Hanny van Arkel was 24 years old and teaching primary school in Heerlen, the Netherlands. She also played guitar and during summer vacation back in 2007, she was noodling around on the website of a famous rock guitarist named Brian May. Brian May got famous in the middle of a doctorate in astronomy on interplanetary dust, so his website had links to astronomy websites, and Hanny clicked on a new site called Galaxy Zoo. A week or so before, Galaxy Zoo had posted a million galaxy pictures and asked the internet to please classify each one according to whether it was a spiral or an elliptical or something else--astronomers need these classifications, a million galaxies is a lot to classify, computers are no good at it and humans are spectacular. So Hanny took a little online lesson and started clicking--spiral, elliptical, spiral--and after each click, another galaxy popped up. She'd just classified IC 2497 as a spiral and was looking at the next one, then thought, "Wait, what was that?" and clicked the back button.
IC2497 was clearly a spiral, but below it was a blue-ish smudge that was clearly something else. So even though she didn't like online forums, she uploaded IC 2497 and its something else to the Galaxy Zoo forum so some real astronomers could look at it, and wrote, "What's that blue stuff below? Anyone?" The real astronomers agreed it was weird. Hanny wanted to call it "Unidentified Bluey Stuff," but the forum, knowing Hanny was Dutch, called it Hanny's Voorwerp--"voorwerp" is Dutch for "object."
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