Tonight is the start of the 2013 round of the wonderful BBC Stargazing Live in the UK. Three nights of primetime astronomy programmes, hosted live from the iconic Jodrell Bank. Last year the Zooniverse asked the Stargazing Live viewers to find an exoplanet via Planet Hunters (and they did!). This year we want everyone to scour the surface of Mars on our brand new site: Planet Four.
Every Spring on Mars geysers of melting dry ice erupt through the planet’s ice cap and create ‘fans’ on the surface of the Red Planet. These fans can tell us a great deal about the climate and surface of Mars. Using amazing high-resolution imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) researchers have spent months manually marking and measuring the fans to try and create a wind map of the Martian surface, amongst other things. They’ve now teamed up with us to launch Planet Four, where everyone can help measure the fans and explore the surface of Mars.
The task on Planet Four is to find and mark ‘fans’, which usually spear as dark smudges on the Martian surface. These are temporary features and they tell you about the wind speed and direction on Mars as they were formed. They are created by CO2 geysers erupting through the surface as the temperature increases during Martian Spring. These geysers of rapidly sublimating material sweep along dust as they go, leaving behind a trail.
The fans are just one feature that you’ll see. The image above shows some great ‘spiders’, with frost around their edges. There’s lots to see, and hopefully the audience of Stargazing Live will help us blast through the data really quickly.
Stargazing Live begins at 8pm on BBC2. If you can’t watch it live then why not hop onto Twitter and follow the #bbcstargazing hashtag? You’ll also find Planet Four and the Zooniverse on Twitter as well.
The Zooniverse community keeps growing. This time last year, we passed 500,000 volunteers – and now there’s nearly 740,000 people out there, clicking, classifying and contributing to science via their web browser. To celebrate we’ve produced a great poster showing how the Zooniverse has grown from 2007 to the present. Down the PDF here.
Long may she reign!
Today we’re launching a new section on the Milky Way Project: Clouds. This new, addictive add-on to the existing site asks you to decide whether an object is a glowing cloud or an empty hole. It’s a fairly rapid-fire task that keeps track of your score. The site uses data from ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory combined with existing Spitzer Space Telescope data. Using these two amazing, orbiting telescopes allow us to peer deep inside star-forming parts of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Today’s advent calendar entry is a special episode of the Recycled Electrons podcast. Recycled Electrons began just over a year ago and features the voices of Chris Lintott (Zooniverse PI) and Robert Simpson (Milky Way Project PI and Zooniverse developer). Although they both work full-time on the Zooniverse they have never yet spent an entire episode talking about it. This week the whole show is just about the Zooniverse! Conversation is focussed of the backstory of the past ten days, which includes the launch of the Andromeda Project and Snapshot Serengeti.
Recycled Electrons is a (mostly) weekly podcast about astronomy, space and science. It is a light-hearted and often peculiar take on the week that is recorded in the heart of Oxford University, not too far from Oxford’s Zooniverse HQ.
Go on virtual safari with our latest project: Snapshot Serengeti! Serengeti National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tanzania. With an area of nearly 6,000 square miles (14,800 km^2) it is teeming with some of the most recognisable animals in the world: lions, zebra, elephants, wildebeest and more live on the vast savannah and grassland plains.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have been trying to count and locate the animals of the Serengeti, and began placing automatic cameras across the park a couple of years ago. They now have more than 200 cameras around the region – all triggered by motion – capturing animals day and night. They have amassed millions of images so far, and more come in all the time. So they’ve team up with us here at the Zooniverse! They need the help of online volunteers to spot and classify animals in these snapshot of life in Serengeti National Park. Doing this will provide the data needed to track and study these animals, whilst giving everyone the chance to see them in the wild.
Snapshot Serengeti also launches a new version of our discussion tool, Talk. You can chat about the images you see, as well as collect them together and ask questions of the researchers and the community at large. Learn more about the project, and the team behind it, on the Snapshot Serengeti Blog or check out the site right now at http://www.snapshotserengeti.org
We’ve teamed up with astronomers in the US who need your help to search Hubble Space Telescope images of the Andromeda galaxy. This brand new citizen science project is called The Andromeda Project and can be found at http://www.andromedaproject.org. We need volunteers to help identify star clusters and help increase understanding of how galaxies evolve.
There may be as many as 2,500 star clusters hiding in Hubble’s Andromeda images, but only 600 have been identified so far in months of searching, and star clusters tend to elude pattern-recognition software. The researchers decided it’s something that everyone can help with, even without extensive training. Volunteers will vote, by marking clusters, on the identity and location of star clusters.
Star clusters are dense groups of stars that are born together from the same cloud of gas. Their common age make them useful for studying the evolution of galaxies and the properties of stars. Andromeda, also called Messier 31 or M31, is the closest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, which is similar. Though a neighbor in the galactic sense, Andromeda is 2.4 million light years from the Earth. That translates into about 14 billion billion miles.
There are more than 10,000 images waiting at http://www.andromedaproject.org - they all come from the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury, or PHAT for short. The goal of the PHAT survey is to map about one-third of Andromeda’s star-forming disk, through six filters spread across the electromagnetic spectrum — two ultraviolet, two visible and two infrared.
The Hubble telescope started gathering images for the treasury in 2010 and is expected to send its last batch of images back to Earth in the summer of 2013. The Andromeda Project aims to produce the largest catalog of star clusters known in any spiral galaxy.
This year has been a very productive one for the Zooniverse. Planet Hunters, Galaxy Zoo, the Milky Way Project, Ice Hunters, Whale FM Solar Stormwatch and Galaxy Zoo: Supernovae all released peer-reviewed papers, producing science results based on your clicks. We also released a slew of new projects (with more to come!) and all of this is about doing science in a new way: with your help.
We’re kicking off our 2012 Zooniverse Advent Calendar with the release of our new publications page which lets you find these papers, and all the papers from all Zooniverse projects. We aim to have many more projects published by this time next year.
However you celebrate the festive season – or whether you do it at all at this time of year – we hope you’ll enjoy opening each day of our advent calendar between now and Dec 24th. We have some fun items ready to show you, and a few really big announcements too.
September 2012 is going to be a month like no other in the history of the Zooniverse! We have lots of new projects lined up – including some that are really different from anything we’ve tried before. We’re so excited that we’ve even given the month a name – Citizen Science September – and a logo, and we’ll use these to help bring you up to speed with the new projects as well as encouraging you to re-explore some existing ones.
It all began back in 2007 when Galaxy Zoo asked for the public’s help in classifying a huge database of galaxies. The response was overwhelming and since then we’ve launched more than 10 citizen science projects. Some of those projects have come to a conclusion, having helped researchers and provided valuable data. Some have evolved and changed, and others keep rolling as the data keeps coming in. We’ve have asked for your help in mapping the galaxy, finding exoplanets, transcribing ancient texts, listening to whale calls and even sailing the high seas – just to name few ways that our volunteers have been aiding scientists in their work.
What began with astronomy has spread out to include climate science, marine biology and papyrology. During September (and beyond) you’ll see even more areas of research brought into the Zooniverse fold. We’re really excited to introduce these exciting new projects to you and to introduce new communities to the Zooniverse. There will also be major updates to some of our existing projects.
Every January, a travelling circus of astronomers and their friends rolls into an American city. This travelling carnival, the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society, brings together literally thousands of people, ostensibly to give talks about cutting edge research, but more importantly to meet, greet, gossip and collaborate.
Eli Bressert (Milky Way Project) & Kevin Schawinski (Galaxy Zoo)
This year’s festivities started in Austin, Texas over the weekend, and amongst the gathered throng are many of the Zooniverse astronomers, who contributed to a Monday that demonstrated the wonderful use to which the hard work of registered volunteers is being put.
I missed some of the morning sessions, but was in the main conference hall to hear Bob Benjamin plug the first Milky Way Project paper, soon (we hope) to be accepted following a very positive referee’s report. The more than 5000 bubbles discovered by MWP project participants will, he said, help us map the nearby galaxy.
This high-profile support followed a talk given over the weekend by MWP science team member Matt Povich to a smaller gathering of early-career researchers who are funded as National Science Foundations fellows. Also presenting was Planet Hunters’ very own Meg Schwamb, and after lunch it was my turn to present Zooniverse results, announcing the discovery of two new planet candidates by volunteers. Particularly pleasing here was the involvement of the Talk tool, specifically developed to make it easier for the science team to follow up on interesting discoveries.
Last time the astronomers of America gathered in Austin, we were less than a year into Galaxy Zoo, and the highlight was the arrival during the meeting of the first high-resolution spectrum of Galaxy Zoo’s famous Voorwerp. It was therefore particularly pleasing when Kevin Schawinski nudged me in an early talk, pointing out the appearance on Chandra’s schedule of observations include observations of the Voorwerp’s neighbouring galaxy, IC2497.
Those observations arrived on Monday afternoon and Bill Keel, Kevin and I had a happy few minutes pouring over them (we only had a quick look image, so there’s a limit to what we can say!). There’s lots of work to be done before we can draw too many conclusions, but we’d struggled to win Chandra time, so it’s wonderful to see data flowing. Just down the corridor, Sarah Kendrew from MWP was talking to Ramin Skibba from Galaxy Zoo about techniques for matching different clases of objects.
After the plenaries, Kevin, Bill and I joined a dozen or so members of the Galaxy Zoo team, who are presenting five times over the next few days, making sure that we’re making the most of Galaxy Zoo results. The discussion was about the next iteration and iterations of the GZ site, but that’s a story for another time.
A few hours, and a few different sessions, and Zooniverse science had been highlighted in several different ways. There’s no doubt that the kind of ‘citizen science’ projects at which the Zooniverse excels are becoming more popular, and you’ll see more of them both from the Zooniverse and elsewhere over the next few months. The acid test, though, remains whether a project can actually produce science, an outcome that’s the result of careful design, smooth implementation but also of commitment and hard work from scientists like those on the Milky Way Project, Planet Hunters and Galaxy Zoo teams. Without those things, it’s incredibly easy to waste a large amount of volunteers’ time, breaking the implicit contract that exists between project team and volunteer when we ask for your help.
Of the eight Zooniverse projects that were live at the beginning of 2011, six (the three already mentioned along with Solar Stormwatch and Galaxy Zoo : Supernovae which have papers, and Old Weather has contributed data to its climate scientists) have serious published results. Of the other two, we now have funding for a three year Moon Zoo postdoc in London to make use of the data that’s been collected, and I have a meeting tomorrow to look at the results from 5 million simulations in the mergers project. It’s a track record that everyone involved with the Zooniverse can be very proud of, a challenge to anyone thinking of launching their own projects, and it’s certainly getting us notice amidst the chaos and clamour of AAS. Thanks a million for making it happen, click, by click, by click.