Like the HiRise satellite in orbit around Mars, Galaxy Zoo is a serious scientific endeavour that has a crowd-sourcing aspect allowing the common man to have a hand in the exploration of the cosmos. The University of Oxford, to their credit, saw a unique opportunity in something that seemed utterly impossible, manually compiling a catalogue of millions of galaxies.
The problem was, we can scan the heavens so well and so fast that there simply aren’t enough trained astronomers to categorize all the galaxies that are out there. Galaxies, it seems, are a dime a dozen. In fact, with an estimated two hundred billion to five hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe, they’re a dime a billion. Computers can count them, but their shapes and the angles on which we see them make it nigh on impossible for a computer to categorise them. There clearly aren’t enough astronomers to tackle the task, although, wouldn’t it be nice if there were billions of astronomers, and so the university did what no government department would ever do, it asked the public for help with Galaxy Zoo.
Zoouniverse is an extension of the Galaxy Zoo civilian scientist program, asking for our help with a number of other crowd-source projects:
- Categorizing galaxies
- Exploring the surface of the moon to categorize craters, identify old weathered craters, spot irregular geological features and, perhaps, stumble upon Apollo landing sites
- Assist in understanding how galaxies merge
- Search for supernova in distant galaxies
- Help Kepler in the search for planets around other stars (highly recommended)
- Assist in identifying the formation of new stars in nebula
- Find possible targets in the asteroid belt for the New Horizons probe to explore
- Categorise solar storms raging across the surface of our sun
- Model climate change from records made by the British Royal Navy
- Gather information to assist in the study of ancient Greek ruins
- Categorize whale calls
In short, there’s something in the zoo for the whole family. I sat with my two girls for about an hour tonight, going through galaxies, looking at their subtle differences, pointing out irregular shapes, bars in the core, and two wonderful examples of gravitational lensing.
Crowd-sourcing is an interesting phenomena. Essentially, it says all of us are smarter than any one of us individually. You or I may not be geniuses, but, pool our thinking together and, hey, presto, genius. And there are hundreds of crowd-sourcing projects exploiting this immense resource pool we call humanity.
Got some spare time on your hands? Fancy looking at some photos of the heavens? Instead of surfing the net, why not surf the stars?