Volunteers who have taken part in the Galaxy Zoo project have been helping scientists, including those in the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, gain new insights into our universe.
Among the galaxies that the volunteers have characterised and classified as either spiral or elliptical in shape, they have also stumbled across odd-looking galaxies which resemble each letter of the alphabet.
The Galaxy Zoo team have now set up a website at www.mygalaxies.co.uk where anyone can write their name in the stars.
The team are also keen to add more animals to the volunteers’ celestial zoo, having found a convincing penguin-shaped galaxy.
The international team behind Galaxy Zoo, including astronomers from Portsmouth and Oxford University, are inviting people to be involved in more discoveries as they today launch a new incarnation of the site at http://galaxyzoo.org. The site includes more than 250,000 new images of galaxies, most of which have never been seen by humans.
Dr Karen Masters, from the University of Portsmouth, has worked on the project since it was launched five years ago.
She said: “More than 250,000 people have taken part in the Galaxy Zoo project since 2007, sorting through over one million images. Their findings have ranged from the scientifically exciting to the weird and wonderful.
“The Galaxy Zoo project has provided scientists with true insight into pressing questions about our universe and what has helped shape it.
“In astronomy we’re lucky enough to get to see both the past and the present of the universe. By comparing the two, we can try to understand the forces which have shaped the formation of the galaxies in it, including our own Milky Way.”
The new images on the Galaxy Zoo site come from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a telescope in New Mexico, and from large surveys with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
Principal investigator Dr Chris Lintott, from the University of Oxford, said: “We’d like to thank all those that have taken part in Galaxy Zoo in the past five years. Humans are better than computers at pattern recognition tasks like this, and we couldn’t have got so far without everyone’s help.
“Now we’ve got a new challenge and we’d like to encourage volunteers old and new to get involved. You don’t have to be an expert – in fact we’ve found not being an expert tends to make you better at this task. There are too many images for us to inspect ourselves, but by asking hundreds of thousands of people to help us we can find out what’s lurking in the data.”
The team are hoping that the hard work of volunteers will allow data from the two telescopes to be connected, offering insights into how nearby galaxies as we see them today may have arisen from how the universe looked in the past.