740,000 People – Part Two

Volunteers Poster

To end our 2012 advent calendar, we have the second of our 740,000 posters. We’d like to wish everyone a happy holiday – whatever you do at this time of year! We’ll be back in 2013 with more news, new projects and more science based on your work. The Universe is too big to explore without you.

740,000 People

Growing Community

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!

New on the Milky Way Project: Clouds

MWP Clouds

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.

Read more on the Milky Way Project blog.

Podcast About the Zooniverse

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.

Zooniverse and Teens: 1,034 M&Ms In A Jar and a Pooping Sloth

First a quick introduction, I’m Kelly, one of the educators on the Zooniverse development team based at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.  Recently we’ve had some opportunities to speak with teens about the awesomeness of the Zooniverse and citizen science in general.

First-up were freshman from the Air Force Academy, a Chicago Public high school. For the last three years the Adler Planetarium has partnered with AFA to develop a series of field trip experiences for their freshman class. The first trip is billed as a “behind the scenes” look at the Adler where students attend sessions presented by different departments within the planetarium.  Web-developer extraordinaire Stuart and I spoke to 80 students in four 25 minutes sessions about all things Zooniverse.

We introduced students to citizen science, crowdsourcing, and multiple Zooniverse projects.  To demonstrate the power of the crowd, each student guessed the number of M&Ms in a jar (1,034 painstakingly counted by yours truly).  We averaged students’ guesses and, in most instances, this average was closer to the actual number than their individual guesses.  After a brief demonstration on the transit method of planet detection, students dove into Planet Hunters.  The program ended with students giving feedback about what they liked and what they would change about the website.  We’ll use their feedback as we develop educational resources for Planet Hunters.

Zooniverse student outreach isn’t limited to the walls of the Adler Planetarium.  On cold November Friday, Laura, Ed, and I headed out to Downers Grove South High School in the suburbs of Chicago.  Each year the school’s library teams up with an academic department to participate in the American Library Association’s Teen Read Week.  This year it was the science department, so Zooniverse joined organizations like Argonne National Laboratory to speak with freshman and sophomores about various sciencey things.

Ed presenting to students during Teen Read Week

Admittedly there was some stiff competition for student attention, namely live animals.  A sloth availing itself of the facilities proved quite fascinating to the students.  While not directly related to our outreach endeavors, we did learn that sloths only go number two once a week (file that away for your next bar trivia or Trivial Pursuit game). Overall our participation in Teen Read work at Downers Grove South High School was a huge success. All told over 600 students classified galaxies in Galaxy Zoo, searched for extrasolar planets in Planet Hunters, counted and measured seastars in Seafloor Explorer, and previewed Snapshot Serengeti.

We’re looking forward to more opportunities to work directly with students, just maybe sans sloth and with a smaller jar of M&Ms.

Snapshot Serengeti

It probably would have been best to kick off the Zooniverse education blog with some kind of ‘welcome to Zooniverse education’ type posting, but with Snapshot Serengeti going live today I really couldn’t bring myself to write about anything else.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Snapshot Serengeti is the latest addition to the Zooniverse family, and quite possibly the most addictive project to date. There are 225 camera traps at the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania which snap three photographs every time something moves in front of them. As you can imagine, the scientists who run the camera traps, would need decades to look at all these images and computers aren’t good enough at identifying animals to rely on them to complete the task. Plus there is the additional challenge of determining what the animals are doing, humans can see that a ‘cheetah is chasing a gazelle’ in a heartbeat, no complex algorithms required!

Fortunately for us, these images make for the perfect Zooniverse project. The ecologists at the University of Minnesota Lion Project are overwhelmed with a data that is only suitable for human classification, they have important research into predator prey relationships that will be significantly advanced by these photographs being organised and classified and the photo’s are utterly brilliant!

I’m excited about Snapshot Serengeti as both the mother of small kids and as a former high school science teacher. Firstly, as a mother, I can see huge potential for a bit of family science time. My son turned four last week and we have already had a couple of sessions of identifying and counting animals and I have it on good account that @orbitingfrog has been doing the same with his three year old daughter. My son is too little to read the animal names, but I suspect he’ll soon be better than me at identifying the animals. The site works brilliantly on an ipad, so if you’re lucky enough to have one, it’s a lovely thing to get cozy on the sofa and work together to help the ecologists understand the herbivores and carnivores who live in the Serengeti. We also took a look on google maps at the location of the Serengeti and talked a little bit about the African continent, plus lots of ‘what does elephant start with?’ type questions. Ecology, geography and literacy all in one afternoon!

For teachers out there who’d like to bring real research into the their primary or elementary school class, I think this project is ideally suited. For the younger ones, the classification interface is going to be tricky, but a computer hooked up to a projector or smartboard would allow the class to work together as a group identifying and counting the animals. I have extremely limited experience of working with this age group, so if any teachers out there have any idea’s how please share them below or upload them to ZooTeach.

Most middle and high school students should be able to participate on with very little input from teachers and I’d imagine that biology (and perhaps geography?) teachers won’t have any trouble finding curriculum links with this project. The original project (Serengeti Live) had a collection of quizzes which I’ve linked to on ZooTeach that would be useful for introducing Snapshot Serengeti.

Here at Zooniverse HQ we’re going to work on producing some lesson idea’s and resources to complement Snapshot Serengeti and in the not to distant future the project will have a map tool added. The map will allow you to see how many of each animal you have found at each camera trap, this will be a great additional resource, allowing students to take slightly deeper look at their own data set.

In the meantime, if anyone has any inspiring idea’s to help teachers and educators bring Snapshot Serengeti into the classroom so that kids everywhere can be ecologist for the day, please do share them!

Snapshot Serengeti

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.

Snapshot Serengeti

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

[Follow @snapserengeti on Twitter and check out the Facebook page too.]

The Andromeda Project

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.

The Andromeda Project

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 seo company 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.

Classification Interface

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.

You can also find our new project on Twitter @andromedaproj and on Facebook too.

New Publications Page

Zoo Avatars

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.