Amateur Space Weekly - August 9

Every week I recap headlines from the world of amateur space exploration. From students sending research to the International Space Station to retirees searching for planets orbiting other stars, space exploration belongs to more than just the astronauts.

This artist's representation of the pro-am discovery is centered on a pulsar. Data recorded by a gamma ray space telescope shows the pulsar's periodic sweep across Earth. The magenta cloud to the lower left is the supernova remnant whose gamma ray emissions kept scientists from discovering the pulsar. Credit: Knispel/AEI/DSS/Wise/Chandra

Amateurs helped scientists at the Max Planck Institute discover a gamma ray pulsar. Tens of thousands of people around the world donate the excess processing power of their personal computers to Einstein@Home. That creates a virtual supercomputer more powerful than anything the scientists could afford.

Two Google Science Fair regional finalists have space-related projects. American high school student Pranav Sivakumar developed a software algorithm that searches for lensed quasars in data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. He reports that the algorithm produced results consistent with professionals’ work - and even discovered a new candidates. British teen Matthew Reid designed an open source platform for small satellites. Using commercially available compatible with an Arduino-based processor, he argues, will let people more affordably develop PocketQube satellites. The two are eligible to win a tour of Virgin Galactic’s facilities in California among other prizes. Judges will review the finalist’s prizes and announce the winners on September 21.

Iranian teenagers took home the world champion title at the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics. High school students from thirty-nine nations descended on Indonesia’s Borobudur Temple for a week of theoretical, observational, and analytical competition. The Iran students earned three gold, four silver and three bronze medals to place their team at the top of the leader board. India, Indonesia, Russia, and Thailand rounded out the top five.

Radio Galaxy Zoo asks citizen scientists to match radio telescope data (red lines) to infrared telescope data so astronomers can study the massive black holes at galactic centers. Source: Radio Galaxy Zoo

Radio Galaxy Zoo is about to publish its first peer-reviewed paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (arXiv preprint: 1507.07272). Radio Galaxy Zoo launched last year as a spin-off of Zooniverse’s Galaxy Zoo project. Citizen scientists evaluate images that combine radio telescope with infrared telescope data in order to map the sources of radio emissions to a host galaxy. Ultimately the Radio Galaxy Zoo catalog will let astronomers study 170,000 Active Galactic Nuclei, the black holes at the center of galaxies. The paper documents early results from the project’s first twelve months and demonstrates that amateurs in combination can do the task as well as expert astronomers. The authors also explain that Radio Galaxy Zoo is a pilot project that may expand once next-generation radio telescopes enter service over the coming decade.

CosmoQuest makes mapping craters on planets, moons, and asteroids a team effort. Astronomy outreach organization CosmoQuest develops crowdsourced citizen science projects to advance the exploration of the Solar System. Last week they announced the creation of CosmoQuest Teams so participants can pool their efforts. The new feature lets teachers aggregate their students accounts and complete education-specific challenges.

Australian astronomers launched Galaxy Explorer, a crowdsourced project to study galactic evolution. Volunteers classify the shape of galaxies by answering a series of questions. The experience is similar to GalaxyZoo, but the library of 200,000 galaxies spans a 3 billion year period. The farthest, youngest galaxies are more than 4 billion light years away while the closest, oldest galaxies are less than 1 billion light years away. Mapping the shape and brightness of these galaxies will let astronomers study the processes through which galaxies form and grow.

Other news in amateur space exploration:

  • Students at the American University in Sharjah hope to launch the United Arab Emirates first educational CubeSat later this year (Southgate Amateur Radio News)
  • A Montana amateur astronomer describes his astronomy outreach activities hosting star parties at his dark sky observatory and conducting astronomy programs at local schools. (Montana Standard)