Thursday, July 19, 2007

Carnival of Space #12: Galactic Extra!

Welcome to the dozenth edition of the Carnival of Space. As usual the space and astronomy blogging community is all over the cosmos, but some of us have been thinking even Bigger Thoughts than usual, looking at and thinking about galaxies. And as Carl Sagan didn’t exactly say, there are billions and billions of them out there – galaxies, not blog posts, though there are plenty of those this week too.

Much of the galactic excitement is coming from the Galaxy Zoo, a marvelous use of the distributed intelligence of people on the web. This newly launched online science project is asking internet users to help classify a million galaxies imaged in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). This might seem at first glance an esoteric activity, but the Galaxy Zoo project has quickly become a worldwide phenomena. As one of its organizers at Oxford, Chris Lintott has written several posts about the project, including a nice summary of a week inside the Galactic Zoo (Chris also suggested the image of the mysterious "green galaxy" above, though it's actually a supernova remnant). That’s just the first week, mind you, and I read elsewhere that some 30,000 visitors classified some 650,000 galaxies in that whirlwind first week. Wow!

But is the Galaxy Zoo too much of a good thing? Stuart Atkinson, who signed up on the Zoo's opening day, takes a look at why the site is so addictive, and describes what it's like to become trapped in the Galaxy Zoo. And as he has often done when inspired by things astronomical, he has also added a new poem to The 'Verse.

Astropixie resorts to astronomical jargon to describe the Galaxy Zoo as “so super cool” and recalls her earlier experience with SDSS, when she had undergraduate summer jobs working with thousands of spectra collected by the survey. Other bloggers commenting on the Galaxy Zoo include the Bad Astronomy Blog and many, many more (10,221 hits on a Google Blog search for “galaxy zoo”).

While you could sign up for the Zoo and look at hundreds of galaxies on your coffee break, you could easily dwell for quite some time on a single one of those distant jewels. Annas Rahman has done this with M51, and he concludes that it’s the subject of the Best Space Image Out There. Of course the Galaxy Zoo contains maybe 999,999 other contenders.

My own galactic connection this week is also a historic connection – a pilgrimage (of sorts) to the 100 inch telescope at Mount Wilson, California, where Edwin Hubble figured out that galaxies are galaxies, that the Universe is really, really big, and that it’s expanding. Telescopes in 1917 were built to last, and the Hooker Telescope looks like it's part of a battleship.

Closer to Home

Not all the wonders in the universe are galaxies, of course. Astroprof has been writing a cool series of posts about the Seven Wonders of Space Exploration, which he argues are at least as wondrous as the original or new ground-based “seven wonders.” Robot Guy points us to some historic video from one of those wonderful space wonders.

Brian Wang of Advanced Nanotechnology is thinking about future wonders of space exploration, namely nuclear rockets. He says they can have 2 to 200 times the performance of chemical rockets, that the science is solid and straightforward, and that we just have to have the courage to become a truly interplanetary civilization. I say go for it! Centauri Dreams goes farther out on the wonder scale, writing that nanotechnology may one day allow us to build huge structures in space - vast colony worlds of the sort envisioned by Gerard O'Neill may even become practical. Will one or more of these eventually become "worldships," leaving the Solar System behind to travel to the stars? And if there are worldships, could there perhaps be pirates? Surfin' English looks into the possibilities in the latest entry in his obstacles to space exploration series.

The solar system was not neglected this week. A Babe in the Universe writes of the Icy River Styx, reporting that astronomers using the Gemini North Telescope atop Mauna Kea have announced evidence of liquid water on Pluto's moon Charon! Liquid water on a world so distant from the Sun indicates an internal source of heat. It could also make Charon and many other Kuiper Belt objects potential homes for extraterrestrial life. And closer to home, Astroblog writes about the phases of Venus and presents a rather nifty animation of the phases, made with simple amateur equipment. Space Watch Michigan writes about Venus and Jupiter and how the brightness of astronomical objects can affect your eyes’ perception of their size. And if you can't get to space, why not bring space here, with a space simulator? Spacefiles has some cool pictures (these are gigantic space environment simulators, not to be confused with space flight simulators like Orbiter). Even closer to home (over at MIT), Brian Dunbar at Space For Commerce turns to spacesuits for a little comic relief in pass on the dessert, but thanks (L. Riofrio provides a bit of background here).

But wait, there's more! Mars is my favorite planet (after Earth, usually), and I'm happy to say that two Mars related posts arrived just as I was about to click "publish post." The Planetary Society Weblog raises the rap-worthy question, will Phoenix' thrust raise too much dust? Emily Lakdawalla notes that when Phoenix lands near Mars' north pole with Viking-style retrorockets, it will be blasting the ground with nitrogen-rich hydrazine. The Phoenix team is still trying to figure out what that will do to their landing site, which they plan to sample so carefully. And after that near-term Mars environment question, Colony Worlds asks the more provocative long-term question, Mars: Future Slum World, Or An Industrial Paradise? There is great promise but also financial peril lurking in those red sands (and whatever else might be there).

Finally, how about a little romance? Kevin of From Inner Mind to Outer Space (cool blog name) writes about some great feedback he received from a friend who is “in love with our night sky,” in part as a result of his outreach efforts. That’s the kind of thing we space and astronomy enthusiasts really like to hear.

Whew! That certainly was a galactic-scale carnival, but I hope you enjoyed the tour. Next week the carnival will be hosted by LiftPort Blog. Here's how to participate.

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