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Zooniverse is 10 today!

Zooniverse is ten years old! On 12th December 2009, Zooniverse.org sputtered into life, celebrated with a post on this very blog (https://blog.zooniverse.org/2009/12/12/the-zooniverse-is-go/). Truth be told, there wasn’t a huge amount to show – the only project there was our first, Galaxy Zoo, which had been running for a couple of years by that point. What a contrast to today’s bustling home page, with 229 live projects for you to choose from. Early in 2010 two new projects – Solar Stormwatch and Moon Zoo – were launched, before Old Weather became our first project based here on Earth instead of out in the cosmos.

To celebrate, we’re redoubling our efforts to reach two million volunteers. We’re about 50,000 short, so if every one in twenty of you invites a friend to join in we’ll be there in no time. We have a prize lined up for the lucky two millionth, and anyone who classifies on any project on that auspicious day will go into a draw for some Zooniverse swag.

Birthdays are also time for reflection. To be honest, I was a bit surprised when I realised that we were approaching this milestone birthday. Galaxy Zoo had arrived with a big bang, a sudden explosion of effort, but as the above description suggests Zooniverse grew more slowly, as project after project was added to our nascent platform. Over the years, we rebuilt the codebase (more than once), projects came and went, and the army of Zooniverse volunteers grew in strength and in numbers. Looking back, though, the decision we made to launch Zooniverse set in stone some important principles that still guide us today.

For starters, it meant that we were committed to building a universe of projects which volunteers could move easily between. Projects which were lucky enough to get publicity – featuring on BBC Stargazing Live, for example – thus benefited other projects by bringing new people into the Zooniverse community. We built a shared codebase, so that funding for a particular project could support the development of code that benefited everyone. For most participants, their experience of the Zooniverse is limited to the project they’re participating in, whether it involves penguins, papyri or planets, but these network effects have been hugely important in sustaining such a rich variety of projects for a decade.

We’ve always tried to make it as easy as possible for researchers to build the best projects they can imagine, investing in the project builder tool that now supports all of the projects listed on our homepage. The choice – made early – to present the Zooniverse as a tool that’s free for researchers to use has caused problems; we are almost completely dependent on grant funding, which is a risky way to run a railroad, to say the least. But it has meant that those researchers, often early in their careers, have been able to turn to Zooniverse for help without reservation, and I think we’ve had better results – and more fun – as a consequence. 

There have been so many great moments over the last ten years, but just for a bit of fun here are my top 3 favourites:

  1. First hearing the Solar Stormwatch results were good – realising the method doesn’t just work for Galaxy Zoo.
  2. Climbing up a hill in the Antarctic to retrieve Penguin Watch data.
  3. The morning where we thought Higgs Hunters volunteers had discovered something truly remarkable (sadly it turned out they hadn’t).

So here’s to ten years of the Zooniverse. At any point in the last decade, I’d have been wrong if I’d tried to predict what the next few years would bring. I’m looking forward to more adventures and surprises in our second decade!

Chris

PS I can’t possibly list all of the people who were instrumental in building and guiding the project over the years, but I hope the team will forgive me for mentioning Arfon Smith, my co-founder and the technical genius behind the Zooniverse’s first few years, Lucy Fortson, whose wisdom we’ve relied on from the start, and Lauras Whyte and Trouille who have in turn led the Adler team in Chicago through this mad decade. Special thanks too to the volunteers – all of you – but especially Elisabeth Baeten, Jules Wilkinson, and PMason, whose spirit and generosity is a constant source of wonder and inspiration. 

ESA Image of the Week created by Zooniverse volunteer


Main-belt asteroid 2001 SE101 passing in front of the Crab Nebula (M1). The streak appears curved due to Hubble’s orbital motion around the Earth. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Thévenot (@AstroMelina); CC BY 4.0

Last week, the European Space Agency released the above Image of the Week from the Hubble Asteroid Hunter project. It shows an asteroid passing in front of the Crab Nebula, M1, an image found in the ESA HST archives by citizen scientist Melina Thevenot, who created a colour image of it. 

Hubble Asteroid Hunter was created using our Zooniverse Panoptes platform by a team of researchers from the European Space Agency, and launched on International Asteroid Day (30 June 2019) with the aim of identifying serendipitous observations of asteroids in archival Hubble data. Over the almost three decades of observations, HST provided a vast wealth of images that are available in the archives. Many of these images targeting far away galaxies or clusters contain photobombing asteroids, passing in front of the intended targets (for example asteroids passing in front of Abell 370 cluster in the Hubble Frontier Fields – https://hubblesite.org/contents/media/images/2017/33/4082-Image.html?keyword=Asteroids) . Rather than being a nuisance, astronomers realised that the images can be used to better characterise the asteroids themselves and determine their orbits. 

A pipeline was set up in ESA’s discovery portal (ESA Sky – https://sky.esa.int/) that matches the asteroids’ predicted positions in both time and space from the IAU Minor Planet Center database with the European HST archival images. The predicted positions of these objects, nevertheless, have some uncertainties as the ephemerides are not always known to great precision. This is a great opportunity for citizen scientists to inspect Hubble images and mark the positions of the trails. Knowing the exact positions of the trails allows researchers to update the ephemerides of the asteroids, and better characterise their orbits. This is important, especially for Near-Earth Objects, which can be potentially hazardous for the Earth. 

So far, over 1900 citizen scientists participated in the project, providing over 300,000 classifications. The project was extended with images from the ecliptic plane to search for potentially unknown asteroids, and with other longer exposure archival images to search for possible past interstellar visitors, such as 2I/Borisov. The volunteers have the chance of exploring beautiful Hubble images of galaxies, clusters and  gravitational lenses with these new images! 

Happy asteroid hunting on www.asteroidhunter.org

Live Coding the Zooniverse

Here at the Zooniverse, we make scientific discovery accessible to the community. Now, we’re incorporating that philosophy into our software engineering.

Our mobile developer, Chelsea Troy, live streams some of her development work on the Zooniverse Mobile App (available on the Apple App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android). This means that you can watch her as she codes, and you can even submit questions and suggestions while she is working!  For an introduction to the App and Chelsea’s code development efforts, check out this YouTube video.

Why did we decide to try out live coding? Chelsea talks a little bit about that decision in this blog post. Among the reasons: live coding videos are a great way to attract and recruit possible open source contributors whose work on the Zooniverse mobile app and other codebases could greatly benefit the Zooniverse.

After each live stream, a recording of the session will remain on YouTube. Chelsea also publishes show notes for each stream that include a link to the video, a link to the pull request created in the video, an outline of what we covered in the video (with timestamps), and a list of the parts of the video that viewers found the most useful.

Sound interesting? Willing to contribute to Zooniverse open source code development? Keep an eye on Chelsea’s Twitter account (@heychelseatroy) and blog for future live stream events.  But go ahead and check out the recording of her first live stream and show notes to get you started.

For more information on the mobile app, see related blog posts:
Blog Entry: Notes on the Zooniverse Mobile App – New Functionality Release
Blog Entry: A First Look at Mobile Usage and Results

Featured Image Credit: Reddit/cavepopcorn

U!Scientist and the Galaxy Zoo Touch Table at Adler Planetarium

“Everyone try to grab the same galaxy,” a boy exclaimed while motioning to his classmates. Around the table, six students began dragging an image of a galaxy from the center of a large touch screen onto their own workstation. It’s very likely these students are the first people to set eyes upon this galaxy and decide how it should be classified. This kind of work isn’t reserved for astronomers in observatories or researchers in labs. Any visitor to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago can participate in real scientific research through the new U!Scientist touch table exhibit.

In July, the Zooniverse team finished their year-long development of a multi-person touch table experience and accompanying exhibit to remain on the Adler floor for several years. On the touch table, visitors participate in the Galaxy Zoo project (galaxyzoo.org), which provides valuable data to researchers in the U.S. and abroad by asking volunteers to classify galaxies by shape. In an effort to bring the Zooniverse experience to the Adler floor, the National Science Foundation awarded the Adler-Zooniverse team a grant to design a multi-person touch table experience, allowing guests to participate in the Zooniverse in a more social, collaborative way.

At the table, guests step up to their own color-coded workspace and select galaxies from an explorable image sliver of space in the middle of the table. Next, the guest must decide if the galaxy is smooth in shape, contains unique features, or isn’t a galaxy at all. After submitting a classification, the volunteer is shown a quick tally of how past volunteers have classified the galaxy. Adler visitors of all ages, from school groups to grandparents, are becoming quick Zooniverse volunteers.

U!Scientist includes some firsts for the Zooniverse, including the ability to collaborate directly with one another while classifying. When finding an oddly-shaped galaxy, volunteers can send the image to a neighbor for advice or begin a conversation with their group. Hopefully, these in-person conversations about science will spark curiosity and cause planetarium visitors to become active Zooniverse volunteers online.

Since cutting the red ribbon, guests are finding new ways to interact with the exhibit. Couples take the opportunity to compete with one another in classifying the most galaxies, facilitators explain the research process to campers arriving early to the museum, and children outsmart their parents by explaining the shape of galaxies using examples at each workstation. On average, Adler guests are responsible for over one thousand classifications per day through U!Scientist.

Want to see how the touch table app is doing? Visit uscientist.org to see a running tally of U!Scientist and Galaxy Zoo classifications as well as a world map of current classifications through Galaxy Zoo.

The U!Scientist touch table exhibit is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant #AISL-1713425.

How To Communicate With The Zooniverse

Since the launch of our first project in 2007, the Zooniverse has grown and matured thanks to the tremendous contributions from our amazing community of volunteers around the world, as well as the Zooniverse web development teams and researchers based at the University of Oxford, the Adler Planetarium, the University of Minnesota, and many individual project research teams.  Together, these efforts have led to over 200 successful projects to date!

One of the features that makes the Zooniverse so special is that volunteers engage directly with researchers through each project’s “Talk” discussion forum. Not only have many breakthrough scientific discoveries been made through Talk (e.g., Boyajian’s Star), but equally important, it is the place where communities form. We love that this happens, and we strive to support an inclusive, nurturing community within the Zooniverse. Our fantastic Talk moderators play a central role in creating this supportive environment; helping to welcome and orient newcomers, answer questions, share insights, and focus the research team’s attention on questions and threads that particularly need their input.

Another way volunteers boost the quality of Zooniverse projects is through the direct feedback they provide on new projects before they launch. Over 50,000 volunteers have signed up to review projects during beta testing! The feedback these testers provide clarifies project tasks and goals, makes projects easy to use, and improves data quality. We take this feedback very seriously and important project refinements often emerge from this review process.  To sign-up as a beta test reviewer, visit your Zooniverse account email settings page.

In addition to engaging with the researchers through the project ‘Talk’ discussion forums and participating in the review process for new projects, we wanted to share additional ways to find information as well as share your ideas and feedback with us.

  • For FAQs (e.g., how to unsubscribe from emails, reset your password, etc.):
  • If you notice a bug/problem:
    • Email contact@zooniverse.org.In your email, include the web browser and operating system you’re using (visit whatismybrowser.com if you’re unsure).Please understand that the Zooniverse team is small and busy. We read all emails and take your feedback very seriously, but unfortunately we cannot directly reply to all of the emails we receive.

  • If you want to loop a Zooniverse team member into a Talk discussion when there is an issue that cannot be resolved by the project team:
    • Tag the Zooniverse team in your Talk post using “@support”.

  • If you have a general question and/or comment that’s not specific to an individual Zooniverse project:
  • If you notice a Security issue:
  • If you’re using the Project Builder Platform (zooniverse.org/lab) to build a new Zooniverse project and have a question:

Thank you so much for your contributions to the Zooniverse community!

Laura
Zooniverse Co-PI, VP of Citizen Science at the Adler Planetarium

Zooniverse New Functionality: Organizations

We recently deployed new functionality on the Zooniverse platform supporting ‘Organizations’; the ability to have a single landing page for multiple projects.

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 3.56.42 PM

The above screenshot of the Snapshot Safari Organization illustrates the look and feel of an Organization landing page. The page provides a brief overview, information about the team leading the effort, and quick access to the 8+ related projects (e.g., Snapshot Serengeti, Snapshot De Hoop, etc.). The page also displays a few aggregated statistics across the projects: total number of projects within the Organization, total number of subjects, total number of classifications, and the total number of completed subjects. In 2020 we’ll provide a page linked to each Organization with more complete listing of its projects’ statistics, mirroring the information available through each individual project’s statistics page (e.g., https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/shuebner729/snapshot-de-hoop/stats).

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 3.59.42 PM

The above screenshot of the Notes from Nature Organization landing page illustrates an additional ‘filter’ functionality that some Organizations will find useful. By clicking on the ‘Plants’, ‘Bug’, etc. buttons, you can filter down to just projects tagged with those keywords.

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 4.03.01 PM

https://lab.zooniverse.org provides access to the editor interface for building Projects and building Organizations.

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 4.06.21 PM

Within the Organization Editor Interface, the Organization owner and their collaborators can upload text and image content and link Projects to their Organization.

Which projects can be linked into an Organization?

  • You can only link projects for which you’re an owner or collaborator.
  • Only ‘launch approved’ projects will appear in the public view of your Organization landing page.
  • When linking a project to your Organization, the interface indicates whether that project is ‘launch approved’ or not.
  • As an Organization owner or collaborator, you can link a project to your Organization that isn’t yet launch approved and you can see how that project will look in your Organization landing page. By clicking on ‘volunteer’ view, you will then see only the ‘launch approved’ projects (i.e., the public view). This was put in place as a way for owners and collaborators to ‘preview’ a new project under development within a live Organizing landing page.

Once you are ready for your Organization landing page to be a publicly accessible URL, send an email to contact@zooniverse.org for the Zooniverse team to review and list it as public. We have slated development time in 2020 to add a new component within https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/ listing all live Organizations.

If you have questions about setting up an Organization, please post within the ‘Building an Organization’ thread within the ‘Project Building’ Discussion Forum (https://www.zooniverse.org/talk/18).

Notes on the Zooniverse Mobile App: New Functionality Release

We recently deployed new functionality to our Zooniverse mobile app (available via iTunes and Google Play for iOS and Android). The list of what’s now available is:

  • Swipe (binary question [Yes/No, A/B, etc.] response)
  • Multi-answer question (A/B/C/D/etc.)
  • Rectangle drawing task (drawing a rectangle around a feature within a subject)
  • Multi-image subjects (e.g. uploading 2+ images as a single subject; users swipe up/down to display the different images)
  • Subject auto-linking (automatically linking subjects retired from one workflow into another workflow of interest on the same project; note – this is relevant not just for workflows on the app)
  • Push notifications (sending messages/alerts about new data, new workflows, etc., via the app)
  • Preview (an owner or collaborator on a project in development being able to preview a workflow in the ‘Preview’ section of the mobile app)
  • Beta Review (mobile enabled workflows are accessible through the ‘Beta Review’ section of the app for a project in the Beta Review process; includes an in-app feedback form)

Note: we will continue developing the app; this is just the end of Phase 1.

With this functionality in place, we’re reaching out to research teams to encourage them to ‘enable on mobile’ any workflows that use the above functionalities. Our goal is to have at least 6 active projects on the mobile app in June. At that time, we’ll send an e-newsletter to the full community of Zooniverse users encouraging them to download the app and check out the projects. This will be the first promotion of the app to our full community. The feedback we’ve received from the few projects that have used it so far has been great. We’re so excited to do a major push and we really want as many projects as possible to benefit from the attention and engagement.

With that in mind, if you’re leading a Zooniverse project and have any questions about where in the Project Editor ‘workflow’ interface to ‘enable on mobile’, don’t hesitate to email contact@zooniverse.org. And/or if you’re a volunteer and wonder if workflow(s) on a given project could be enabled on mobile, please post in that project’s Talk to start the conversation with the research team and us. The more, the merrier!

Looking forward to having more projects on the mobile app and launching a major promotional/recruitment push in June!

For more information on the mobile app, see:
https://blog.zooniverse.org/2018/11/05/beta-for-mobile/
https://blog.zooniverse.org/2018/05/18/notes-on-mobile-launching-a-workflow/

CELEBRATING CITIZEN SCIENCE DAY 2019, PT. 5

This coming Saturday 13th April is Citizen Science Day, an ‘annual event to celebrate and promote all things citizen science’. Here at the Zooniverse, one of our team members will be posting each day this week to share with you their favourite Zooniverse projects. Today’s post is from Grant Miller, project manager of the Zooniverse team at the University of Oxford.

Having been at the Zooniverse for almost six years and helped over one hundred research teams launch their project on the Zooniverse platform I find it very difficult to choose just one of them as my favourtie. However, unlike Helen did on Tuesday, I’m going to give it a try 😛

For me it’s got to be the very first project that  was pitched to me on my first  day of the job back in 2013 – Penguin Watch! Over the last decade the lead researcher Tom Hart and his team have been travelling to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica to place time-lapse cameras looking at penguin nests. They now collect so many images each year the cannot do their science without the help of the Zooniverse crowd. This projecy perfectly demonstrates the key elements which go into making a truly great citizen science project:

  1. It has a clear and relatable research goal: Help count penguins so we can understand how over-fishing and climate change is affecting their populations, and then use that information to influence policy makers.
  2. It has an extremely simple task that for now can only be done accurate by human eyes: Click on the penguins in the image. It’s so simple we have 4-year-old children helping their parents do it!
  3. It has an amazing and engaged research team and volunteer community: Even though they are a very small team the scientists take plenty of time to communicate with their volunteer community via the Talk area of the project, newsletters, and social  media channels. There is also a fantastic core group of volunteer moderators who put in so much effort to make sure the project is running as well as it should.

Half a million king penguins at St Andrews Bay, South Georgia.

In addition to all of this I was lucky enough to join them on one of their Antarctic expeditions last year, as they went down to maintain their time-lapse cameras and collect the data that goes into Penguin Watch. You can see my video diary (which I’m posting once per day on the run up to World Penguin Day on the 25th April) at daily.zooniverse.org.

Get involved in Penguin Watch today at www.penguinwatch.org.

Celebrating Citizen Science Day 2019, PT.3

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 4.18.49 PM

This coming Saturday 13th April is Citizen Science Day, an ‘annual event to celebrate and promote all things citizen science’. Here at the Zooniverse, one of our team members will be posting each day this week to share with you their favourite Zooniverse projects. Today’s post is from Laura Trouille, co-PI for Zooniverse and VP of Citizen Science at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

To follow on Sam’s Monday post kicking off this series and her mention of the diversity of approaches and models for citizen science, I thought it would be fun and helpful to highlight Hawk Talk, a project co-created by citizen scientists and researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 

During the summer of 2018, a group of volunteers spent weeks observing the Red-tailed Hawk cam, brainstorming questions about what they were seeing, and ultimately voting on a question to investigate:

Do hawks use different kinds of calls in different situations at the nest?

Previous researchers have documented Red-tailed Hawk vocalizations, but have been mostly limited to what they can hear on the ground or when briefly checking a nest. The 24/7 Red-tailed Hawk cam gives the community the chance to document vocalizations right at the nest without disturbing the birds!

Join them at Hawk Talk for this first round of clips in which you will look at the first week of footage after the nestlings start to hatch.

We also invite you to learn more about the Bird Cams Lab, the larger project that Hawk Talk is a part of. Click here to help test new activities for co-created research investigations.

Almost every day, the Hawk Talk team posts in the project’s announcement banner. Sometimes they direct you to a specific clip to help figure out what is going on. Other times they let you know about exciting news happening on the live Red-tailed Hawks cam.

The team also posts the number of classifications received on the previous day and encourages continued participation. Help them increase the daily number of classification from ~200/day to more!

The greater the participation, the more quickly the citizen scientists and researchers can use these data to answer their question. This is a wonderful example of citizen scientists engaged in all steps of the research process. Join the Hawk Talk community and help make it a success!

Go straight to Hawk Talk or to the Zooniverse portal for Bird Cams Lab, where you can find both Hawk Talk and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s other project, Battling Birds.

Thank you!

 

28 New Planet Candidates Discovered on Exoplanet Explorers

The team behind the Exoplanet Explorers project has just published a Research Note of the American Astronomical Society announcing the discovery of 28 new exoplanet candidates uncovered by Zooniverse volunteers taking part in the project.

Nine of these candidates are most likely rocky planets, with the rest being gaseous. The sizes of these potential exoplanets range from two thirds the size of Earth to twice the size of Neptune!

This figure shows the transit dips for all 28 exoplanet candidates. Zink et al., 2019

You can find out more about these exoplanet candidates in the actual research note at https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2515-5172/ab0a02, and in this blog post by the Exoplanet Explorers research team http://www.jonzink.com/blogEE.html.

Finally, both the Exoplanet Explorers and Zooniverse teams would like to extend their deep gratitude to all the volunteers who took part in the project and made these amazing discoveries possible.