Communicating Astronomy


From Galaxy Zoo to Zooniverse – Dr Robert Simpson (Zooniverse). 

Zooniverse arose from an attempt to catagorise the types of galaxies that had been imigad by the SLOAN sky survey.  It was realised by researchers that more eyes were needed and that this could be done by exploiting the web.

So far, about 900 x 10^9 galaxies have been imaged.  So far about half a million people have assisted with the task.

Much quality work has come from Poland.  People log on to site during lunch hours and other free time.  US population spends 200 x 10^9 h per annum watching TV!

Assessors are presented with an image and have to click a screen button that most closely describes the galaxy.

Aim of the project is not to teach but to help.  Log on to register for an account.


The Universe in the Classroom – Dr Sarah Roberts (Faulkes Telescope Project, University of Glamorgan)

Faulkes Telescopes comprise 2 x 2m dia reflector telescopes, one located Hawaii and other at Siding Springs, Australia.  Located where they are so that they are in darkness when the UK is in daylight.  Funded in 2000 by a £M10 donation from Dill Faulkes with aim to inspire children.  In 2005, the telescopes were sold to LCOGT, ex Google, adding a 0.4 and 1m telescopes.  There is an education programme in UK and EU + citizen science.

Telescope imaging sensors are 4096 x 4096 CCD with 10.5 arc m field of view.  CCD is fitted with a range of filters, RGB, Halpha, O3.

Moodle virtual learning VLE resource for pro/am astronomers.

The planets have been removed from the Faulkes database since the Ts are primarily intended for deep sky observations. But if you do wish to image them, use ND filters to avoid blinding the CCD.  Users need to plan imaging sessions.

Users need an account which will take 1 / 2 days to set up.  Sessions last 30m with 90m limit.  FTS has more spare slots than FTN on account of better seeing at FTN.  You can get a morning email with slot availabity.  and


Solar Stormwatch – saving planet Earth through Citizen Science – Dr Chris Davis (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory)

Solar Energetic Particles (SEPs) originate from the sun.  They affect spacecraft, surface electrical systems and humans..  Sun’s magnetic field protects the planets from damaging cosmic rays originating from outside the solar system.  However, magnetic disturbances on the sun can cause geomagntic effect and induce dc currents in earthbound ac circuits, causing damage.  Known also to cause increased radiation exposure in polar latitudes and possibly to affect the control of aircraft in those regions (fly by wire systems).

There are 3 satellites watching the sun SOHO about 15 y old between earth and sun and newer STEREO A and B ahead of and behind earth to give a 3D image of solar events.  STEREO B images are not quite in focus but this can be exploited.  Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) disturb the earth’s magnetic field and it is now known that the earth’s atmosphere is not a closed system, since there is evidence that solar activity affects the weather.  Cosmic flux affects aircraft and possibly lightning.

Sun is now approaching peak activity but the level is lower than for previous maxima.  Lower activity is a possible reason for recent colder northern winters.

The STEREO craft should be able to give us about half a day’s warning of the arrival of a CME that may affect the earth’s environment.


Dark Sky Discovery – Jo Lewis (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory)

This is an embryonic project to create 9 dark sky regions within the UK, in conjunction with Natural England and Science & Technologies Facilities Council. The first is Dark Sky Scotland.  Its aims are to :

Engage people of diverse backgrounds to “own” night sky and space as part of their environment.

Cultivate a positive attitude to science and technology.

Dark sky tourism and parks.

Develop skills of astronomy communication to work with people of diverse background.

Useful to link/associate local history with universe events eg light you see today from a star 2000 light years distance started it journey when the Romans landed in Kent.

Local astronomy societies have roles to help raise awareness and profile.

Provide expertise for groups wanting to be involved.

Nominating Dark Sky Discovery Sites – best local place from which to see the night sky.  Need low light pollution, good sightlines, safe public access, approval of landowner and local authority.

Conduct light pollution surveys  Star Count Week in Jan/Feb to count stars seen in constellation of Orion.

Sky quality meters – RAL may be able to lend instruments?

RAL/STFC may be able to help with resources and leaflets.



Astronomy communications thorugh printed media – Dr Emily Baldwin (Astronomy Now!)

EB is Deputy Editor of Astronomy Now!, UK monthly periodical.  Printed media is available on newsstands, eg AN magazine, Society publications and scientific journals.

Print is seen as being able to provide “in depth” reviews and credibility.

AN publication schedule begins 2 – 3 months before date of publication, typical timescale for a monthly publication.

There is not enough space to list all Society events listings in the printed versions but they can be seen on AN website.  Notify events to

In depth articles / reviews should be 1000 – 2000 words.   If you are thinking of writing an article for publication, submit an outline first to



Working with best prop in the world – Dr Jenny Shipway (INTECH)

INTECH is located at the Millenium Science Centre, Winchester.  It has a 17m dia planetarium  with digital projector, which is a little bit more fuzzy than the traditional optical projector.  It is open for schools, families, adults and corporate events and has to pay its way.

Jenny Shipman is only full time employee.

World Space Week is held in October and there are Stargazing Events in November and January.

STEMNET.  For science teachers in Hants and IoW.

Be aware of your audience – sell the sizzle, not the sausage.


Middlemarch, Einstein and the Barmaid – Dr Mike Edmunds (Cardiff University)

Telling the story.  George Elliot used many scientific words in her book Middlemarch.

Getting the story over – Why and how?  Stories and metaphors.

Many books on science have been written, beginning with Phaenomena by Aratus 276BC,, other authors, Aristarchus of Samos 310 – 230BC, Siderius Nuncius, Gallileo 1610, Principia, Isaac Newton, The Age of Reason, Richard Holmes,

Steven Hawkins – weighty stuff does anyone ever read beyond the first page?

Astronomy communication must fire the imagination, be big and visual.  Astronomy is interesting but doesn’t directly affect everyday life.

Some topics eg GM food, stem cells, climate change and nuclear physics and baggage and give a negative image.

Use evidnce based ratonality, speak the language and science best buy.


Think of Cafe Scientifique!  Useful resource is

At end of the day, you should be able to tell the story to a barmaid (never mind that many are Phds!)



MJB 31/10/2011






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