NewsGalaxy Evolution

Galaxy Zoo Volunteers Share Pain and Glory of Research

Science  08 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6039, pp. 173-175
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6039.173

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The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has compiled a list of more than 1 million galaxies. To glean information about galaxy evolution, astronomers need to know what type of galaxy each one is: spiral, barred spiral, elliptical, or something else. The only reliable way to classify galaxies is to look at each one, but all the world's astronomers working together couldn't muster enough eyeballs for the task. A volunteer online effort called Galaxy Zoo, launched in 2007, has classified the entire catalog years ahead of schedule, bringing real statistical rigor to a field used to samples too small to support firm conclusions. The Galaxy Zoo team went on to ask more-complicated classification questions that led to studies they hadn't thought possible. And in a discussion forum on the Galaxy Zoo Web site, volunteers have pointed to anomalies that on closer inspection have turned out to be genuinely new astronomical objects.