Find your own Supernovae!

By Risa Wechsler | August 13, 2009 9:53 pm

I’ve posted before about Galaxy Zoo, and see also Phil Plait’s posts introducting the zoo, oncounterintuitive results and what do to if you find something weird.

They had a pretty cool collective result recently, discovering tiny galaxies that are rapidly forming stars, that they call “green pea galaxies” (which is apparently a different sort of beast from the non-galaxy I called a green crayon in my initial post) — see here for more or here for the paper itself.

Anyways, Galaxy Zoo has just announced a new project, the supernova zoo.

This time, not only are we classifying galaxies, but we’re hunting supernovae : exploding stars. Images of likely supernova candidates captured by a telescope in California are being fed to our website at”. Astronomers are standing by in the Canary Islands to follow up on the most exciting possibilities, but
first we need your help to decide where to point the telescope. Please take the time to go to the site, read the tutorial – and then start hunting.

I have to say I love the image of “astronomers standing by”. I tried it (classifying supernovae, not standing by) — it’s pretty cool, and actually a bit challenging. What you actually do is answer a series of questions about a supernova candidate, to determine whether it’s a good candidate or just a messed up image.

Here’s an obvious good one:
good SN

And one where the candidate (right image) is distorted so it doesn’t look like a star.
bad SN

To my mind it’s not nearly as interesting as the galaxy zoo, because images of galaxies are just way cooler than low-resolution images of supernovae (supernovae remants are another story of course). But it’s a great use of human eyes, and a pretty good way to waste a few lazy August afternoons. It will definitely be interesting to see if the data is useful enough to help the supernovae followup substantially.

Have at it! Maybe they’ll name the next supernovae “SN2009cosmicvariancereaders”.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science, Science and Society
MORE ABOUT: galaxies, supernovae
  • lake

    Well, SN names are pretty boring, and you can never expect something as creative as “SN2009cosmicvariancereaders” …

  • John Edge

    Hanny’s voorwerp – great story from previous Galaxy Zoo work.

    A Dutch school teacher Hanny van Arkel spotted an unusual object in a galaxy photo (efforts then on classification of galaxies). She referred to this as a “voorwerp” which simply means “object” in Dutch. Turned out to be something really quite interesting astronomically – see links below.

    Genuine contribution to science by the public.

    Wikipedia entry's_Voorwerp

    Picture of the voorwerp on APOD


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