Stargazing Live 2017: Thank you all!

Breaking news… Zooniverse volunteers on Exoplanet Explorers have discovered a new 4-planet system!

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Computer animation of the 4-planet system. Planet orbits are to scale and planet sizes are to scale with each other, but not with the star and the size of the orbits. Credit: Simone Duca.

Congratulations to all* who directly classified the light curves for this system, bringing it to the attention of the research team. And an enormous *thank you* to the 14,000+ volunteers who provided over 2 million classifications in just three days to make this discovery possible. This is equivalent to 3.4 years of full time effort. I *heart* people-powered research! It’s also amazing how quickly we were able to get these data to the eyes of the public — the Kepler Space Satellite observed this star between December 15 and March 4, 2017.  Data arrived on Earth on March 7th and Zooniverse volunteers classified it April 3-5, 2017. I *heart* Zooniverse.

ExoplanetExplorers.org was the featured project for our inaugural ABC Australia Stargazing Live 3-day, prime-time TV event, which just ended yesterday and through which this discovery was made. Over the years, we’ve partnered with the BBC as part of their Stargazing Live event in the UK. On night 1, Chris Lintott, our intrepid leader, invites the million+ viewers to participate in that year’s featured Zooniverse project, on night 2 he highlights interesting potential results coming through the pipeline, and on night 3, if science nods in our favor, he has the pleasure of announcing exciting discoveries you all, our volunteers, have made (for example, last year’s pulsar discovery and the supernova discovery from a couple years back). 

This year we partnered with both the UK’s BBC and Australia’s ABC TV networks to run two Stargazing Live series in two weeks. We’re exhausted and exhilarated from the experience! We can imagine you all are as well (hats off to one of our volunteers who provided over 15,000 classifications in the first two days)!

Stargazing Live epitomizes many of our favorite aspects of being a member of the Zooniverse team – it’s a huge rush, filled with the highs and lows of keeping a site up when thousands of people are suddenly providing ~7000 classifications a minute at peak. We’re so proud of our web development team and their amazing effort; their smart solutions, quick thinking, and teamwork. The best part is that we collectively get to experience the joy, wonder, and discovery of the process of science right alongside the researchers. Each year the research teams leading each project have what is likely among the most inspiring (and intense) 3-days of their careers, carrying out the detective work of following up each potential discovery at breakneck speed.

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Over 2 million classifications in just 1 day on planetninesearch.org!

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Brad Tucker and his team leading PlanetNineSearch.org featured in the BBC Stargazing Live event this year checked and rechecked dozens of Planet 9 candidates orbital parameters and against known object catalogs, making sure no stone was left unturned. We were bolstered throughout with re-discoveries of known objects, including many known asteroids and Chiron, a minor planet in the outer Solar System, orbiting the Sun between Saturn and Uranus.

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The red, green, and blue dots in the lower left quadrant show Chiron as it moved across the Australian night sky during the Skymapper Telescope Observations for planetninesearch.org.

Even though Planet 9 hasn’t been discovered yet, it’s huge progress for that field of research to have completed a thorough search through this Skymapper dataset, which allows us to probe out to certain distances and sizes of objects across a huge swath of the sky. Stay tuned for progress at planetninesearch.org and through the related BackyardWorlds.org project, searching a different parameter space for Planet 9 in WISE data.

Also, and very importantly, the BBC Stargazing Live shows gave the world an essential new member of the Twitterverse:

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Understanding this inside joke alone makes it worth watching the show!

The Exoplanet Explorers team, led by Ian Crossfield, Jessie Christiansen, Geert Barentsen, Tom Barclay, and more were also up through much of each night of the event this week, churning through the results. Because the Kepler Space Telescope K2 dataset is so rich, there were dozens of potential candidates to triple check in just 3 days. Not only did our volunteers discover the 4-planet system shown above, but 90 new and true candidate exoplanets! That’s truly an amazing start to a project.

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Chris Lintott shows Brian Cox and Julia Zemiro the possible planets we’ve found so far, using the nearby town’s entire stock of gumballs. 

Once you all, our amazing community, have classified all the images in this project and the related PlanetHunters.org, the researchers will be able to measure the occurrence rates of different types of planets orbiting different types of stars. They’ll use this information to answer questions like — Are small planets (like Venus) more common than big ones (like Saturn)? Are short-period planets (like Mercury) more common than those on long orbits (like Mars)? Do planets more commonly occur around stars like the Sun, or around the more numerous, cooler, smaller “red dwarfs”?

There’s also so much to learn about the 4-planet system itself. It’s particularly interesting because it’s such a compact system (all orbits are well within Mercury’s distance to our Sun) of potentially rocky planets. If these characteristics hold true, we expect they will put planet formation theories to the test.

A fun part of our effort for the show was to create visualizations for this newly discovered system. Simone, one of our developers, used http://codepen.io/anon/pen/RpOYRw to create the simulation shown above. We welcome all to try their hand using this tool or others to create their favorite visualization of the system. Do post your effort in the comments below. To set you on the right path, here are our best estimates for the system so far:

Fun facts:

  • In 2372 years, on July 9, 4388AD, all four planets will transit at the same time.
  • If you’re standing on planet e, the nearest planet would appear bigger than the full moon on the sky. Apparent size of other planets while standing on e = 10 arcmin, 16 arcmin, 32 arcmin.
  • If you’re on planet e, the star barely appears to rotate: you see the same side of it for many “years,” because the star rotates just as quickly as planet “e” goes around it.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a thank you to Edward Gomez for following up candidates with the Los Cumbres Observatory Robotic Telescope Network. Not only is LCO a great research tool, but it provides amazing access to telescopes and quality curricular materials for students around the world.

*And a special thanks to the following volunteers who correctly identified at least one the planets in the newly discovered 4-planet system:
Joshua Kusch
Edward Heaps
Ivan Terentev
TimothyCatron
James Richmond
Alan Patricio Zetina Floresmarhx
sankalp mohan
seamonkeyluv
traumeule
B Butler
Nicholas Sloan
Kerrie Ryan
Huskynator
Lee Mason
Trudy Frankensteiner
Alan Goldsmith
Gavin Condon
Simon Wilde
Sharon McGuire
helenatgzoo
Melina Thévenot
Niamh Claydon-Mullins
ellieoban
Anastasios D. Papanastasiou
AndyGrey
Angela Crow
Dave Williams
Throbulator
Tim Smith
Erin Thomas
Valentina Saavedra
Carole Riley
sidy2001
bn3
ilgiz
Antonio Pasqua
Peter Bergvall
Stephen Hippisley
sidy2001
bn3
Michael Sarich

Studying the Impact of the Zooniverse

Below is a guest post from a researcher who has been studying the Zooniverse and who just published a paper called ‘Crowdsourced Science: Sociotechnical epistemology in the e-research paradigm’. That being a bit of a mouthful, I asked him to introduce himself and explain – Chris.

My name is David Watson and I’m a data scientist at Queen Mary University of London’s Centre for Translational Bioinformatics. As an MSc student at the Oxford Internet Institute back in 2015, I wrote my thesis on crowdsourcing in the natural sciences. I got in touch with several members of the Zooniverse team, who were kind enough to answer all my questions (I had quite a lot!) and even provide me with an invaluable dataset of aggregated transaction logs from 2014. Combining this information with publication data from a variety of sources, I examined the impact of crowdsourcing on knowledge production across the sciences.

Last week, the philosophy journal Synthese published a (significantly) revised version of my thesis, co-authored by my advisor Prof. Luciano Floridi. We found that Zooniverse projects not only processed far more observations than comparable studies conducted via more traditional methods—about an order of magnitude more data per study on average—but that the resultant papers vastly outperformed others by researchers using conventional means. Employing the formal tools of Bayesian confirmation theory along with statistical evidence from and about Zooniverse, we concluded that crowdsourced science is more reliable, scalable, and connective than alternative methods when certain common criteria are met.

In a sense, this shouldn’t really be news. We’ve known for over 200 years that groups are usually better than individuals at making accurate judgments (thanks, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, aka Marquis de Condorcet!) The wisdom of crowds has been responsible for major breakthroughs in software development, event forecasting, and knowledge aggregation. Modern science has become increasingly dominated by large scale projects that pool the labour and expertise of vast numbers of researchers.

We were surprised by several things in our research, however. First, the significance of the disparity between the performance of publications by Zooniverse and those by other labs was greater than expected. This plot represents the distribution of citation percentiles by year and data source for articles by both groups. Statistical tests confirm what your eyes already suspect—it ain’t even close.

Influence of Zooniverse Articles

We were also impressed by the networks that appear in Zooniverse projects, which allow users to confer with one another and direct expert attention toward particularly anomalous observations. In several instances this design has resulted in patterns of discovery, in which users flag rare data that go on to become the topic of new projects. This structural innovation indicates a difference not just of degree but of kind between so-called “big science” and crowdsourced e-research.

If you’re curious to learn more about our study of Zooniverse and the site’s implications for sociotechnical epistemology, check out our complete article.

Pop-ups on Comet Hunters

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We’re testing out a new feature of our interface, which means if you’re classifying images on Comet Hunters you may see occasional pop-up messages like the one pictured above.

The messages are designed to give you more information about the project. If you do not want to see them, you have the option to opt-out of seeing any future messages. Just click the link at the bottom of the pop-up.

You can have a look at this new feature by contributing some classifications today at www.comethunters.org.

Emails from the Zooniverse

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Click this image to be taken to your Zooniverse email settings

We’re cleaning up our email list to make sure that we do not email anyone who does not want to hear from us. You will have got an email last week asking you if you want to stay subscribed. If you did not click the link in that email, then you will have received one today saying you have been unsubscribed from our main mailing list. Don’t worry! If you still want to receive notifications from us regarding things like new projects, please go to www.zooniverse.org/settings/email and make sure you’re subscribed to general Zooniverse email updates.
NOTE: This has not affected emails you get from individual Zooniverse projects.

Asteroid Zoo Paused

The AsteroidZoo community has exhausted the data that are available at this time. With all the data examined we are going to pause the experiment, and before users spend more time we want to make sure that we can process your finds through the Minor Planet Center and get highly reliable results.

We understand that it’s frustrating when you’ve put in a lot of work, and there isn’t a way to confirm how well you’ve done. But please keep in mind that this was an experiment – How well do humans find asteroids that machines cannot?

Often times in science an experiment can run into dead-ends, or speed-bumps; this is just the nature of science. There is no question that the AsteroidZoo community has found several potential asteroid candidates that machines and algorithms simply missed. However, the conversion of these tantalizing candidates into valid results has encountered a speed bump.

What’s been difficult is that all the processing to make an asteroid find “real” has been based on the precision of a machine – for example the arc of an asteroid must be the correct shape to a tiny fraction of a pixel to be accepted as a good measurement. The usual process of achieving such great precision is hands-on, and might take takes several humans weeks to get right. On AsteroidZoo, given the large scale of the data, automating the process of going from clicks to precise trajectories has been the challenge.

While we are paused, there will be updates to both the analysis process, and the process of confirming results with the Minor Planet Center. Updates will be posted as they become available.

https://talk.asteroidzoo.org/
http://reporting.asteroidzoo.org/

Thank you for your time.

Science Learning via Participation in Online Citizen Science

My name is Dr. Karen Masters, and I’m an astronomer working at the University of Portsmouth. My main involvement with the Zooniverse over the last 8 years or so has been through my research into galaxy evolution making use of the Galaxy Zoo classifications (see Zooniverse Publication list), and as the Project Scientist for Galaxy Zoo I enjoy organizing science team telecons, and research meetings. I’ve also written many blog posts about galaxy evolution for the Galaxy Zoo blog.

Being involved in Galaxy Zoo has opened many interesting doors for me. I have always had a keen interest in science communication and science education. In fact, working with Galaxy Zoo has been a real pleasure because of the way it blurred the lines between astronomical research and public engagement.

A couple of years ago I was given the opportunity to get more formally engaged in researching how Galaxy Zoo (and other Zooniverse projects) contribute to science communication/education. A colleague of mine in the Portsmouth Business School, who is an expert in the economics of volunteering, led a team (which I was part of) which was successful in obtaining funding for a 3 year project to study the motivations of citizen scientists, including how scientific learning contributes to the motivations.  We call our project VOLCROWE.

The VOLCROWE survey, which ran in late March/early April of last year included a science quiz, which tested both general science knowledge, and knowledge specific to five different surveys. This meant that the data collected could be used to investigate, in a statistical sense, how much you are learning about scientific content while classifying on Zooniverse projects.

We collected complete responses to the survey from almost 2000 Zooniverse volunteers spread across Galaxy Zoo, Planet Hunters, Penguin Watch, Seafloor Explorer and Snapshot Serengeti.

The survey respondents certainly believed they were learning about science through their participation. When asked if they Zooniverse (i) lets them learn through direct hands on experience of scientific research; (ii) allows them to gain a new perspective on scientific research; or (iii) helps them learn about science, and overwhelming majority (more than 80% in all cases) agreed, or strongly agreed.

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Responses to questions about if the volunteers agreed that the Zooniverse…..

We were also able to find evidence in the survey responses that project specific science knowledge correlated positively with measures of active engagement in the project. Put plainly, people who classified more on a given project we found to know more about the scientific content of that project. We could use the scores from the general science quiz as a measure of unrelated scientific knowledge (which did not correlate with how much people classified) to claim that this correlation is causal – i.e. people are learning more about the science behind our projects the more time they spend classifying.

A different VOLCROWE publication, “How is success defined and measured in online citizen science? A case study of Zooniverse projects”, Cox et al. (2015), measured the success of Zooniverse projects in different metrics. In that work we demonstrated that projects could be scientifically successful (i.e. contribute to increased scientific output) without being very successful in public engagement. However, public engagement success without good scientific output was not found in any of the Zooniverse projects studied in Cox et al. (2015).  Four of our five projects in our Science Learning study were part of Cox et al. (2015;  Penguin Watch hadn’t launched at that time) and in Masters et al. (2016) we were able to show that the better projects did in public engagement success metrics, in general the stronger the correlation we found between scientific knowledge and time spent classifying. This does not seem too surprising, but it’s nice to show with data.

We concluded thus:

“Our results imply that even for citizen science project designed primarily to meet the research goals of a science team, volunteers are learning about scientific topics while participating. Combined with previous work (Cox et al. 2015) that suggested it is difficult for projects to be successful at public engagement without being scientifically successful (but not vice versa) this has implications for future design of citizen science projects, even those primarily motivated by public engagement aims. While scientific success will not alone lead to scientific learning among the user community, we argue that these works together demonstrate scientific success is a necessary (if not a sufficient) requirement for successful and sustainable public engagement through citizen science. We conclude that the best way to use citizen science projects to provide an environment that facilitates science learning is to provide an authentic science driven project, rather than to develop projects with solely educational aims.”

As you may know, authenticity is at the heart of the Zooniverse Philosophy, so it was really nice to find this evidence which backs that up. You know you can trust Zooniverse projects to make use of your classifications to make contributions to the sum of knowledge of humankind.

I also had great fun writing this up for publication, a process which involved me learning a great deal about what is meant by “Science Learning” in the context of research into science communication.

It was published today in the Journal of Science Communication, Special Edition in Citizen Science (Part II). You can also read the paper in full in the open access archive at: https://arxiv.org/abs/1601.05973.

What is Penguin Watch 2.0?

We’re getting through the first round of Penguin Watch data- it’s amazing and it’s doing the job we wanted, which is to revolutionise the collection and processing of penguin data from the Southern Ocean – to disentangle the threats of climate change, fishing and direct human disturbance. The data are clearly excellent, but we’re now trying to automate processing them so that results can more rapidly influence policy.

In “PenguinWatch 2.0”, people will be able to see the results of their online efforts to monitor and conserve Antarctica’s penguins colonies. The more alert among you will notice that it’s not fully there yet, but we’re working on it!

We have loads of ideas on how to integrate this with the penguinwatch.org experience so that people are more engaged, learn more and realise what they are contributing to!

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For now, we’re doing this the old-fashioned way; anyone such as schools who want to be more engaged, can contact us (tom.hart@zoo.ox.ac.uk) and we’ll task you with a specific colony and feedback on that.

Primary School Zooniverse Volunteers

Recently my class of 8-9 year old kids from ZŠ Brno, Jihomoravské náměstí (a primary school in the Czech Republic) took part in several Zooniverse projects.

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First, they were just talking about their dreams – what they would like to achieve in life. Mostly, they wanted to become a sports star or music celebrity, but some actually considered becoming a scientist!

Then they were introduced to the Zooniverse and citizen science. Fascinated by the idea than they can actually contribute to real science (so someone’s dream can come true), they dived into the list of projects on the Zooniverse website. All the cover images and project names were really attractive to them, sadly, only two projects are available in Czech. Anyway, the first project they started – Snapshots at Sea – was in English only. This project focusing on marine animals, especially cetaceans, is very simple though. The only task is to say whether there are any animals present in the picture. They learned the English question very quickly and classified over 200 images on their own. They asked various questions about those fascinating animals and looked hungry for more answers. Initially, they didn’t want to stop classifying, but when they heard the name of the following project to try – Penguin Watch, they were totally into it!

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This project, available in Czech, shows wintery images of remote locations in Antarctica, usually crowded with nesting penguins. The tasks here are to mark adult penguins, chicks, or their eggs, and any predators, if present. They took turns marking, trying to mark at least 30 penguins as quickly as possible so they could see another image. They couldn’t wait to find an egg. And after only 9 images they succeeded!

They were curious about Antarctica, as well as about penguins. They wondered, why it is so cold there, and how are long polar days and nights likely to happen. Answering their last question would have been a great step to lead into trying a space project, as many of them are available on Zooniverse. But, they decided to try another wildlife project, Chimp & See, a project monitoring wild animals in Africa, especially chimpanzees and their behaviour. This project wasn’t as easy for them, as they were asked to identify unfamiliar animals in short video clips (they had to learn their names in English during classification) and then to describe their behaviour using a list of options. Surprisingly, they didn’t mind the language barrier much. After a short while, all of them were standing in front of the screen and everyone wanted to touch it! They seemed to be totally hooked.

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The researchers from Chimp&See were so kind to offer them the chance to choose a name for a currently unidentified juvenile chimp, captured on 4 different video sequences! The kids were really excited by such an opportunity and suggested a lot of names to choose from. They were voting in the end and all agreed on a single name – Kibu!

When the lesson ended, many of them asked to create their own accounts, so they could participate on their own from home. Next time, we are going to try Plankton Portal and Floating Forests.

Zooniverse projects are really a great opportunity for kids to learn about nature, they bring them to the real science, and not to forget, they are great fun!

 

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By Zuzana Macháčková, a primary school teacher in Brno and Zooniverse volunteer.

Darren (DZM) New Horizons

Dear Zooniverse community,

I have some news to break to everyone. I’ve accepted a new position at a different company, and while it’s an extremely exciting opportunity for me, it does mean that I have to step away from the Community Builder role here.

This is a bittersweet announcement for me, because as exciting as my new job is for my career, I’ve truly loved my time at the Zooniverse, helping to grow this community and our platform and getting to know so many incredible volunteers, researchers, and staff.

However, I do want to emphasize that this is definitely not goodbye! I couldn’t possibly leave completely—there are so many projects here that I enjoy doing as much as you guys do, and so many exciting developments in the pipeline that I want to see pan out. I’m not going anywhere; instead, I’m becoming one of you: a Zooniverse volunteer. I won’t be your liaison anymore, or a source for reporting your needs, but I’ll continue to be your colleague in people-powered research.

The Zooniverse is growing and changing at an incredible rate right now, and has been for much of my time here over the past 14 months. Overall, I’m blown away by what you’ve all helped us to accomplish. Projects are being launched and completed quickly, and our new research teams are more attuned to volunteers’ needs than ever before. I’ve long believed that the launch of the Project Builder would begin a process of exponentially expanding the scope of the Zoo, and we are definitely beginning to see that happening. I can’t wait to find out, along with the rest of you, what the next chapter of this story has in store for us all.

Thank you all for everything, and I’ll be seeing you all around!

Yours in people-powered research,

Darren “DZM” McRoy

Special note from the ZooTeam — Thank you Darren for all your hard work over the years! We’re so excited for you and this new opportunity. And we very much look forward to continuing to build and strengthen the relationships between our volunteers, research teams, and the Zooniverse team. Thank you all for your contributions! Onward and upward.

The importance of acknowledgement

Trying to understand the vast proliferation of ‘citizen science’ projects is a Herculean task right now, with projects cropping up all over the place dealing with both online data analysis like that which concerns us here at the Zooniverse and with data collection and observation of the natural world via projects like iNaturalist. As the number of projects increases, so do questions about the effectiveness of these projects, and so does our desire to keep track of the impact all of the effort put into them is having.

These aren’t easy questions to answer, and an attempt to track the use of citizen science in the literature is made by Ria Follett and Vladimir Strezov, two researchers in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Macquarie University, in a recent paper published in the journal PLOS One. They look at papers including the words ‘citizen science’, and includes the surprising result that ‘online’ projects accounted for only 12% of their sample. They explain :

The missing articles dis- cussed discoveries generated using “galaxy zoo” data, rather than acknowledging the contribtions of the citizens who created this data.

This, to me, is pushing a definition to extremes. Every one of the ‘missing’ papers cited has a link to a list of volunteers who contributed; several have volunteers listed on the author list! To claim that we’re not ‘acknowledging the contribtions’ of volunteers because we don’t use the shibboleth ‘citizen science’ is ridiculous. Other Zooniverse projects, such as Planet Hunters, don’t even appear in the study for much the same reason, and it’s sad that a referee didn’t dig deeper into the limited methodology used in the article.

Part of the problem here is the age-old argument about the term ‘citizen science’. It’s not a description most of our volunteers would use of themselves, but rather a term imposed from the academy to describe (loosely!) the growing phenomenon of public participation in public research. In most of our Galaxy Zoo papers, we refer to ‘volunteers’ rather than ‘citizen scientists’ – and we believe strongly in acknowledging the contributions of everyone to a project, whatever term they choose to label themselves with.

Chris