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.
We’re also now required to explicitly tell you that we’re using cookies for some features of the site, and you’ll see pop-ups that inform you of this fact appear in the next few days. Once selected, they should go away.
If you have any concerns, you can get in touch with the team by emailing support AT zooniverse.org.
This post, from Chris Lintott, is one of three marking the end of this phase of the Galaxy Zoo : Supernova project. You can hear from project lead Mark Sullivan here and machine learning expert and statistician Joey Richards here.
Today’s a bittersweet day for us, as the Galaxy Zoo : Supernova project moves off into (perhaps temporary) retirement. You can read about the reasons for this change over on the Galaxy Zoo blog, but the short answer is that the team have used the thousands of classifications submitted by volunteers to train a machine that can now outperform the humans. Time to wheel out this graphic again, last posted when we started looking at teaching machines with Galaxy Zoo data.
That’s all very well, but what of those of us who enjoyed the thrill of hunting for supernovae? I think there are two reasons to believe that the supernova project or something very like it will be back someday soon. Firstly, the machine learning solution is now very good at finding supernovae in images from just one search, the Palomar Transient Factory. I suspect other surveys, with their own quirks, may require a training set as large as that used for PTF. I suspect we’ll see a pattern developing in which the early months or years of a survey require volunteer classification, before relaxing until the next challenge comes along. We’re hoping to test this idea sometime soon.
The second way in which I think human classification will return is more subtle – we need to make friends, and collaborate with, the robots themselves. At the minute, for mostly practical reasons, we see this as a choice between the two, but the Zooniverse team and more than a few friends have started building a more sophisticated system which combines the two approaches.
One piece of that system is already in place, and owes a lot to the supernova project. Edwin Simpson and colleagues from Oxford’s Robotics Research Group and the Zooniverse have built a mathematical model that’s capable of combining results from many different classifiers, measuring their performance and deciding who to listen to, and when. It was developed and tested using the supernova project data and has also been running live and keeping track of what’s happening. This should lead to an improvement in classification accuracy, but there’s more. The same sort of method could be used to combine human and machine classification, and we’re beginning to work on a system that can make decisions about when it’s worth asking humans for help. That allows us the best of both worlds – we’ll get to take advantage of machines for routine tasks, but allow them to call for our help when they get stuck. The result should be a more interesting project to participate in, a greater scientific return and the certainty that we’re not wasting your time. That all sounds pretty good to me.