Have you heard of Galaxy Zoo? No? Well, Galaxy Zoo is a fascinating astronomy project which provides the members of the public an opportunity to assist in classifying over a million galaxies. Human assistance is desired because computers are unreliable when it comes to classifying galaxies. Kevin Schawinski, a member of the team behind the project explains "The human brain is actually much better than a computer at these pattern-recognition tasks. Without human volunteers, it would take researchers years to process the photographs, but it is estimated that with as few as 10,000 to 20,000 people giving up time to classify the galaxies, the process could be complete in one month.” That’s the idea behind Galaxy Zoo.
When Galaxy Zoo was first launched on July 2007, I was among the thousands of volunteers who registered on the first day. Members were given a brief tutorial on how to classify galaxies – are the galaxies spiral or elliptical? Is their spiral arm clockwise or anti-clockwise? No knowledge in astronomy is required. Just a good guess is all that it takes. The same images are shown to multiple users so the possibility of wrongly classifying a galaxy is small.
After several months of beat testing by 1.8 million users who performed more than 74 million classification, Galaxy Zoo 2 was launched on February 17. The new version provides a much more detailed classification system. You can now classify galaxies by shape, by the intensity or dimness of the galactic core, and with a special section for oddities like mergers or ring galaxies. And you can even mark your favorite galaxies! Galaxy Zoo 2’s sample consists of some 250,000 of the brightest galaxies of the sky.
Examples of features you are asked to observe when classifying
The best thing about this project is that you get to see galaxies and parts of space that have never been seen before by anyone else. These images were taken by a robotic telescope and processed automatically, so when you log in the system, the odds are that the first galaxy you see could be one that no human has set eyes before. Isn’t that amazing, being the first to see a galaxy? Come on, join in.