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Galaxy Zoo August 20, 2007

Posted by davegoblog in Science, Technology.


I stumbled upon Galaxy Zoo a few weeks ago after reading about it online.  According to their site, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) is a massive undertaking to provide detailed optical images covering more than a quarter of the sky, and a 3-dimensional map of about a million galaxies and quasars.  With such a large numbers of galaxies, astronomers will be able to begin to understand how they form and evolve.  As you might imagine, a million of anything would take a while to examine and classify, and computer programs have been unreliable so far in determining what is what.  The human brain is far better at recognizing the patterns that distinguish the galaxies and other celestial objects.

So, the scientists sought to enlist the aid of volunteers via the Internet to classify the galaxies as either elliptical or spiral and also to note (where possible) the direction that they rotate.  Feeling up to it, I went to the site and breezed through the tutorial.  Then, I was off to the Galaxy Analysis Trial where I needed to correctly classify 8 or more galaxies out of 15.  That was more challenging especially since a number of images were not as clear as those from the tutorial.  I did make it through the trial with 10 correct.

The trial makes the actual galaxy analysis look like a cakewalk in comparison.  Most of the images I’ve reviewed so far have been extremely fuzzy, which usually results in me making my best guess.  The site fittingly states, “There’s no need to agonize for too long over any one image.”  To help offset this, their new target is to have each and every galaxy out of the initial million to be classified by 20 different users.  At the outset, they hoped for having each viewed at least once, which happened within the first three weeks.  “The demand on the first day was so great, we blew a circuit breaker in our computer room,” said Jan vandenBerg, computer system administrator at John Hopkins University.

Check out the Galaxy Zoo Forum for some more amazing images.



1. Ged - August 20, 2007

That’s pretty cool. It’s like a distributed computing projects, but with human minds instead of CPUs. Neat!

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