Sunday, January 9, 2011

Playing in the Galactic Zoo

From the brains behind Zooniverse (including MoonZoo and the original GalaxyZoo) comes Galaxy Zoo: Hubble.  Drawing on images collected from the Hubble Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys, users are asked to view pictures of individual galaxies and comment on their appearance.  This helps scientists take on the large task of identifying features in the large number of galaxies they've captured and to do so in such a way that multiple independent viewers can confirm the result.

The beauty of this project is the care taken to make it as user-friendly as possible while generating very specific data that can be rigorously analyzed.  After reviewing the well-designed tutorial, users are shown a picture of a galaxy and asked a few simple questions (whether it is smooth or rounded, whether it has any special features or disks), then drilling deeper depending on those answers.  Ultimately you may be asked to describe the number of spirals, the number of clumps, the galaxies overall symmetry, or other attributes.  This creates a catalog of data that scientists can use for general analyses or to identify candidate galaxies worthy of further study.

According to the web site over 250,000 have already taken part but they are looking for your help too.  Getting started is easy:
  1. Travel to Galaxy Zoo and register online (optional) to create a profile and get credit for your work.
  2. Take the one-page tutorial on galaxy classification at Galaxy Zoo: How to Take Part.  You will read about the various visual features being classified and take simple quizzes to get a feel for each type of attribute.
  3. Click Galaxy Zoo: Classify Galaxies and answer the questions to identify each galaxy.
  4. Have Fun!
Finally, the Zooniverse group has put together a number of other similar projects designed for easy use by citizen scientists.  So if you enjoy this project check back over the next few weeks for descriptions of other exciting projects!