AAVSO: Day 2 closes with Jordan Raddick

Long day. Tired day. Great ending.

Jordan Raddick is currently talking about using the internet to advance science. He is addressing how we are moving into a new paradigm for doing science as our data is reaching the point of petabyte data sets. The old paradigm has an observer downloading their data, analyzing it, and doing a discrete publication with the data in a table in the back. Today, it simply takes too long to download, requires too many disks, and it isn’t feasible to publish when the researchers dataset is 20,000,000 points!

He points out the following –

Old Model: Feudalism
“Today’s model: The peasants (grad students) bring the harvest (data) to their lords (professors). The harvest is tightly controlled by the availability of tools (telescope time). Lords are responsible to higher authorities (funding agencies).”

New Model: Democracy
“Resources (data) are available to anyone willing to work for them Representatives (professors) collaborate with voters (grad students) to accomplish goals of mutual interest (research).”

This is actually proving true. There was the public chess game. There is wikipedia. The hive mind, splitting up and distributing the task, comes up with better answers than the average genius.

“With Astrodemocracy, all you need is a computer and a high speed internet connection.”

And SDSS is the perfect target dataset for the hive analysis to shred into understanding. The entire 4 TB dataset is free to everyone, online, anytime. The SkyServer tool works like Google maps to let people explore the sky. It can be used for whimsical exploration or detailed creation of finding charts, comp star sequences. The data can also be queried directly through an SQL database.

Here’s an idea: Create citizen science projects (like Galaxy zoo) to facilitate large dataset exploration. Computers just can’t easily determine the shape of galaxies, but humans do it without much thought. One grad school, who had the misfortune of classifying 50,000 galaxies from SDSS by hand (yikes!), wrote Galaxy Zoo to get help. (The data shall be assimilated?)

Released in July 2007, Galaxy Zoo has lead to 100,000 members analyzing galaxies, and even searching for galaxies shaped like letters cause, well, it’s fun! Science results are starting to come out, and the first papers will emerge in December(-ish). One neat preview fact: They are finding a remarkable population of red spirals that would have otherwise been missed (computers assume all red objects are elliptical galaxies).

Another major internet project is the Virtual Observatory: “A way of bringing data into a common framework that allows a common framework.” Virtual observatories are being created to allow users around the world to access data in all wavelengths all over over the world just as Google allows content to be found anywhere anytime. The virtual observatory looks into existing data allowing new combinations and new results to be observed online.

Google Sky is one way of interfacing some of the piles of data on the Internet, and the World Wide Telescope also may allow guided tours with hyperlinking.

This online content in the astronomy democracy, however, doesn’t replace your telescope that let’s you explore with your eyes, your camera, what’s above your head. Go out, look up, enjoy!

(and invite Jordan to give a talk if you ever need a speaker. He is very very dynamic and I was really impressed with this talk.)

What a great way to end a night and end a conference!


  1. Freiddie
    Nov 4, 2007

    Now that’s NEW technology at work! (Heard of Galaxy Zoo a few weeks back, but never tried it… Now I see that it is a good idea. Now let me contribute – off to GZ)

  2. John Parejko
    Nov 4, 2007

    Go Jordan! He’s great. And now he’s rabble-rousing. It’s a very interesting idea, but funding is potentially a problem (and the V.O. still has a lot of kinks to work out…).

  3. Chris Lintott
    Nov 5, 2007

    Thanks for the Galaxy Zoo plug. It’s appropriate that the talk was at the AAVSO as we’ve borrowed some of the techniques variable star observers use to combine data from different observers to help us sort through the catalogue.


  4. I am writing from India(largest democracy of the world)on behalf of Planetary Society, India (not yet affiliated to Planetary Society.

    We all know about astrobiology, archeoastronomy, space medicine, space engineering etc.. its really great to know now about Astrodemocracy(as refered above) and feel that we need to make efforts through greater educational outreach to benefit even the people from poor nations. This i hope would be intrue spirit of UN Declaration at UNISPACE III Vienna 1999.

    Here we like to congratulate Mr.Jordan for his efforts. Further We welcome and would be happy to host a talk of mr.Jordan through webseminar for students here.


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