Gravitational lenses – or ‘space warps’ – are created when massive galaxies cause light to bend around them such that they act rather like giant lenses in space. By looking through data that has never been seen by human eyes, our new Space Warps project is asking citizen scientists to help discover some of these incredibly rare objects. We need your help to spot these chance-alignments of galaxies in a huge survey of the night sky. To take part visit www.spacewarps.org.
Gravitational lenses help us to answer all kinds of questions about galaxies, including how many very low mass stars such as brown dwarfs – which aren’t bright enough to detect directly in many observations – are lurking in distant galaxies. The Zooniverse has always been about connecting people with the biggest questions and now, with Space Warps, we’re taking our first trip to the early Universe. We’re excited to let people be the first to see some of the rarest astronomical objects of all!
The Space Warps project is a lens discovery engine. Joining the search is easy: when you visit the website you are given examples of what space warps look like and are shown how to mark potential candidates on each image. The first set of images to be inspected in this project is from the CFHT (Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope) legacy survey.
Computer algorithms have already scanned the images, but there are likely to be many more space warps that the algorithms have missed. We think that only with human help will we find them all. Realistic simulated lenses are dropped into some images to help you learn how to spot them, and reassure you that you’re on the right track. Previous studies have shown that the human brain is better at identifying complex lenses than computers are, and we know at the Zooniverse that members of the public can be at least as good at spotting astronomical objects as experts! We’re going to use the data from citizen scientists to continuously train computers to become better space warp spotters.
This is a really exciting project and you can read more on the Space Warps blog. As with our other projects it can also be found on Twitter (@SpaceWarps), on Facebook and you can discuss any interesting objects you find on Space Warps Talk. We’re really excited about this project and think you’ll be able to make some amazing discoveries through it.