A million galaxies in a hundred hours

By Phil Plait | April 2, 2009 6:30 pm

Remember Galaxy Zoo? It’s a project using professional images of galaxies, but has citizens — that means you! — classifying them. It’s the crack cocaine of the internet; once you start it’s hard to stop.

Well, the folks in charge of it have decided to use that addictive quality to their advantage. This week is the IYA’s 100 Hours of Astronomy effort, where observatories and other ventures are doing all sorts of outreach including live observations, all spanning the 100 hours of time from April 2 – 5. And Galaxy Zoo wants to classify 1,000,000 galaxies in those 100 hours!

Sound crazy? They’re already halfway there! [Incidentally, in the time it took me to write this blog entry 9000 more have been classified.] If you’ve fiddled with Galaxy Zoo before, you know how much fun it is: all you have to do is take a simple test so that they know you can classify galaxies (into elliptical, irregular, and spiral (both clockwise and anticlockwise)) and once you do, off you go. They’ve made some improvements to the process since I last wrote about it, so even if you’ve been there before, it’s time to revisit. It’s fascinating, it’s fun, and you’re using real data and doing a real contribution to science.

So get in there and start classifying!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, IYA

Comments (21)

  1. Jack Mitcham

    It’s now Galaxy Zoo 2. So, you’re no longer labeling anything “clockwise” or “anti-clockwise.” The classifications are much more detailed now, including counting the number of spiral arms, identifying a bar, et cetera.

    My only problem recently is getting the page to load. So many people are classifying galaxies (at least as of last night), it was very painful to click on anything.

  2. Jack Mitcham

    Just logged back in. They’ve fixed the lag problems! Yay!

  3. Crux Australis

    As part of the 100 hours my local astro club (of which I am a member) ran a public observing night lsat night (and again tonight). It’s amazing, the comments you get, and the things people learn. One lovely lady thanked me very much, and said it was the first time she had looked through a telescope (at the Moon, incidentally). She was in her 70s.

    Proud to be a part of it.

  4. One of my favorite parts of Galaxy Zoo is stumbling across some of the more beautiful NGC objects. Just ran across NGC 2554 (my name links to a pic). A few days ago, I ran across NGC 3486, which is apparently a real popular one.

    There are just a few galaxies that make me stop in my tracks and go “wow…”

  5. john

    I still think they should have called it Zwicky-pedia.

  6. A million galaxies … up to a trillion stars in each galaxy … my brain hurts.

    While we might never be able to interact with other life (if physical laws prevent practical interstellar travel, or if we’re too dumb to figure it out, or we blow ourselves up …), I cannot imagine that in that many star systems there isn’t a fair amount of intelligent (Jenny McCarthy, creationists, and talk show hosts notwithstanding) life.

    We’re talking up to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars … and that’s just the portion of the (visible) universe that Galaxy Zoo are looking at … O_O


  7. So…addictive…
    I’m busy disproving Hume’s *horrible* understanding of probability, and here you given me something I could spend HOURS doing. thanks a lot Phil! Geeze…

  8. Brian

    Dang — you’re right, Phil, this is addictive. I put on some music and started classifying, and the next thing you know it’s hours later.

    But I’m contributing to science!

  9. Awesome

    Can’t… stop… classifying…

    However, they keep asking me to compare, say, spiral arms with galaxies that have none… what?

  10. Darrin

    So what Phil is saying is that OVER NINE THOUSAND galaxies have been classified since he started writing this?

  11. Darrin, when I started writing this post I checked the page and it said 500,000 galaxies classified. When I checked the page after I had finished writing the post, it said 509,000. Right now it’s almost 700,000. :)

  12. Awesome

    And so, Phil demonstrates just how old he is in front of the entire internet. :(

    Also, since you didn’t include SSU in your traveling show, I’m going to unintentionally misclassify an entire galaxy!

  13. scotth

    So, did they roll the ‘odometer’ over to zero again or was Phil’s 500,000 and 700,000 figures really 50,000 and 70,000?

    It is showing only 107,000 this morning.

  14. scotth

    Looking at some of the other clues, it must have rolled back to zero rather to 1,000,0000. Looks like we’ve “won” already.

  15. Caleb

    Reminds me of the image recognition games that are out there. Basically you form a competitive or cooperative game around identifying images and feed the information back into a database. You then have very accurate and detailed information about images that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible to obtain.

    It’s a very ingenious and paradigm-altering idea. Why have supercomputers spend trillions of cycles trying to compute something when nature has spent millions/billions of years evolving a highly specialized organ to do the same task? Find a way to entice people to use their biological “computers” (ie: brains) to do the processing.

    Hackers also use this kind of technique to bypass captcha images on websites. They have scripts that go out and when presented with a captcha, they feed it back into a system which has actual people giving responses. Once the human answer is given, it is fed back to the script and it proceeds past the captcha.

  16. Brango

    I posted a link to this in a racing forum I attend and got a not entirely unexpected reply from a member who I know is a creationist, basically saying how he will use this as an opportunity to sabotage as many classifications as he can by entering the opposite of what he sees. I mean how petty is that!!

    I know mis-classification is just par for the course in something like this, but what do you do about such pathetic people?

  17. Brian

    Tada! The one-million mark was surpassed last night. (Unfortunately I missed it — I was contributing when it was still around 930,000 but I had to sleep.)

  18. Brian

    Ha! Phil, did you see this? http://arfon.org/confessions_of_a_zoonometer_addict/

    Turns out Galaxy Zoo actually classified over 2.5 million galaxies in their 100-hour sprint!


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