Thousands of volunteers compile data on 300,000 galaxies

Sept. 24, 2013 at 5:36 PM
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MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Thousands of volunteers helped catalog more than 300,000 galaxies, the first time so much galaxy population information was collected, a U.S. researcher said.

While computers are good for automatically measuring properties such as size and color of galaxies, the human eye is better for tackling the more challenging characteristics, such as shape and structure, the University of Minnesota said Tuesday in a release.

Enter "Galaxy Zoo 2" project, the second phase of a crowdsourcing effort to help categorize the galaxies in the universe, the Minneapolis university said.

"This catalog is the first time we've been able to gather this much information about a population of galaxies," said Kyle Willet, one of the researchers. "People all over the world are beginning to examine the data to gain a more detailed understanding of galaxy types."

From February 2009 to April 2010, more than 83,000 Galaxy Zoo 2 volunteers worldwide looked at images online gathered from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The participants answered questions about the galaxy, including whether it had spirals, the number of spiral arms present, or if it had galactic bars, which are long extended features representing a concentration of stars.

Each image was classified an average of 40 to 45 times to ensure accuracy, the researchers said.

Researchers estimate the volunteers' effort represents about 30 years of full-time work if it were done by one researcher, and represents a boon to scientists gathering more information than ever using telescopes.

"With today's high-powered telescopes, we are gathering so many new images that astronomers just can't keep up with detailed classifications," said Lucy Fortson, another researcher and a professor of physics and astronomy at the U of M. "We could never have produced a data catalog like this without crowdsourcing help from the public."

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