New supernovae changes

Hey everyone I am glad to annonce that in the very near future the Supernovae zoo site will be receiving some new features. You might have received an email about this already but I wanted to go a little more in to the details of what we are adding here and put a call out to what we can do to make the site better.

The supernovae project has been one of the quieter projects in the Zooniverse but that does not mean it hasn’t been successful in its own right. It has already helped improve the efficiency of our hunt for supernovae a lot. One of the bigest challenges with SN zoo Its a very different beast from its galaxy and solar siblings. Unlike all the other zoo’s, our targets are always changing. Each night the The Samuel Oschin Telescope takes new images, looking for changes in the brightness of objects in the night sky. When it finds a change it lets the zoo know and thats where you guys come in, helping us tease out the all important supernovae from asteroids, camera glitches and other things which go bump in the night.

Supernovae, the death throws of stars, get bright very quickly and then slowly fade over the course of a number weeks. There is a specific type of supernovae called a 1A which are very important for astronomers. These explosions involve not one but two stars, usually a giant star and a small but very massive white dwarf. The white dwarf is so heavy it strips material off its companion, getting heavier and heavier until it reaches 1.4 times the mass of our sun. At this point it cant support its weight anymore and explodes in a huge outburst ripping itself appart .

Artist impression for a type 1a supernovae system
Artist impression for a type 1a supernovae system

The fact that this always happens at the same mass means that we can predict how bright the explosion should be. We can see how bright it looks in the sky, and form that work out how far away it, and its parent galaxy must be. The catch is we need to see how bright it gets in that inital period, the quicker we can get an idea of how the SN is brightening, the better.

So not only is the supernovae zoo constantly updated with new targets but we need them to be categorized as soon as possible, ideally within a week.

So how do we optimise the zoo to allow you guys to help us find these things as fast as possible? Well we have recently added two features, one behind the scenes and one more visible.

Until now if you wanted to know when there where new candidates you had to log in to the site and check the front page. It was long and tedious and you had to remember to check back regularly. Well we understand that this was a lot to ask and so now we are introducing a notification system to the zoo. If you would like to be informed of when new candidates come online just browse over to the site and click the “manage my notifications” button on the home page. This will tell our system to send an email to you (the address you signed up to the zoo with), whenever there are new candidates to be found. We dont want to spam you to much so there will be a limit on this of about 1 email every couple of days.

If you are more of the twitter persuasion you can instead follow us @supernovae_zoo to get more frequent updates on the status of the site.

We will be accepting signups from today but will be turning on the email system mid next week (once we have done some testing), so dont expect any notifications till then.

We recently updated the front page to provide more information on when the follow up observations where taking place and the current status of the site. You help us rank the candidates to help the observers decide which objects to follow up, a job which you do incredibly well and which we are very thankful for. However in practice, new candidates are being loaded on to the system all the time with one batch not necessarily being finished before the next one is loaded on. You can now track this process yourself with the new homepage of the site. Which leaves us with the problem of which order to show the new candidates to you guys.

To make sure that a small number of classifications dont unfairly bias a candidate we need to make sure that a number of people see each image before we can rank it properly. If you asked one person their opinion of your home made cookies, and they thought they where rubbish, you would not take too much offence, but 10 or 12 and you might start wondering if the anchovies you added to the recipe really where a good idea. Its the same with supernovae (though they dont typically contain anchovies ether).

So we want to make sure that we get enough classifications to be confident about our candidate, but not waste to much time getting them. We also care a lot more about quickly finding potential good candidates rather than wasting to much time confirming bad ones. And if that wasnt enough we want to give things which where found more recently priority.

So how do we go about figuring out the optimal strategy for all this? Well if we where politicians we might convine a summit and argue long and hard in to the night about who’s strategy is better. If we where superstitious we would brew some tea and read the leaves or see what our horoscope had to say about the matter, and if we where still students we would we would have probably gone to the pub already. However despite arguing, tea and eventually the pub all being involved in the process, we are scientists and we view the best way or sorting this out is to go to the data.

We keep all your individual classifications on the database so we can verify the data when we need to turn it in to Science. This also lets us rerun your classifications with different rules,  to see how we can improve the system. Using this we have updated how we score candidates depending on your input

Finally one other change is in the works which we hope to take live next week. MySN will be a part of the site which will allow you to view recently classified candidates and see which of them has been selected for follow up observing. We are currently talking to the observing team about getting feedback on exactly which of those in turn are confirmed as SN. So very soon you should be able to see your exact contribution to the search and how many supernovae you have been able to find. For now we can give you a sneak peak at what to expect :

A sneak peek at the new section of SNzoo
A sneak peek at the new section of SNzoo

So thats all of the changes we plan for the near future. We are always looking to improve the site and any suggestions you have will be greatly appreciated. Its sometimes a little hard to keep up to date with the forums, so if you have any suggestions ether comment on this blog post or email me directly at stuart@zooniverse.org .

Thanks again for all your hard work and we hope you enjoy the new features on the site.

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