XGAL Lancaster to the World, via Heather – Weeks 3 & 4

Welcome to the second instalment of my blog, covering weeks 3 and 4 of my internship. Previously, I had completed the theory video for the ‘Hunting For Distant Galaxies’ task, but now if you take a look at XGAL-DIY you’ll see that the whole task is online! 

The task involves using data for the COSMOS field to find distant galaxies, with a little warm up of finding CR7. Using DS9, you set up the files so that two images of the same area of space, seen through 2 different filters, automatically switch between themselves – the distant galaxies are seen in one image, but not the other. An extragalactic spot-the-difference!

The majority of these 2 weeks were spent writing the script for the video, recording (and re-recording) the instructions and editing everything together. Thankfully, this task already had very clear, well-written instructions, thanks to David, Sergio, Joao and Amaia. I essentially had to create a video with very clear, slow, step-by-step instructions, and we decided it would be even more useful to have the written instructions on the screen as well, just for everything to be as simple as possible for kids of all ages. There was also some more information about CR7 and what the catalogues are showing which needed to be included – lots of images and time-lapses from La Palma were used again! For more information about Lancaster Astrophysics trips to La Palma click here.

The reason these tasks are so exciting is the fact that the kids will be using real data and finding high redshift galaxies in a similar way to how real astronomers find them. We’re hoping to encourage the kids to become astrophysicists, or at least have some fun while doing this task.

To make everything as simple as possible for both teacher and students, there’s also a separate XGAL-DIY page  which is more step-by-step. This was just so we can access as many people and as many different ability levels as possible.

Another great part of this task, is the Google Form where you submit the coordinates of the galaxies that you found but also get to ask an astrophysicist a question – all David’s idea of course. This means that we will receive the answers and then the students will get feedback from a real astrophysicist – so many reasons to be excited! There’s also questions regarding how challenging and fun the activity is, meaning that we get useful feedback too.

Due to links David has with the local schools, this task will be being used in schools when the year starts in September, so then we’ll get more feedback, but more importantly, spread the word about how exciting being an astrophysicist is!

Still to come…

Hopefully there will be a ‘Level 3’ to this task coming at some point. In the larger COSMOS images, there are some ‘fake’ galaxies that have been artificially added in order for younger kids to be able to complete the task and also to make the objective easier to spot. So Level 3 will involve using real HST images in order to check the coordinate of the galaxies that you’ve found and see where it actually is a galaxy. Again this should be exciting because the kids will be using real data and using resources that professional galaxy hunters find.

However, this is not my task for the minute, as I am currently beginning the next task – Mapping The Universe. Look out for my next blog post and updates to the XGAL-DIY page to learn more about how to map the Universe.

Heather Wade

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