Calling All Amateur Astronomers!

Last week Seattle hosted the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society. That meant that hundreds of America’s leading astronomers were in town last week! I was lucky enough to catch a few free presentations from some of these researchers at the latest Astronomy on Tap, and learned how I could help astronomers through citizen science initiatives.

A black and white image of a star and a galaxy from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.
An image from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite that shows the Large Magellanic Cloud (right) and the bright star R Doradus (left). Credits: NASA/MIT/TESS

While Astronomy on Tap is organized by University of Washington graduate students, this event is for everybody. The “Tap” part of the title refers to the event location: a brewery. For the past couple of years Astronomy on Tap has called Peddler Brewing home, using its beer garden as an unconventional lecture hall. That is, of course, if lecture halls served beer and included cornhole courts.

Presenters take extra care to explain all sorts of astronomical phenomena in an straightforward fashion. They make sure that anyone in the audience, from fellow colleagues to brewery patrons, learn something new from their talk. There’s always a Q and A at the end of each session, so if you don’t understand something you can ask for clarification. It’s also entertaining, with lots of GIFs and pop culture references thrown in to keep the atmosphere light. Whether it’s a rainy winter’s night or a mild summer evening, I always leave the event knowing a bit more about the universe around me.

As someone who is always interested in learning about ways I can contribute to the space research community, two projects mentioned at Astronomy on Tap were especially fascinating to me.

A GIF of a researcher analyzing physical film using a loupe.
Help researchers classify galaxies without a hand lens at Galaxy Zoo.
GIF source: NASA

Galaxy Zoo: Researchers depend on images of galaxies to study the universe around us. Thankfully, there are many telescopes surveying the sky, producing images for astronomers to study. There’s just one problem — there’s too many images for astronomers to classify! To help researchers find the right images, you can sift through galaxy images and classify what the type of galaxies you see. The more galaxies you classify, the larger samples sizes researchers can pull from to study the nature of galaxies. This citizen science project has been going on for over a decade, and is still contributing to the astronomy field. It even won the Royal Astronomical Society Group Achievement Award for 2019!

Planet Hunters: Did you know that there are thousands of planets outside of our Solar System? Detection and identification of exoplanets has increased over the past 10 years with the Kepler Space Telescope. Though Kepler is no longer operating, you can still hunt for potential exoplanets with data from Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. If you do identify an exoplanet, you’ll be credited in the official exoplanet database. The newest batch of data should come in by the end of the month.

Be sure to follow Astronomy on Tap on Facebook to find out about upcoming events, and start classifying galaxies!

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Kalyna Durbak
“Rock On!”

Kalyna Durbak

Kalyna is a copywriter at GeekGirlCon, and a professional Jill-of-all-trades.

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