free debate

July 27, 2009

Citizens help scientists find "Green Pea" Galaxies

Many people think of science of something reserved for the researchers who have earned their PhD and spent years in a lab. 200 years ago this would have been about right, but things have changed. In reality, science is a community of people working together. More and more now researchers are asking for the public to help them. The universe is a big place (really big). Scientists often have more data they they can process by themselves. This is why a group of researchers started a website called Galaxy Zoo.

If you haven't tried Galaxy Zoo I highly recommend it. They have taken images of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and have asked volunteers to classify them. By doing this they have been able to make some discoveries that may have escaped them otherwise.

Most galaxies come in two breeds, spiral and elliptical (pictured above). The Galaxy Zoo team discovered a new class of galaxies that are being called green peas (below). “These are among the most extremely active star-forming galaxies we’ve ever found,” said Carolin Cardamone, an astronomy graduate student at Yale and lead author of the paper, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. This is simply amazing because these galaxies are 100 times less massive than our own Milky Way, and forming stars 10 times faster.
I think the credit for this discovery really belongs to all of the people who help the Galaxy Zoo team with their work. 10 of the volunteers are even mentioned in the paper for their contribution. “No one person could have done this on their own,” Cardamone said. “Even if we had managed to look through 10,000 of these images, we would have only come across a few Green Peas and wouldn’t have recognized them as a unique class of galaxies.”

All images are courtesy Sloan Digital Sky Survey
The Yale press release can be found here