Episode 64: Bursts from Space
With Alexander Andersson
In this episode, Tshiamiso and Dan have a discussion with Alexander Andersson from Oxford University about Zooniverse, citizen science projects and how citizens can contribute to the work that astronomers do.
Alexander Andersson is a PhD student at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. His work focuses on Machine Learning applications to data collected by the MeerKAT telescope. Alex is also involved with the Zooniverse citizen science project. Specifically, Alex is working on the Bursts from Space project using the Zooniverse platform in order to train AI to identify radio transients.
During the episode Alex discusses how important and useful the work done by participants in the Bursts from Space project is for helping scientists train AI in the search for radio transients – or as Alex puts it: “Things that go bump in the night”.
Join us for another exciting episode and learn how you can contribute to the fascinating research going on in Astronomy today!
This Weeks’ Guest
Bursts From Space: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/alex-andersson/bursts-from-space-meerkat
Show notes created by Francois Campher.
Social media managed by Sumari Hattingh Van Niekerk.
YouTube video created by Emil Meintjes.
Transcript created by Abigail Thambiran.
[00:00:00] Tshia: Welcome to the Cosmic Savannah with Dr. Tshiamiso Makwela
[00:00:08] Dan: and Dr. Daniel Cunnama. Each episode, we’ll be giving you a behind-the-scenes look at world class astronomy and astrophysics happening under African skies.
[00:00:16] Tshia: Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do, and the fascinating discoveries we make.
[00:00:25] Dan: Sit back and relax as we take you on a safari through the skies.
[00:00:32] Tshia: Welcome to this episode of the Cosmic Savannah. And today we have Alex Andersson, who is from the University of Oxford. And we’ll be talking about Bursts from Space, which is the new citizen science project that the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory and the MeerKAT are working on in collaboration with Oxford University.
[00:00:54] Dan: Absolutely. So this is a very exciting project for us because citizens are getting involved in real science. This isn’t just astronomers. We’re not talking necessarily just about professional astronomers and the work they’re doing, but this is an opportunity for members of the public and astronomy enthusiasts to get involved in some real research.
[00:01:11] Tshia: Yeah. So we’re making everyone scientists
[00:01:15] Dan: and we’re getting them to do some free labor for us.
[00:01:19] Tshia: I should take that out.
[00:01:23] Dan: I don’t know. I think it’s great. Um, we, I mean, we, we, we, it’s a great way to communicate. We want to, you know, teach people about what we’re doing. Yeah. So the, the citizen science project is using data from MeerKAT as you said, from the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory.
[00:01:37] And then what they’re asking is to get members of the public involved to look for things called transients.
[00:01:44] Tshia: Mm. And I think that’s so exciting because we come from a world where we are always looking at these things, but we never actually know what they are. And today I think we’re bringing a nice word to look at the stars, such as saying they are transients, and we’re going to look at the different transients that currently exist and that we have, and that the MeerKAT is helping us classify.
[00:02:06] I think Dan and I would just mention some of them.
[00:02:08] Dan: Yeah. So, you know, when we talk about something transient in astronomy, it’s something that changes. So, you know, we can look at a star or a planet that doesn’t change very much on a day-to-day scale, but some of these really do. So things like supernova are obvious transients, they explode and they brighten and fade over the matter of a couple of weeks.
[00:02:29] And then there’s some other more, you know, subtle transients, some stars go through periodic pulsations and variations is things like solar flares, which we can see very easily on our sun.
[00:02:40] Tshia: We also have binary stars, which is kind of like a system of two stars going around each other. And I think as they do that, then we get to see the changes in them as they get brighter or fainter with time.
[00:02:51] Dan: Yeah. And then also things on a galactic scale. We have these active galactic nuclei which are the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies. They’re devouring, you know, matter and stars and things. And they, they send out these jets, which can pass us and those sort of flare up and down.
[00:03:10] So, so these are another example of transients and then also fast radio bursts, which we’ve spoken before about on the podcast, which is kind of a. Kind of uncertain. We’re not really sure where they come from. These little bursts out of nowhere in space.
[00:03:25] Tshia: I think that’s really exciting. And I think through this citizen science project, people can be able to help us classify them by logging on to Zooniverse, right, which is a platform, which is being used to classify all of these objects using the MeerKAT data. So you have the MeerKAT data that’s on Zooniverse and you get onto Zooniverse and be part of us, be part of everyone doing science. But you get onto Zooniverse and there will be images, there’ll be light curves that will be there that you’re going to study and classify what these things are.
[00:03:58] Dan: Yeah, so you get to look at an image, as you said, and then you get to classify it according to some template or, or model that, that the astronomers have provided, and see whether whatever you’re looking at matches what we’re predicting or what we’re expecting. And then we can use this to improve our models.
[00:04:15] Tshia: Yeah. Um, do you think anyone needs some pre-astronomy knowledge before they can be part of the Citizen Science Project?
[00:04:23] Dan: No, I don’t think so. I think that, uh, you know, you can go onto the Zooniverse website. The idea is that these are, are made fairly simple. You’ll have to do a little bit of training, try and learn what you’re looking for.
[00:04:33] And then you can kind of go through on a step-by-step basis and identify things. And then all of that data gets fed back to the astronomers and they can use that to sort of train their models, which means that, you know, hopefully in future the, the computers can do it better, but at the moment, this is something which, you know, humans do best.
[00:04:52] Tshia: Yeah, I think this is so exciting because at the end of the day, When these results are being published, citizens get to be part of these publications. So I think it’s exciting for citizens to look at this and say, I am part of that study or I’m part of this thing. So I think it’s a good thing that our listeners and their friends take part in this.
[00:05:13] Dan: Yeah, for sure. I think that, you know, the Zooniverse concept came out many years ago now, I think first to classify different types of galaxies. And now there’s a bunch of projects on Zooniverse where you can go and do different citizen science projects, you know, not just with MeerKAT, but this is part of a growing thing.
[00:05:29] You know, we’re getting more and more of these telescopes, they’re churning out data more than we can possibly handle. And we need, uh, help to try and get through it. And we need algorithms that can, can sort of sort this data on the fly, especially something like MeerKAT where it’s coming in so fast. And in order to train those models and, and see what exactly we’re getting, what we should be looking for, there’s nothing better than the human eye.
[00:05:54] Tshia: Nothing better than the human eye, I think I’m going to take that as the word for the day today.
[00:06:00] Dan: Or maybe not my eyes but I mean, in a general sense, I mean, mine are pretty shocking.
[00:06:07] Tshia: So we should not completely overrule or override the potential that people looking at this data can actually have in the findings that we get.
[00:06:16] We cannot fully rely. (Not yet). Fully rely on AI for now. We still, yeah, for now.
[00:06:25] Dan: Thank you for training the AI.
[00:06:30] We’re making ourselves redundant. We should get on to Alex before we go any further down this rabbit hole. Yeah, so Tshia and I, we’re very fortunate to catch up with Alex. He was recently in South Africa. Um, we did, we did record over zoom, but he did a lovely training session here in South Africa, um, training people to get involved and we’ll be doing another one in the not too distant future.
[00:06:51] And yeah, let’s hear from Alex where he’ll be able to tell us more about this project.
[00:07:03] All right, so today we are joined by Alex Andersson from the University of Oxford who will be talking to us a little bit about The MeerKAT Citizen Science Project that he’s been involved in and has been running. Alex, welcome to the Cosmic Savannah.
[00:07:17] Alex: Yeah, thanks for having me.
[00:07:18] Dan: So you are joining us from Oxford over zoom at the moment but you were recently in South Africa and you were here to do what exactly?
[00:07:27] Alex: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. So a couple of weeks ago, I was in Cape Town working with SARAO and people who work on MeerKAT to, uh, launch the second data release of the citizen science project I work on to the public. And to do that, we had some learners from Carnarvon High School, which is up in the Northern Cape near where MeerKAT, the telescope I use, near where that’s based to do some sort of learning on the kind of amazing things we can find with MeerKAT.
[00:07:53] Dan: So with MeerKAT right? The project is called Bursts From Space. And maybe you can just tell us, you know, give us a brief introduction about what it is and how it works and how you’re engaging students like the students in Carnarvon and others.
[00:08:07] Alex: Yeah. So, so burst from space, we named it that as a very sort of literal thing because we’re looking for bursts from space with MeerKAT.
[00:08:14] So what we do is we take amazing pictures of the sky with MeerKAT, this amazing telescope we have in, in South Africa. And if we take those pictures regularly, and we compare one picture to the last, we can play a sort of astronomical spot the difference and see if something is brighter or fainter in later or earlier images.
[00:08:31] And by doing that, we can sort of see how the sky is changing and if there’s anything in the sky that is appearing or disappearing, changing over time. And so we have a project on a citizen science platform where we can show anyone, anyone in the public, professionals or amateurs, we can show them what data from MeerKAT looks like and get them engaged and say, okay, is there something changing here?
[00:08:52] Is there something disappearing? Is there something transient in the sky? We would say something that’s changing or appearing or disappearing.
[00:08:59] Tshia: It’s good that you just said transients there, because the next question we have for you is, so the project focuses on identifying radiotransients using the data from MeerKAT as you said that you came here for the MeerKAT so could you explain what they are, what radiotransients are, and why are they of particular interest, especially in the field of astrophysics?
[00:09:21] Alex: Yeah, so I generally use radio transients as a bit of a catch all for anything that, you know, goes bump in the night, so to speak, with a radio telescope. Um, so this could be something like a nearby star to us, showing some interesting flaring behavior. We see sometimes these small stars near the sun that sort of flare, and that’s quite interesting, um, for astrophysicists who care about what’s going on inside stars or what might happen for planets going around those stars.
[00:09:46] But radio transients can also include things on much greater distance scales. You know, things in other galaxies, it could be distant galaxies that are sort of twinkling and scintillating, we might say, just like the stars do in the night sky. Um, or it could be things in the middle of those distant galaxies which are suddenly getting a lot more energetic and heating up and, and doing all sorts of interesting things that people who care about.
[00:10:07] Large black holes might be interesting (to) people who care about how galaxies form. So it’s a bit of a catch all term calling these things radio transients. Is there anything that changes that we can see with a radio telescope? And that’s what we’re trying to find, basically.
[00:10:19] Dan: Okay, so I’m quite interested in what exactly this looks like and how the public can assist.
[00:10:25] But before we get to that, I just wanted to ask you how you got involved in it in terms of the Citizen Science Project and the University of Oxford. How did this sort of collaboration come about?
[00:10:36] Alex: Yeah. That’s a really good point. So, so I started my PhD a few years ago, um, but before that I did my undergrad in Manchester.
[00:10:44] Um, Manchester is home to Jodrell Bank, which is a big and historic radio observatory. So it was sort of inevitable that when I did my undergrad there, that I’d then fall in love with radio astronomy, end up coming to Oxford and then cause the project on offer was this one that I’m now doing. Had a real nice mix of the things I enjoyed using radio telescopes that I already knew I liked.
[00:11:06] And engaging the public was something I knew I really enjoyed already from doing outreach previously and engaging with, with communities around Manchester. And so it sort of, it fit the bill in terms of everything I knew I liked. And it was a bit of a frontier thing, you know, only with the most recent generation of radio telescopes are we able to push for these, you know, large field of view and regular observations to find interesting things changing in the sky.
[00:11:30] So it sort of felt very novel and so that excited me a lot. And I applied and got involved and it’s been something I’ve really enjoyed doing.
[00:11:37] Tshia: Um, so can you just tell us about maybe a little bit more about your then collaboration with SARAO and MeerKat and then Oxford University?
[00:11:46] Alex: Yeah, so I’m, uh, I work at the University of Oxford, um, for my PhD and I, uh, got started here a couple of years ago.
[00:11:53] This is where my, my two supervisors and I are based. And my two supervisors work on very similar problems to those that I do. One of them works a lot with radio telescopes and one of them works a lot with citizen scientists. So it makes sense that the project I’m doing falls in between those. MeerKAT is, of course, this amazing telescope that we get to use and it really does amazing work and it’s one of the best telescopes in the world.
[00:12:13] I’m very much biased in saying that, but you know what I’ll say it.
[00:12:16] Dan: We like it.
[00:12:17] Alex: Yeah. Um, and so, you know, MeerKAT provides the amazing sensitivity and, you know, regular observations that catch large pictures of the sky. Basically every time we take a picture of the sky with MeerKAT at the L band receiver, which is one of the three sort of frequencies you can look at with MeerKAT at the moment. You take a picture of the sky that’s about twice the size of the full moon, which might not seem that big by eye when you look at the whole sky, but that’s pretty large by astronomical terms and certainly for, for radio telescopes. So that allows us to find these amazing things.
[00:12:47] So it’s very unique capabilities of MeerKAT that let us do this amazing science. And then SARAO uh, are able to facilitate the amazing data that comes from from MeerKAT and more recently when we’ve doing this work in South Africa, working with learners in Carnarvon, for example, they’ve been able to facilitate that and have the people on the ground and embedded in the communities in Carnarvon and Cape Town to allow us to do the engagement with those, those communities.
[00:13:11] Tshia: Thank you so much for mentioning students in Canaveral because this leads perfectly to this whole thing about citizen scientists and including non-professional astronomers being part of the science that we do. Can you please elaborate maybe on how normal citizens can actually actively participate and contribute through this project through the Zooniverse?
[00:13:33] Alex: Yeah, so, uh, the Zooniverse is a citizen science platform that my supervisor set up several years ago now, which its whole aim is to engage anyone who’s interested with science. And there’s lots and lots of amazing astronomy projects on there, where any member of the public or amateur or professional can get involved in basically any kind of science they want.
[00:13:53] There’s lots of astronomy projects, but there’s also some ecology and humanities projects as well. And so it’s a very open platform, and people can get involved just by… Go into the website, which is just zooniverse.org and finding a project they think is interesting and getting started. So I, um, launched our project on there originally a couple of years ago now, and just use the amazing data we have from MeerKAT to, to try and get people involved.
[00:14:16] Specifically with the students in Carnarvon, we wanted to, to launch a sort of second batch of data from the telescope. And we thought it’d be great to engage in the communities that are, you know, located physically near MeerKAT, but maybe haven’t got as much access to the amazing science that it can do.
[00:14:31] And so we thought it’d be nice to show them what kind of amazing things they can do with the telescope that’s sort of on their back doorstep, so to speak, which has been really, really engaging and fulfilling part of the PhD so far.
[00:14:42] Dan: So what exactly do the students and members of the public do? So, you know, the project is looking at images, you’re looking at light curves, and you said you, you’re trying to detect these radio transients, but for a member of public who doesn’t, you know, have any astronomy training, what do they have to do, you know, if they sign up to Zooniverse?
[00:15:00] Alex: Yeah, yeah. So if they go to the Burst From Space MeerKAT page on Zooniverse, um, and once get involved, which would be amazing. We always love when more people take part. What we show you is a light curve and an image of one tiny patch of sky. So the image is, is just when, when our programs and algorithms have found something out in that position in the sky, we take a little sort of, take a little cut out of that portion of sky in one of our pictures.
[00:15:24] So we can see what we think is there. And we also show them what we see, as I said, a light curve. And a light curve is just a graph where we show how the brightness of the thing in that image changes over time between all the images we’ve taken. And so the aim of the game is just to say, okay, is the light curve that we show you, this graph of how the brightness changes, is that changing clearly over time?
[00:15:42] Is this thing getting brighter? Is it getting fainter? Was it not there in some images? Was it then, then appeared? And that’s sort of the main, diagnostic tool. And then the, we show them the image to verify if this thing is actually just a little point, like how, when we see stars in the sky, they’re just these little points.
[00:15:57] Sometimes with telescopes, we see these big blobby structures. We see things sticking out of galaxies that are far away, or we see nebulae in our galaxy. And these things are sort of extended and resolved, large structures. And what’s those very interesting that they don’t tend to show the radio transient emission or variable behavior that we’re looking for, and they can sometimes introduce systematic effects into what we’re trying to find. So we want to sort of weed out any of the large resolved things. We’re looking for the the things that are so small in the sky that they’re just points.
[00:16:27] Tshia: That’s really interesting. I think also in the world of AI now, like artificial intelligence and all the machine learning tools, what motivated the decision really to involve humans in classification process instead of really just developing some code to, to find these things in the nice sky through that data?
[00:16:47] Alex: Yeah. Yeah. This is a really good point, right? There’s been a real rise in the people’s awareness of things like machine learning. So it’s, it’s often a question we, we get asked when, when doing this kind of thing. And one of the, if I stick with, with, you know, enjoying using machine learning, for example, one of the reasons we do this is to use machine learning models.
[00:17:06] You have to train them, you have to teach the machines what you’re looking for, and to teach the machines what you’re looking for, you need to know what you’ve already seen. And so, to train the machine learning, we need to already have some amount of stuff from the telescope, of images, of light curves, of data from MeerKAT, that citizen scientists have already said, Okay, this is definitely a transient, whereas this one definitely isn’t.
[00:17:26] This one might be a transient, this one might not be. And you build up a large amount of data, and then you can use that. to train your machine learning to do more at larger scales, for example. So if you like using machine learning, you can, you can use this as a sort of, as your training bed for doing that.
[00:17:42] Also, you know, simply it’s true that. Citizen scientists do really well at this, and humans are really good at, you know, pattern recognition, which getting into machine learning models can be really complicated. Um, so in the spirit of just doing the thing that works, that’s fairly simple first, you know, this thing works.
[00:17:58] If you don’t need to go to complicated million parameter machine learning models, and you can engage people in the public and produce great scientific results, then, you know, why not?
[00:18:07] Dan: Have you produced great scientific results? Have you had some cool discoveries? I mean, have you had some cool discoveries, uh, you know, helped with the citizen scientists?
[00:18:15] Alex: Yeah, yeah, so, so, we’ve sort of fully analysed the first data release that we, we did, that finished taking data last year sometime, and we published the paper early this year, and in that we talk about the amazing things that volunteers found, and one of the sort of key things that we saw was that humans find things that our sort of traditional methods sort of statistical methods that we might have used before, the citizen scientists find things that the traditional methods wouldn’t have.
[00:18:41] And that’s kind of a real kicker for that is that humans do this better. Basically, some of the things they found include, as I said, nearby stars to the sun, they show this sort of flaring behavior. They also found some stars further away in our galaxy that show these really interesting maser-like characteristics.
[00:18:58] So a maser is basically a laser in space and there are certain types of stars that can produce these sort of lasers around the outside of a star in the sort of dust that surrounds it and they look quite interesting and weird and not really something I knew a huge amount about until my volunteers found it and said hey this thing looks really cool and I then had to go and go and look it up and go oh what’s that what’s that OH maser? So you know it’s a bit of a bit of an interesting journey for me.
[00:19:20] Most of the things that our volunteers have found are often distant galaxies, and they mostly look to be twinkling at us. That’s something we see quite commonly at the rate at which we take the observations and the frequency we’re looking at, we expect distant galaxies to show a sort of scintillation as the sort of light coming from them passes through our galaxy, they sort of twinkle.
[00:19:40] Um, and that’s fairly common, but still interesting to see how much of that we can, we can catch with the most recent generation of radio telescopes.
[00:19:47] Tshia: Alex, you mentioned twinkling a lot.
[00:19:50] Alex: Yeah.
[00:19:51] Tshia: Um, you know, and we know from, you know, the song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. And then later on, there’s this whole thing, especially in Astro1000, where we say to students, well, do stars really twinkle or do things in the night sky really twinkle?
[00:20:04] So maybe if you just explain what this twinkling means in this study.
[00:20:08] Dan: These are galaxies. You know. Now the galaxies are twinkling, too.
[00:20:12] Tshia: Galaxies are now twinkling, too.
[00:20:13] Alex: Yeah, so if I was, if I was, wanted to be really technical, I might refer to it as refractive scintillation, but we can just stick with twinkling, really.
[00:20:24] It’s much easier. So this is very much like what you see in the night sky, where as the light comes to us from, from stars, um, our atmosphere sort of gets in the way and causes a disturbance in the light coming from those stars. And that causes them to wobble a little bit and get a little bit brighter and a little bit fainter.
[00:20:38] So that’s what we see with our eyes, when we see the stars twinkling. But the same behaviour occurs with any kind of telescope, in theory. So when we use our radio telescopes and look at distant galaxies, which are so far away that they’re also just little points in the sky, like how stars are to our eyes, as the light shines through our galaxy, the stuff that’s in our galaxy, the sort of gas and dust that is sort of, um, in between all the stars, can cause this scintillation, this twinkling, on these much larger scales from these things that are… outside of our galaxy as the light passes through our own Milky Way.
[00:21:08] And this is mostly seen when we look towards where we know our galaxy is. You’d get less of this. If you look sort of in the other direction, sort of out towards away from, from where our, uh, our Milky Way is in the sky. The observations that I’ve used have mostly come from a particular survey on MeerKAT, which happens to have looked at things in the Milky Way.
[00:21:26] So we see this effect quite pronounced.
[00:21:29] Dan: Uh, is this something we’ve seen before? I guess it’s part of a bigger question. Like, you know, you, you’re looking at. various different things on different scales. You’re talking from stars to distant galaxies, and all of them are transient. So they’re all changing over time, which I guess is the thing.
[00:21:45] But what are we, you know, what are we learning in terms of the science here? Presumably you’ve now dabbled with the entire range of astronomical phenomena, uh, but what science are we pushing here?
[00:21:57] Alex: Yeah, it has been interesting to sort of um, you know, I’m working a lot on how to find these things, and then we find these things on different scales, and then I have to go on these little journeys to find, okay, I didn’t know anything about, you know, flaring variable stars near us, and I have to find out something about that and say something coherent about it.
[00:22:11] Yeah, the range of astrophysics that we find is something that really pushes this science in that. Yeah, as I said, the stuff on nearby stars can be relevant for people who care about the inner workings of stars or about the planets that go around those stars. You might imagine, for example, if there’s a planet going around a star, and that star flares a lot and, you know, burps out a lot of energy onto that planet, that might not be great for the things, if there were things living on that planet, for example.
[00:22:35] So that’s sort of interesting to think about. The, the twinkling stuff isn’t, isn’t new by any means. We’ve known that things twinkle for a long time, um, and we see it with things in our galaxy. There are things in our galaxy called pulsars that we often see to, to twinkle and pulsars are the dead remnants of, of large stars that show, we see very easily with radio telescopes and we see them twinkle quite a lot as they spin, but yeah, we also see it with, with extra galactic things, these other galaxies that are shining to us as well.
[00:23:02] So that’s not, not necessarily new, but by getting more observations of it, um, we get a better feel for how, how frequently it occurs. And when you’re looking with different radio telescopes at different observing frequencies, how the scintillation might occur on different timescales, for example, or how it might be structured through the galaxy.
[00:23:20] Um, that’s one thing you might be able to find. And then for the other extragalactic things, if there’s things that are exploding or, or getting heated up in, in distant galaxies, then we have the potential to find these sort of explosions at very large distances as well. There’s no definite ones of those yet, found yet, but yeah, we’ve got lots more data to look through and hopefully this will keep growing as a project.
[00:23:39] So, so we’ll always keep an eye out.
[00:23:41] Tshia: Yeah, I like that. You just said this will keep going for the project because, you know, I just want to know what are the future plans and future goals for the Bursts from Space Project how do you plan to refine the project? Are you planning on getting more observations, getting more people involved, maybe many more other telescopes involved as well?
[00:24:01] Alex: Yeah, so we definitely want to continue with the project. It’s been real, real joy to do. And we’ve sort of seen that. You know, people like doing it, which, you know, there was no guarantee that people would enjoy, you know, looking at this stuff. So that’s great to see that people, you know, care about the science that I care about.
[00:24:15] It’s always nice. Yeah, so we have a second data release, uh, that’s currently live and that’s, you know, for anyone to get involved with. And then we have more plans to do to, uh, different observations in the future for a sort of third batch of data. which is actually going to be quite interesting for us because that’s observations taken over several hours as opposed to many months.
[00:24:34] So that’s looking for things that are changing on different timescales, things that are changing very quickly as opposed to more slowly, which might be very interesting for the things we could find. So that’s the immediate next thing. And then further into the future. Yeah, I hope we can keep doing this with more observations from MeerKAT or other telescopes.
[00:24:49] I finished my PhD in about eight months. So if someone wants to employ me and help me to keep finding those things, then I’m, you know, I’m all up for that. Um, absolutely. Yeah.
[00:24:59] Dan: It’s great. I mean, thanks so much for, for your time and good luck with the, the wrapping up of your PhD. Um, before we, um, before we leave you though, is there anything else you’d like to share with the listeners?
[00:25:10] You know, maybe just in encouraging them, I guess, to, to take part, but anything else in terms of citizen science and how they can get involved?
[00:25:18] Alex: Yeah, I guess one of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about this work and I hadn’t really thought about much beforehand was how rewarding the engagement aspect of it is for me and for those with whom I’m engaging.
[00:25:34] So when I’ve done this stuff with learners from Carnarvon or interacted with volunteers on the website, there’s a sort of talk forum where they can tag researchers like myself and say if they found something they think was interesting. It’s been super, super rewarding. And I hope that that people can, can get a sense that.
[00:25:49] You know, this telescope and the science that’s done with it are things that if you’re people from South Africa, you know, it’s in, in your country and it’s this amazing telescope and it’s, it’s yours and that you should be very proud of this amazing work that it can do and have some sense of ownership over the amazing. work that it does.
[00:26:05] And that’s what I felt when I was working with the learners from Carnarvon, that they actually got a sense of, hey, this is the thing that’s here and we can do really cool science with it. Um, which I think is really, really important that there’s international, you know, collaborations who work on the telescope. And that’s amazing to have this sort of global reach, but also focusing on this, this thing of why it’s here and it’s built on in our country and doing this amazing stuff in a place where science has been being done for many thousands of years. I think that’s sort of invaluable for people to take away.
[00:26:35] Yeah. And so it’s been really rewarding for me to be involved in that and contributing a little bit to the story of the cool things that this telescope can find. So if people want to get involved and find some cool things out in space and learn a bit more about the amazing work that things like MeerKAT can do, then that’d be great.
[00:26:50] And if someone’s getting involved, I’m very happy about it. Yeah.
[00:26:54] Dan: Brilliant.
[00:26:55] Tshia: Thank you so much, Alex, for your time. Actually, I’ve really enjoyed this, this interview. By the way, it’s my first interview. So thanks for your patience with us, Alex.
[00:27:05] Alex: I hope what I said was somewhat coherent. I never know how to say things. And then I forget what I’ve said as soon as I’ve said them.
[00:27:10] So I’ve no idea.
[00:27:12] Dan: No, I think it happens to all of us, um, but yeah, thank you again, Alex. We really appreciate your time and not just for the interview, but your energy that’s gone into this project and, you know, like you say, bringing the science from MeerKAT to the people who are closely linked to it, it’s a really special project and, um, yeah, all the best with it.
[00:27:31] Keep it up and, um, we’ll, we’ll try and spread the news and get as many people as, as possible involved.
[00:27:39] Alex: That’s amazing. Thanks. Yeah, it’s been really nice to get involved with the SAAO, SARAO and for example, generally it’s been really nice to see, yeah, it’s sort of, I started the first stage release we did, you know, a couple years ago, and that was sort of just a test to see if it would work all right, and it went pretty well, but now, you know, we can, okay, this works, we can now do this at bigger scales and push it more broadly and get engagement from, from places where we might not have had it.
[00:27:59] So that’s, it’s been really nice. Yeah, so thanks for, thanks for giving me the time to, you know, waffle about my, my site and stuff on here. It’s been really, it’s been a real honor. Thank you very much.
[00:28:08] Dan: Yeah, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you, Alex.
[00:28:11] Tshia: Thanks, Alex.
[00:28:12] Alex: Yeah, cheers. Cheers, guys.
[00:28:12] Dan: All right. Thanks again to Alex. I think a super fascinating conversation. I think that he definitely made the point of the importance of this going forward. It’s not just a, this isn’t just a fun project to engage the public, although it is that too, but it’s very important for the science. And I think he’s shown with the enthusiasm he has for it and the energy he’s thrown into it, how important this is and how powerful it’s going to be, I think, going forward.
[00:28:45] Tshia: And I think it’s also shown that anyone can actually be part of this project. You know, you do not have to have previous knowledge of other things because through this you, you can be able to learn even more things. Any people from any age can also be part of this. Um, as has mentioned that, you know, in, in the workshop that they hosted, there were people from everywhere.
[00:29:08] So if you’re sitting there at home, think about how can I be part of this MeerKAT and this SKA that people continue to talk about. So I think this is also an opportunity for our listeners and for us, Daniel, maybe.
[00:29:21] Dan: With all our spare time.
[00:29:23] Tshia: Whenever we take it.
[00:29:27] Dan: Yes, go on.
[00:29:29] Tshia: Um, for us to think about contributing to, to this project.
[00:29:32] And the other thing that’s really important is the fact that, um, MeerKAT is actually hosted here in South Africa as the precursor to the SKA, as we’ve previously mentioned in our, in our other episodes. So, this is a lot of data that has been coming in through MeerKAT and obviously this is data coming from our own telescope.
[00:29:53] And I think that’s why it’s important for us as people in South Africa, in Africa to be part of the science and just own it.
[00:30:00] Dan: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s very cool. Um, I, I love these projects and I think that, you know, having African data on it now, you know, puts us on the global stage because there’s a lot of people on Zooniverse.
[00:30:11] And then I think the other thing to note is just that this is just one project, you know, we mentioned at the beginning that there, there are many other things on Zooniverse and there will be many more coming. So MeerKAT has been running for five years. The SKA is coming online in the next five years.
[00:30:27] You’re going to be more and more projects, more and more science questions. It’s not just transients. There’s a lot going on,
[00:30:32] Tshia: a lot more things that we’ll be able to see that we’ve never seen before.
[00:30:37] Dan: For sure. And I mean, we’re going to need, we’re going to need as much input. Excellent. Yeah. We’re going to need, we’re going to need as much help and input as we can get.
[00:30:46] There, there isn’t actually a situation where I think that we’re not going to need people to look at this data, um, we can automate it till the cows come home, but it’s not gonna, it’s not going to be enough. We still going to need a lot of help. So I think this is, this is a wonderful opportunity.
[00:31:02] Tshia: Yeah.
[00:31:02] It’s a great opportunity for you to hop on, to hop on, just, um, go into Zooniverse um, it is pronounced. Zoo as in the zoo and niverse without the U, so Zooniverse.
[00:31:17] Dan: Zooniverse.org um, Google it. Uh, but we also post a link obviously on our, on our website, on the blog and you can link through there and, and link through to Alex’s project and contribute.
[00:31:28] Tshia: Yeah. Looking forward to all your contributions.
[00:31:31] Dan: One last thing before we go. Yeah. Tshia, how are you?
[00:31:35] Tshia: I’m good.
[00:31:36] Dan: You good?
[00:31:36] Tshia: I’m good. Um, yeah, I’m good. I had to think about it for a bit, but I think I’m good. How are you?
[00:31:43] Dan: Um, good. I’m just coming out of a cold. Again, I feel like I’m sick all the time. But yeah, coming out of a cold, maybe you can hear that in my voice.
[00:31:51] Feeling quite busy meeting into meeting into meeting, but otherwise good. Spring’s coming, which I’m quite excited about.
[00:32:00] Tshia: After this week’s rains.
[00:32:01] Dan: Yeah. We don’t talk about that. It’s Cape Town. Spring only comes in November. We love it. Yeah. Come to Cape Town. No, don’t.
[00:32:09] Tshia: And do you have anything planned in the next couple of weeks?
[00:32:13] Dan: No, not so much. Plenty of work. The General Assembly 2024 stuff is taking more and more of my time, but it’s getting exciting now. Um, yeah, we, we, you know, starting to get bookings and things coming through, uh, it’s all getting very real.
[00:32:26] Tshia: Registration’s opening.
[00:32:27] Dan: Not yet, but soon. Please don’t jump the boat.
[00:32:36] I’ve messed up my idioms here. All right. That really is it for today.
[00:32:42] Tshia: Thanks very much for listening and we hope you’ll join us again on the next episode of the Cosmic Savannah.
[00:32:48] Dan: You can visit our website, thecosmicsavannah.com, where we’ll have stuff related to today’s episode, the transcript, links, and pictures.
[00:32:56] You can follow us on X, Facebook, and Instagram at Cosmic Savannah, and that’s Savannah spelled S A V A N N A H. You can also find us on YouTube, where audio only episodes are uploaded with closed captions, which can be auto translated into many different languages, including Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu.
[00:33:14] A special thanks today to Alex Andersson for speaking with us. Thanks as always to our social media manager Sumari Hatting and our audio editor Jacob Fine also to Mark Wallnut for music production, Michal Wierczyk for photography, Kyle Jones for astrophotography, Susie Karras for graphic design. Thanks also to Francois Campher for assistance with the blog and to Emile Meintjies, Moses Makungu and Abigail Shanae for transcription.
[00:33:36] Tshia: We gratefully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, the South African Astronomical Observatory and the University of Cape Town Astronomy Department.
[00:33:48] Dan: You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcast and we’d really appreciate it if you could rate and review us and recommend us to a friend.
[00:33:56] Tshia: We’ll speak to you next time on the Cosmic Savannah.
[00:34:06] Dan: I’ll say that’s probably enough. And then we can go into what’s
[00:34:09] Tshia: what’s special about them joining this one
[00:34:12] Dan: because it’s us
[00:34:14] Tshia: So we need to sell that
[00:34:15] Dan: okay That’s that’s on you who’s bringing us up. Me or you?
[00:34:20] Tshia: You are.
[00:34:20] Dan: Okay
[00:34:21] Tshia: Wait