All posts by The Zooniverse

Online citizen science projects. The Zooniverse is doing real science online,.

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.

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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).

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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.

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

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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

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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.

Exoplanet Explorers Discoveries – A Small Planet in the Habitable Zone

This post is by Adina Feinstein. Adina is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on detecting and characterizing exoplanets. Adina became involved with the Exoplanet Explorers project through her mentor, Joshua Schlieder, at NASA Goddard through their summer research program.

Let me tell you about the newly discovered system – K2-288 – uncovered by volunteers on Exoplanet Explorers.

K2-288 has two low-mass M dwarf stars: a primary (K2-288A) which is roughly half the size of the Sun and a secondary (K2-288B) which is roughly one-third the size of the Sun. The capital lettering denotes a star in the planet-naming world. Already this system is shaping up to be pretty cool. The one planet in this system, K2-288Bb, hosts the smaller, secondary star. K2-288Bb orbits on a 31.3 day period, which isn’t very long compared to Earth, but this period places the planet in the habitable zone of its host star. The habitable zone is defined as the region where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface. K2-288Bb has an equilibrium temperature -47°C, colder than the equilibrium temperature of Earth. It is approximately 1.9 times the radius of Earth, which places it in a region of planet radius space where we believe planets transition to volatile-rich sub-Neptunes, rather than being potentially habitable super-Earth. Planets of this size are rare, with only about a handful known to-date.

Artist’s rendering of the K2-288 system.

The story of the discovery of this system is an interesting one. When two of the reaction wheels on the Kepler spacecraft failed, the mission team re-oriented the spacecraft to allow observations to continue to happen. The re-orientation caused slight variations in the shape of the telescope and temperature of the instruments on board. As a consequence, the beginning of each observing campaign experienced extreme systematic errors and initially, when searching for exoplanet transits, we “threw out” or ignored the first days of observing. Then, when we were searching the data by-eye for new planet candidates, we came across this system and only saw 2 transits. In order for follow-up observations to proceed, we need a minimum of 3 transits, so we put this system on the back-burner. The light curve (the amount of light we see from a star over time) with the transits is shown below.

Later, we learned how to model and correct for the systematic errors at the beginning of each observing run and re-processed all of the data. Instead of searching it all by-eye again, as we had done initially, we outsourced it to Exoplanet Explorers and citizen scientists, who identified this system with three transit signals. The volunteers started a discussion thread about this planet because given initial stellar parameters, this planet would be around the same size and temperature as Earth. This caught our attention. As it turns out, there was an additional transit at the beginning of the observing run that we missed when we threw out this data! Makennah Bristow, a fellow intern of mine at NASA Goddard, identified the system again independently. With now three transits and a relatively long orbital period of 31.3 days, we pushed to begin the observational follow-up needed to confirm this planet was real.

First, we obtained spectra, or a unique chemical fingerprint of the star. This allowed us to place better constraints on the parameters of the star, such as mass, radius, temperature, and brightness. While obtaining spectra from the Keck Observatory, we noticed a potential companion star. We conducted adaptive optics observations to see if the companion was bound to the star or a background source. Most stars in the Milky Way are born in pairs, so it was not too surprising that this system was no different. After identifying a fainter companion, we made extra sure the signal was due to a real planet and not the companion; we convinced ourselves this was the case.

Finally, we had to determine which star the planet was orbiting. We obtained an additional transit using the Spitzer spacecraft. Using both the Kepler and Spitzer transits, we derived planet parameters for both when the planet orbits the primary and the secondary. The planet radius derived from both light curves was most consistent when the host star was the secondary. Additionally, we derived the stellar density from the observed planet transit and this better correlated to the smaller secondary star. To round it all off, we calculated the probability of the signal being a false positive (i.e. not a planet signal) when the planet orbits the secondary and it resulted in a false positive probability of roughly 10e-9, which indicates it most likely is a real signal.

The role of citizen scientists in this discovery was critical, which is why some of the key Zooniverse volunteers are included as co-authors on this publication. K2-288 was observed in K2 Campaign 4, which ran from April to September back in 2015. We scientists initially missed this system and it’s likely that even though we learned how to better model and remove spacecraft systematics, it would have taken years for us to go back into older data and find this system. Citizen scientists have shown us that even though there is so much new data coming out, especially with the launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, the older data is still a treasure trove of new discoveries. Thank you to all of the Exoplanet volunteers who made this discovery possible and continue your great work!

The paper written by the team is available here. It should be open to all very shortly.

Exoplanet Explorers Discoveries – A Sixth Planet in the K2-138 System

This is the first of two guest posts from the Exoplanet Explorers research team announcing two new planets discovered by their Zooniverse volunteers. This post was written by Jessie Christiansen.

Hello citizen scientists! We are here at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the biggest astronomy meeting in the US of the year (around 3000 astronomers, depending on how many attendees are ultimately affected by the government shutdown). I’m excited to share that on Monday morning, we are making a couple of new exoplanet announcements as a result of your work here on Zooniverse, using the Exoplanet Explorers project!

Last year at the same meeting, we announced the discovery of K2-138. This was a system of five small planets around a K star (an orange dwarf star). The planets all have very short orbital periods (from 2.5 to 12.8 days! Recall that in our solar system the shortest period planet is Mercury, with a period of ~88 days) that form an unbroken chain of near-resonances. These resonances offer tantalizing clues as to how this system formed, a question we are still trying to answer for exoplanet systems in general. The resonances also beg the question – how far could the chain continue? This was the longest unbroken chain of near first-order resonances which had been found (by anyone, let alone citizen scientists!).

At the time, we had hints of a sixth planet in the system. In the original data analysed by citizen scientists, there were two anomalous events that could not be accounted for by the five known planets – events that must have been caused by at least one, if not more, additional planets. If they were both due to a single additional planet, then we could predict when the next event caused by that planet would happen – and we did. We were awarded time on the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope at the predicted time, and BOOM. There it was. A third event, shown below, confirming that the two previous events were indeed caused by the same planet, a planet for which we now knew the size and period.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce K2-138 g! It is a planet just a little bit smaller than Neptune (which means it is slightly larger than the other five planets in the system, which are all between the size of Earth and Neptune). It has a period of about 42 days, which means it’s pretty warm (400 degrees K) and therefore not habitable. Also, very interestingly, it is not on the resonant chain – it’s significantly further out than the next planet in the chain would be. In fact, it’s far enough out that there is a noticeable gap – a gap that is big enough to hide more planets on the chain. If these planets exist, they don’t seem to be transiting, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be detected in other ways, including by measuring the effect of their presence on the other planets that do transit. The planet is being published in a forthcoming paper that will be led by Dr Kevin Hardegree-Ullman, a postdoctoral research fellow at Caltech/IPAC.

In the meantime, astronomers are still studying the previously identified planets, in particular to try to measure their masses. Having tightly packed systems that are near resonance like K2-138 provides a fantastic test-bed for examining all sorts of planet formation and migration theories, so we are excited to see what will come from this amazing system discovered by citizen scientists on Zooniverse in years to come!

We are also announcing a second new exoplanet system discovered by Exoplanet Explorers, but I will let Adina Feinstein, the lead author of that paper, introduce you to that exciting discovery.