Space fans can become masters of the universe by helping astronomers identify one million newly found galaxies.
The distant “star cities” were all photographed by an automatic robotic telescope in New Mexico, fitted with a 142-megapixel digital camera, for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. We’ve reported before how Sloan has even www.galaxyzoo.org website.
After a short training test, individual objects automatically located in the sky survey pop up on screen. For each one, the volunteer clicks a button to say whether, for example, it is a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way, an elliptical galaxy or just a star.
Incredibly, for most of the galaxies, that moment will be the first time that human eyes have ever viewed them. Yet each is a collection of billions of stars containing who knows what civilisations.
The project is being run by Oxford University astrophysicist Kevin Schawinski with assistance from co-presenter of the BBC’s The Sky At Night, Chris Lintott. I signed up to take part, passed the short test, and embarked on my galaxy hunt. I have to say I found it strangely addictive!
Chris agrees. He told me: “It’s like eating crisps. You think ‘just one more’ and then you’re still there five minutes later!”
Galaxy Zoo was inspired by projects like SETI, which searches for alien radio signals, and [email protected] which uses home computers to analyse dust particles from a comet. But this time, they want the computer users to be directly involved.
Kevin said: “It’s not just for fun. The human brain is actually better than a computer at pattern recognition tasks like this. Whether you spend five minutes, 15 minutes or five hours using the site your contribution will be invaluable.”
Chris said: “What the Stardust team achieved was incredible, but our galaxies are much more interesting to look at than their dust grains. We hope that participants in Galaxy Zoo will not only contribute to science, but have a lot of fun along the way.”
The astronomers say they hope the survey will shed light on how different kinds of galaxies are distributed across the sky. They believe the results might even reveal that there is something fundamentally wrong with existing models of the universe.
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