Thursday, June 2, 2011

Everything Comes Together: Cosmic Mergers in the Zooniverse

Over the last few months we've looked at many fun projects from the Zooniverse group covering the fields of history, astronomy, and climatology.  Each has gained a loyal following by sticking close to the Zooniverse practices of being easy-to-learn, simple to operate, and producing meaningful science.  We have also watched as the team crated new interfaces and tutorials that have propelled the overall field of citizen science forward.  So it's only fitting that we look at the last, and latest offering Galaxy Zoo: Understanding Cosmic Mergers incorporating many past successes into a single project accessible to people of all levels of interest and experience.

The most interesting part of this project (from an OpenScientist point of view) is the three levels of participation that let you come in for a few quick games, to running and even manipulating computer simulations.  So you can put just a few minutes into the project, or hundreds, all depending on your interest. 
  • The first is a simple "wars" type game that asks you to compare two simulation images against an actual image, and determine which most looks like the actual image.  Pretty simple.
  • The second has the computer run and display eight simulations for comparison against an actual image.  Users pick the ones looking most like the actual image.  It's still a "wars" type game but with many more options, and with the computer actually running simulations fresh instead of just comparing previous simulations.
  • The final version allows you to pick a simulation run that looks similar to the actual image, but change the parameters manually to create your own simulation.  This can take a lot more effort but can that much more rewarding too.
Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Visit the Galaxy Zoo: Understanding Cosmic Mergers web page and click "Get Started" to sign in with your existing Zooniverse profile. If you have not previously registered for another of their projects all it takes is your name, e-mail address, and a password to sign up.
  2. Click the Understanding Galactic Mergers: How to Take Part link for a one-page description of how to participate in the project.  Each of the three parts is described along with a video tutorial and demonstration of each component.
  3. Click on the Merger Wars activity and compare images in a tournament-style comparison game.
  4. Click on the Merge Galaxies activity to run original simulations on your computer and compare them in a tournament pitting your own images against each other.
  5. Pick one of your most successful simulations and click the "Enhance" tab in the simulation module.  All the tools you need are right there for you.

This wraps up our coverage of the Zooniverse sites for now, but the team keeps building new ones and we hope to see some more soon (apparently some are being prepared as we speak).  And like Cosmic Mergers we expect them to continue to  improve and learn from the last project's experience.  Today we saw how combining successful techniques can greatly improve a project.  Now we wait to see what new innovations will come along to grab our attention and ignite new discoveries.

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