Why did the boy throw the butter out the window?*

Right now, the butterfly might be coming out. Or it might not. On Thursday, my son’s preschool teacher said that Friday would be the day. On Friday, she said she hoped it would wait until Monday. She and the kids have been marking off the days since the monarch caterpillar stopped munching milkweed and spun […]

Battling the Beetles

On a cold, clear June morning high in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains, Jesse Logan stopped on a snow-covered hillside and pointed with his ski pole to a large pine tree. A few of its needles were turning red, a sign of trouble. About a dozen people gathered around him on the snow to listen. “We […]

An Argument About Crows

“Light thickens, and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood.”  MacBeth is talking, telling his wife it’s a good night to murder the king.  Even a century earlier, the collective noun was “a murder of crows.”  Three centuries later, a poet watches a horse that’s been shot: “gorged crows rise ragged in the wind.  […]

We, the Planethunters!

The last Zooniverse project I spent time on was also their first, Galaxy Zoo 1.   You looked at pictures of galaxies and decided whether they were shaped like spirals or ellipticals.  I could do that, it was fun, and better yet, it was citizen science, 350,000 citizens doing real science with real scientific results, so […]

Old Weather & Citizen Science

Galaxy Zoo – the citizen science project with hundreds of thousands of citizens classifying galaxies, catching supernovae, mapping the moon, finding solar storms, and so on far into the night – has sprouted a new project called Old Weather.  The reason old weather is more interesting than, say, old socks, is that yesterday’s weather is […]

Newly-Evolved Hybrid

On July 28, 2010, nearly 900,000 galaxies were put into a public database, and this is Galaxy #1, or SDSS J000000.41-102225.6, and don’t tell me astronomers don’t know how to name things.   Galaxy #1 is probably an elliptical; the rest of the 900,000 are either ellipticals or spirals or something else, and were identified as […]

The New Cincinnati

In 2007, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey had just filled a public database with a gazillion galaxies and Kevin Schawinski, a graduate student, needed a sample of the ones called, for their shape, ellipticals.  Identifying shape isn’t something computers are much good at, so Kevin looked for his ellipticals, culling out the spirals and irregulars, […]