What’s in a name? On Friday evening, October 5, at Columbia University’s Pupin Hall, Paige Godfrey gave some answers to that question, along with a host of others related to Slooh. In case you didn’t know, Slooh is a public astronomy outreach and resource sharing organization (www.slooh.com), of which she is the Director of Research. Founded in 2002, Slooh provides a network of ground-based telescopes whose time is shared by Slooh members, the largest of the telescopes located at their flagship observatory in the Canary Islands and their Chile Observatory at the Catholic University in Santiago.
The name Slooh was chosen as a creative spelling of the word “slew,” a term dear to the heart of any astronomical observer. As Dr. Godfrey explained, the double “O” spelling imparts some degree of coolness to the organization, which is certainly justified. With a healthy dose of humor, Dr. Godfrey listed some possible meanings of Slooh as an acronym, for example, “Space Lab Out Of your Home.”
Dr. Godfrey is also a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, where her principle area of research is brown dwarfs. But this talk was devoted to Slooh, what it currently does and how the organization is planning to grow.
So, what is Slooh and why should we care? Well, in short, if you become a member of Slooh, then you get access to the telescope network in real time, along with the many other resources of Slooh. At the Apprentice level ($4.95/month), you get access to live feeds from seven telescopes, including one solar telescope, plus live casts of events such as transits and eclipses, plus the ability to save pictures from the live feeds to your personal account. Oh, and you also get to remotely control any Slooh telescope in the world up to five times per month. This means you can perform astrophotography from the comfort of your home, without owning a telescope! Moving up to the Astronomer level ($24.95/month) gives you additional freedom to point any telescope at any coordinates in the sky without a monthly limit. And yes, of course there is a free Slooh Crew level, which allows you to see members’ pictures and Illuminations, which are short astronomy posts written by Slooh’s members.
Whatever your level of membership, Slooh is above all a community, where members can ask advice, tips and questions or make comments, and receive answers from upwards of 150,000 other Slooh members worldwide. Godfrey explained that Slooh aims to support all levels and interests of astronomy. She noted that using Slooh’s remote-controlled telescopes this year, one member discovered two comets in two days!
Dr. Godfrey highlighted Slooh’s recent push into education, in which she is personally involved. Slooh has developed and pilot-tested classroom packages which allow students to learn and explore space with robotic online telescopes and guided syllabi and curricula for a single 4th to 8th grade class or even an entire school or district. For schools without the requisite expertise on staff, Slooh provides a virtual Astronomy Club product for after school, moderated by Slooh’s professional educators and astronomers. And Slooh offers similar resources at the college undergraduate level through its Astrolab product.
Finally, Dr. Godfrey discussed the possibility of extraterrestrial life and explained the famed Drake equation. Showing a Slooh image of 118 stars in the constellation Eridanus and applying the equation, she calculated that the odds of there being intelligent life within the image were for all practical purposes, zero. Even though this past September, an exoplanet was discovered circling the brightest star in the image—40 Eridani A—which Star Trek fans among you may recognize as the host star to planet Vulcan, the home of Spock.