Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Web users to write "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxies"


How many arms does a spiral galaxy have? Can you spot a galaxy with a "peanut" bulge? Or how about a galactic merger? Answers to these and other strange questions will be provided by ordinary web users who, by working together, have proven to be just as good at galaxy-spotting as professional astronomers.


The new initiative is a follow-up to the highly successful Galaxy Zoo
project that enabled members of the public to take part in astronomy
research online. But whereas the original site only asked members of the
public to say whether a galaxy was spiral or elliptical, and which way
it was rotating, Galaxy Zoo 2 asks them to delve deeper into 250,000 of
the brightest and best galaxies to search for the strange and unusual.

The Galaxy Zoo 2 website is launched on 17 February at www.galaxyzoo.org

"The first Galaxy Zoo provided us with a Rough Guide to the sky and now
we want our users to fill in all the details and create a real
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxies," said Dr Chris Lintott of Oxford
University, one of the founders of Galaxy Zoo.

Astronomers came up with the idea of getting online volunteers involved
because the human brain is still better at doing pattern recognition
tasks than a computer. What they had not expected was the huge
enthusiasm for the project; in the last 18 months 80 million
classifications of galaxies were submitted on one million objects at
http://www.galaxyzoo.org/ by more than 150,000 armchair astronomers from all
over the world.

Dr Kevin Schawinski of Yale University, another of Galaxy Zoo's founders
said: "The response from the public was absolutely overwhelming and,
with their help, we've been able to learn a lot about how galaxies
evolve and how they relate to their environment.
With the detail from Zoo 2, we'll be able to discover even more about
how galaxies work."

"Galaxy Zoo has given everyone with a computer an opportunity to
contribute to real scientific research. We want people to feel truly
involved in the project and keep them up to date with what we're doing
and with the results they're generating," said Dr Steven Bamford of the
University of Nottingham.

As with the original site people are free to look at and describe as
many galaxies as they like - even five minutes' work will provide a
valuable contribution. Galaxy Zoo 2 is intended to be even more fun as
galaxies are pitted against each other in "Galaxy Wars" (which one is
more spirally?) and users can compete against their friends to describe
more objects as well as record their best finds.

Proof that unusual discoveries can be made is the catalogue of merging
galaxies provided by users - more than 3000 of these rare cosmic
pile-ups have been caught in the act by Galaxy Zoo volunteers. The team
have already used the IRAM radio telescope in Spain's Sierra Nevada to
follow up the most exciting mergers, and are asking for more examples to
study.

"In this International Year of Astronomy, it's great to have so many
people looking at these beautiful image of galaxies from the Sloan
Digital Sky Survey," said Professor Bob Nichol of the University of
Portsmouth, a member of the original Galaxy Zoo team. "No single
professional astronomer has ever looked at all these images and
sometimes astronomers miss the wonder of what they are. I think the
public get this better than us."

For more information visit
http://www.galaxyzoo.org/ or the Galaxy Zoo blog http://www.galaxyzooblog.org/

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