Archives For infrared

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Tower Hill School (in Witney) to talk about astronomy, space and science. The kids were brilliant and asked awesome questions as usual. For this visit I took the department’s infrared camera – which really was the star of the show. Before I took the camera to the classroom I tested it out at home. It’s amazing how you can spot every power adapter and leaky window so easily once you are viewing the world with thermal vision.

Here are a few shots from around the house – the colour palette varies but the temperature range is displayed on the right hand side.

It turns out that classrooms are full of awesome things to look at in infrared: mostly the kids! They were full of ideas and we soon came up with things to do that would be interesting or cool. They wanted to stand in bin bags, go outside (into the cold December weather) and come back in, and look for wifi routers and plugs. A second group of kids all held onto ice cubes and looked at the classroom heater. Here are some cool shots from the school visit.

Your local department may well have one of these cameras – or you can get one for about £2.5k – and they are excellent for inspiring the kids and getting across ideas about heat and light.

To see what the Universe looks like with infrared (and other) eyes try out Chromoscope. You could also take a look at the Hidden Universe podcast or even my own TEDxCardiff talk from 2010, which is embedded below too:


Just over three years the Zooniverse launched the Milky Way Project (MWP), my first citizen science project. I have been leading the development and science of the MWP ever since. 50,000 volunteers have taken part from all over the world, and they’ve helped us do real science, including creating astronomy’s largest catalogue of infrared bubbles – which is pretty cool.

Today the original Milky Way Project (MWP) is complete. It took about three years and users have drawn more than 1,000,000 bubbles and several million other objects, including star clusters, green knots, and galaxies. It’s been a huge success but: there’s even more data! So it is with glee that we have announced the brand new Milky Way Project! It’s got more data, more objects to find, and it’s even more gorgeous.

Screenshot 2013-12-12 11.58.42

This second incarnation of my favourite Zooniverse project[1] has been an utterly different experience for me. Three years ago I had only recently learned how to build Ruby on Rails apps and had squirrelled myself away for hours carefully crafting the look and feel for my as-yet-unnamed citizen science project. I knew that it had to live up to the standards of Galaxy Zoo in both form and function – and that it had to produce science eventually.

Building and launching at that time was simpler in one sense (it was just me and Arfon that did most of the coding[2]) but so much harder as I was referring to the Rails manual constantly and learning Amazon Web Services on the fly. This week I have had the help of a team of experts at Zooniverse Chicago, who I normally collectively refer to as the development team. They have helped me by designing and building the website and also by integrating it seamlessly into the now buzzing Zooniverse infrastructure. The result has been an easier, smoother process with a far superior end result. I’ve essentially acted more like a consultant scientist, with a specification and requirements. I’ve still gotten my hands dirty (as you can see in the open source Milky Way Project GitHub repo) but I’ve managed to actually keep doing everything else I now to day-to-day at the Zooniverse. It’s been a fantastic experience to see personally how far we’ve come as an organisation.

The new MWP is being launched to include data from different regions of the galaxy in a new infrared wavelength combination. The new data consists of Spitzer/IRAC images from two surveys: Vela-Carina, which is essentially an extension of GLIMPSE covering Galactic longitudes 255°–295°, and GLIMPSE 3D, which extends GLIMPSE 1+2 to higher Galactic latitudes (at selected longitudes only). The images combine 3.6, 4.5, and 8.0 µm in the “classic” Spitzer/IRAC color scheme[3]. There are roughly 40,000 images to go through.


An EGO (or two) sitting in the dust near a young star cluster

The latest Zooniverse tech and design is being brought to bear on this big data problem. We are using our newest features to retire images with nothing in them (as determined by the volunteers of course) and to give more screen time to those parts of the galaxy where there are lots of pillars, bubbles and clusters – as well as other things. We’re marking more objects –  bow shocks, pillars, EGOs  – and getting rid of some older ones that either aren’t visible in the new data or weren’t as scientifically useful as we’d hoped (specifically: red fuzzies and green knots).

It’s very exciting! I’d highly recommend that you go now(!) and start classifying at – we need your help to map and measure our galaxy.


[1] It’s like choosing between your children

[2] Arfon may recall my resistance to unit tests

[3] Classic to very geeky infrared astronomers

Large Magellanic Cloud in the Infrared

The Large Magellanic Cloud is a dwarf galaxy orbiting around our own Milky Way. You can see it from the Southern Hemisphere but not like this! This image combines Spitzer and Herschel data to show up some of this object’s amazing star formation activity. Just wonderful!

[via Large Magellanic Cloud | Herschel Space Observatory]