Zoo hysteria

May 11, 2010

Citizen Science is taking over the world. Galaxy Zoo has been a huge popular success, and seems to have done a modicum of science as well. Then it became Zooniverse and split into Galaxy Zoo Hubble, Galaxy Zoo Mergers, and Galaxy Zoo Supernovae. Next up was  Solar Stormwatch, where the citizen can help to keep the world safe from solar storms.

And now – taran tara – we have Moon Zoo.  Therein the citizen scientist will find lotsa pictures by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the opportunity to label all the craters. Well this does look like a fun game, but I was surprised to find this claimed as something humans can do better than computers. Doesn’t sound too tricky. We are not talking about classification. We are talking about plonking down a cross and expanding a circle to fit the size. I expect I am missing something. But anyhoo, it will be interesting to see if this is as popular as classifying galaxies.

What about getting Joe Public to classify organisms ? You know, a kind of Zoo Zoo ? Or maybe the contents of dessicated faeces from neolitihic villages ? Poo Zoo ?


Moonroller

February 14, 2008

My clumsy title is meant to be a merger of Moon and Steamroller. Maybe I should have called it JuggerMoon. Anhyoo.. through the mists of sleep the Today Programme is telling me that NASA is backing the “inspirational” MoonLITE project, and the Science Minister is reviewing whether to have a manned space programme. The BBC website has the story here . Radio Four also mentioned that Martin Rees has commented negatively on this, for the obvious “STFC is bust” reasons.

At the end of last week there were stories about ISS and ExoMars asking for twice as much money, and in fact there has been a steady stream of “we must get into space more” stories for months – e.g. this one Much of the argument is that there is clear economic impact – space industry is worth £7bn apparently, and ESA, unlike ESO, has juste retour. And in case you hadn’t noticed, STFC have been steadily negotiating the creation of a new ESA centre at RAL, that will actually return some subscription value. (There are big redundancies at RAL, as well as Daresbury and ATC; but if you include outside-the-fence stuff like this and Diamond, I assume the RAL-Harwell site is actually growing…)

This is big league stuff, and absolutely the kind of thing STFC was created to do. A bit of vision and gung ho-ness and economic impact is exactly what you need to leverage extra money from Government. So in a fundamental sense I have no problem with all this – STFC is doing its job. Of course as I said in a recent post, the worry is whether its as-well-as or instead-of.

Sooo … I would not recommend arguing that space exploration is a bad thing. Its a good thing. On the other hand cutting hundreds of high-tech jobs and decimating University Physics departments, now thats a bad thing.


Bombing the Moon

February 11, 2008

I do like Bill Bailey. In Part Troll he has this great routine where he explains that America is like the schoolyard bully, and Britain is the spotty kid who stands just behind him, waving his fist and saying “yeaaherrr… like he said.. wotch it mate.. yeaaherr…” So it seems to make sense that when NASA goes all gung ho for the Moon, Britain says “yeeahherr .. we’re goin’ too. We got this fing called Moon Lite see – Moonlight, geddit – and we’re like gonna chuck stuff at the Moon and see what happens. Its cool. And my mate’s gonna build it, right.”

Well, Moonlite is kinda fun, though of course we must wait and see if it passes the rigours of peer review. And the idea of building a Moon base is exciting, and some seriously good astronomy could be done. But its all so expensive. If its done out of the national-pride budget as it were, thats cool. But if instead it comes out of the same budget as measuring the CMB, or looking for exoplanets, or finding redshift seven quasars… well we’d better be really careful about what gets the most science for the buck.

But hold those horses, Joe.

Thing one : Barrack Obama reckons the lunar programme is a tad expensive and would slow it down by five years .

Thing two : there’s a scientific campaign underway aimed at scrapping the whole back-to-moon thing and arguing for landing on asteroids instead. Fascinating. Watch this space.

Personally I’d vote for going to Europa.

Ooo but hang on, didn’t HAL tell us not to ?

ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.


Red Moon in the trees

March 3, 2007

The lunar eclipse is under way .. its so beautiful. I can’t believe the sky is clear in Edinburgh. Through my binoculars, it looks much more three dimensional than normal, grading from blood red through to ashen blue. From my tiny city garden, we see it through the branches of a tree, while chatting students emerging from the pub drift past the garden wall, oblivious.