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60-Second Science

Amateurs Help Pro Astronomers Sort Galaxies

One-hundred-fifty-thousand amateur astronomers are taking part in the Galaxy Zoo project (GalaxyZoo.org), helping professionals sort through a million telescope images to characterize galaxies. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

A year ago astronomers sent out an invitation. A robotic telescope called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey had produced almost a million images. Researchers wanted more than extra computer power to sort through them. So they welcomed citizen scientists to, well, look at the photos. Few people ever get the chance to peer at the universe from the world’s top observatories. So 150,000 amateur astronomers jumped at the chance to explore undiscovered galaxies. The project is called Galaxy Zoo. A story on the success of the project was published in the September issue of Physics World.

Participants were first invited to go online in their spare time to characterize the shape of galaxies and the direction of the rotation. And the amateur astronomers out there RSVP’d with 50 million responses so far. For about a third of the galaxies on-line, there’s close to an 80 percent agreement in characterizations. Scientists say this gives them a good starting point for research. And that having 150,000 collaborators is strong motivation to get that data published.

—Cynthia Graber

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