Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Milky Way Project: It's Bubblicious!

There's a new project in the zoo. 

The scientists in the Zooniverse consortium have recently started  the Milky Way Project to determine the size and shape of our own galaxy by analyzing pictures taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.  The main target are so-called "galactic bubbles"; circular green areas (often with a red center) thought to show areas of new star formation.  Since they are not well understood the project aims to create a catalog of as many as possible to help identify any trends useful to support their theories and build a large data pool for study and creation of new theories.

The project uses visually stunning infrared pictures taken by the telescope and asks for identification of bubbles and other features.  Like other projects, this one hopes to tap the collective knowledge of citizen scientists to locate galactic bubbles, a feat best performed by the human eye.  Once located, users mark each with the drawing tool to provide the identity, location, and size of each.

Getting started is easy:
  1. Travel to http://www.milkywayproject.org/and register online (if not registered already).
  2. View the tutorial video at Milky Way Project: Tutorial and study the short set of instructional materials.  You will learn to primary task: spotting green bubbles in the photographs and marking their size with the circle marking tools.
  3. Don't forget to review the written materials at the bottom of that same page.  While the video introduces you to the interface and how to identify a galactic bubble, the other features needing identification (such as dark nebulae, green knots, and star clusters) require some training with the example photographs also provided on the page.
  4. Click on Take Part: Draw Bubbles link and begin the program.  Each photograph takes only a minute or two and then you can move straight to the next one.
As usual for the Zooniverse team, this a project that combines the simplicity of an easily understood interface and straightforward task with the awe-inspiring beauty of actual images taken by Spitzer.  The program even let's you save any photos you want for future reference.  So the prettiest pictures are always close it hand. It's clear the design team understands the power of these images and uses them to their (and our) satisfaction.  This is definitely another citizen science project I highly recommend.

So what are you waiting for?  Get started and have fun!