This week is the BBC’s Stargazing Live show: three now-annual nights of live stargazing and astronomy chatter, live from Jodrell Bank. In 2012 we asked the Stargazing Live viewers to help us discover a planet with Planet Hunters, in 2013 we explored the surface of Mars with Planet Four. This year we are inviting everybody to use our Space Warps project to discover some of most beautiful and rare objects in the universe: gravitational lenses.
Space Warps launched last year and originally the project asked everyone to spot gravitationally lensed features in optical images from the CFHT Legacy Survey. We’re still busy processing the data but you seem to have found lenses – including the three shown at the top of this post! For Stargazing Live we’re adding a whole new dataset of infrared images, which has not been deeply searched for lenses before. We’re also now working with ’targeted’ data. This means that we are only showing images containing objects in them that could either be lenses, or would be interesting if they were being lensed. So your odds of finding something amazing have really gone up!
Gravitational lenses occur when a massive galaxy – or cluster of galaxies – pass in front of more distant objects. The enormous mass of the (relatively) closer object literally bend light around them and distort the image of the distant source. Imagine holding up a magnifying glass and waving it around the night sky so that starlight is bent and warped by the lens. You can see more about this here on the ESO website.
We’re blogging right now from Jodrell Bank (the dish is looking lovely BTW) and the Stargazing Live set and everyone here is buzzing with the idea that we might find some gravitational lenses that have never been seen before! Good luck, and happy classifying. Even K9 is excited.
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.