We're all going to the zoo

Due to some international travel and meetings on my part, I haven't managed to write properly (rather than just twittering) about the Galaxy Zoo until now. So, you may already have heard about it via Dave P, Phil Plait or Risa at Cosmic Variance. The Galaxy Zoo is a project to harness human brain-power to classify a million galaxies, imaged in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, as either elliptical or spiral. One of the people behind it is Chris Lintott of Sky At Night fame and who is also an astronomer at Oxford University.

Not having actually used the system yet (I will play with it when I have spare time at some point in the next week or so) I had a few questions, and Chris Lintott was great in being able to answer them quickly for me. Reading that there would be "Elliptical" and "Spiral" galaxy categories for sorting, I wondered what would happen if the user was presented with an irregular galaxy. Chris tells me that there is also a "Don't know" button, so that neatly deals with those and presumably also merging galaxies and any other odd stuff. Another concern I had was about deliberate attempts to distort the statistics by malicious users. I hasten to add that I wouldn't expect this to be much of a problem, but it has to be thought about if astronomers are to trust the results. To deal with this, galaxy images will be served to several different users for classification and people providing mis-classifications will be identified. I'm sure that there will be other checks in place too. Stardust@Home inserted pre-classified dust grain images at random intervals to test that users weren't trying to "cheat".

From reports by Phil Plait and Risa, it sounds as though the user interface is pretty slick, so if you have spare time, and want to help out with some professional research, go along to the Zoo and help out. Anyway, I had better get back to my meetings.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 12th Jul 2007 (15:50 CEDT) | Permalink
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