From: Editor, ENN
Published September 24, 2013 08:52 AM

Citizen Scientists Contribute to Galaxy Catalogue

In an effort to categorize the galaxies in our universe, more than 83,000 volunteer citizen scientists have come together to contribute to the project, Galaxy Zoo 2. Now that's a research team!

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Led by the University of Minnesota, researchers and citizen scientists have made over 16 million classifications on more than 300,000 galaxies. No wonder why it took so many volunteers.

Researchers explain that computers are good at automatically measuring properties such as size and color of galaxies, but more challenging characteristics, such as shape and structure, can currently only be determined by the human eye.

A catalog of this new galaxy data has recently been produced and is 10 times larger than any previous catalog of its kind. "This catalog is the first time we've been able to gather this much information about a population of galaxies," said Kyle Willett, a physics and astronomy postdoctoral researcher in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and the paper’s lead author. "People all over the world are beginning to examine the data to gain a more detailed understanding of galaxy types."

Between Feb. 2009 and April 2010, more than 83,000 Galaxy Zoo 2 volunteers from around the world looked at images online gathered from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. They answered questions about the galaxy, including whether it had spirals, the number of spiral arms present, or if it had galactic bars, which are long extended features that represent a concentration of stars. Each image was classified an average of 40-45 times to ensure accuracy.

Researchers estimate that the effort of the volunteers on this project represents about 30 years of full-time work by one researcher.

"With today's high-powered telescopes, we are gathering so many new images that astronomers just can't keep up with detailed classifications," said Lucy Fortson, a professor of physics and astronomy in the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering and one of the co-authors of the research paper. "We could never have produced a data catalog like this without crowdsourcing help from the public."

Fortson said Galaxy Zoo 2 is similar to a census of the galaxies. With this new catalog, researchers now have a snapshot of the different types of galaxies as they are today. The next catalog will tell us about galaxies in the distant past. The catalogs together will let us understand how our universe is changing.

Continue reading at the University of Minnesota.

Galaxy image via Shutterstock.

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