unusually-shaped galaxies.
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Dr Bamford explains: “Galaxy Zoo asked members of the public, the Zooites, to look through a huge collection of galaxies. The images initially came from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, but more recently we’ve also added lots of galaxies observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. The aim was to make a catalogue of their shapes for scientific use. All of these objects are special, in their own ways, but some are particularly weird and wonderful.
“The Zooites started collecting these peculiar galaxies on the Galaxy Zoo Forum, the most beautifully simple, the most spectacular, the most messy, even those that happen to look like animals and, here we get to the point, letters of the alphabet!”
But are there really galaxies that look like the alphabet? The shapes are very specific.
“Well, there aren't many, but when you've got pictures of a million galaxies and an energetic group of Zooites there isn't much that can stay hidden! They sought them out and put them on the forum, even organised them into handy lists and made fantastic messages and pictures spelling their names. But this was a bit time consuming for all but the most committed galaxy hunter.”
But then, a fellow astronomer was looking for a particularly stunning image…
“The Galaxy Zoo alphabet sprang to mind, but I'm not one to do things by hand. I'd much prefer to write a program to do it instead. The nice thing about programming is it's then easy to do the same thing again, so a colleague and I used the tool to write a fun April Fools paper. Even then the code stayed sitting on a disk for ages, until it was finally made ready for the web at Science Hack Day: Chicago. So now everyone has the power to make the galaxies do their bidding! They're yours to play with...”
My Galaxies has been revamped for the launch of the latest Galaxy Zoo project, but originally appeared online in March 2012. Since then more than 300,000 have written their thoughts in the stars. Users so far are vaguely romantic — six per cent had the word ‘love’ in their messages with just 0.07% featuring ‘hate’. 0.09% had ‘marry me’ and 1.8% contained swear words of some kind.
So go ahead, write your name in the stars at writing.galaxyzoo.org.
It might even lead to classifying some galaxies — visit www.galaxyzoo.org for more info.
Dr Bamford explains how My Galaxies came about at the Deep Sky Videos YouTube channel.
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