Astronomer Works to Change Public Perceptions of Science

Astronomy professor Dr. Bill Keel is a man with a mission. He’s heavily involved in the Galaxy Zoo Project, which encourages citizens around the world (with or without scientific experience) to evaluate photos taken by the Hubble Telescope.

Galaxy Zoo is unique in that millions of people across the globe are encouraged to examine and even classify millions of galaxies. In 2007, Hanny’s Voorwep (an astronomical oddity roughly the size of the Milky Way) was discovered by novice astronomer Hanny van Arkel, a Dutch schoolteacher who simply decided to log onto the site and comb through the constellations.

Through his work with Galaxy Zoo project, Keel is attempting to convince the general public that they too can engage in scientific research. “The aim is not for everyone to be a scientist but for everyone to understand how those thought processes work,” Keel said. “There are certain habits of scientific thought which are very useful in solving certain kinds of problems.”

In order to make this information more appealing and accessible to the general public, Keel and a team of writers and artists have produced an astronomy-based comic about Hanny van Arkel’s discovery. “Hanny and the Mystery of the Voorwerp” debuted in paper form in 2010 and was rereleased as a webcomic during DragonCon (the world’s largest fantasy-science fiction convention) in September 2012. Dr. Keel is actually among the cast of characters in the comic and says the artistic depiction of him is “nothing if not flattering.”

Keel said he hopes that the comic will pique the general public’s interest in the Galaxy Zoo project and dispel, once and for all, the notion that science is only for the stuffy.