'Cosmic fruit machine' matches collisions

November 24, 2009
Two galaxies (NGC 2207 & IC 2163) merging. Image: NASA/Hubble Heritage

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new website will give everyone the chance to contribute to science by playing a 'cosmic fruit machine' and compare images of colliding galaxies with millions of simulated images of galactic pile-ups.

These collisions, which astronomers call ‘galactic mergers’, could be the key to finding out why the Universe contains the mix of galaxies it does - some with trailing spiral arms, others more like compact ‘balls’ of stars.

Surprisingly, humans are much better than computers at spotting the best match between a real galactic merger image and a random selection of simulated merger images. Because the simulated images reflect the different variables involved in the data from people using the site, Galaxy Zoo Mergers, promise to revolutionise our understanding of these collisions.

Galaxy Zoo Mergers, which goes live today at mergers.galaxyzoo.org is an international project led by scientists from Oxford University in the UK and George Mason University in the US.

‘Visitors to the Galaxy Zoo Mergers site use what’s rather like a giant fruit machine, with a real image of a galactic merger in the centre and eight randomly selected simulated merger images filling the other eight ‘slots’ around it,’ said Dr Chris Lintott of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, galaxyzoo.org team member. ‘By randomly cycling through the millions of simulated possibilities and selecting only the very best matches they are helping to build up a profile of what kind of factors are necessary to create the galaxies we see in the Universe around us - and, hopefully, having fun too!’

Users do more than simply select images, they can also take direct control of the simulations - choosing ‘more’ or ‘fewer stars’ or ‘flipping’ galaxies - in order to provide an exact match to what we see in the Universe.

‘Whilst we’re challenging the 250,000 existing users of the original Galaxy Zoo site to take part in this new project, anyone is welcome to join in - you don’t have to be an expert, in fact our evidence shows that not being an expert actually makes you better at this sort of task,’ said Dr John Wallin, an Astronomer in George Mason University’s Department of Computational and Data Sciences, galaxyzoo.org team member. ‘By reconstructing these collisions, our users will help us understand how galaxies have changed over the history of the universe.’

The project will focus on around 3,000 images of real galactic mergers identified through the Galaxy Zoo project - it also features some new images of these mergers taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The next stage will be to investigate the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of these colliding galaxies to work out what caused them and what will happen next - rather like trying to capture the slow motion detail of the moments before a car crash and predict the aftermath.

‘These collisions take millions of years to unfold and so all we get from the Universe is a single snapshot of each one. By producing simulations, we will be able to watch each cosmic car crash unfold in the computer,’ said Anthony Holincheck, a graduate student at George Mason University and galaxyzoo.org team member.

The collisions examined in the project are a foretaste of what will happen when our own galaxy, the Milky Way, eventually merges with our galactic neighbour Andromeda in the distant future.

Provided by Oxford University (news : web)

Explore further: Web users to write ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxies’

Related Stories

Web users to write ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxies’

February 17, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Today saw the launch of Galaxy Zoo 2, a website that invites members of the public to help create a detailed guide to some of the Universe's most fascinating objects. The online project is led by a team including ...

Galaxy collisions dominate the local universe

December 6, 2005

More than half of the largest galaxies in the nearby universe have collided and merged with another galaxy in the past two billion years, according to a Yale astronomer in a study using hundreds of images from two of the ...

Spitzer Spies Monster Galaxy Pileup

August 6, 2007

Four galaxies are slamming into each other and kicking up billions of stars in one of the largest cosmic smash-ups ever observed.

The Universe: It's not as violent as we think

September 17, 2004

The Universe has experienced far fewer collisions among galaxies than previously thought, according to a new analysis of Hubble Space Telescope data by an ANU researcher. Astronomer Dr Alister Graham, from the Research School ...

Survey Reveals Building Block Process For Biggest Galaxies

April 12, 2006

A new study of the universe's most massive galaxy clusters shows how mergers play a critical role in their evolution. Astronomers used the twin Gemini Observatory instruments in Hawaii and Chile, and the Hubble Space Telescope ...

Recommended for you

Scientists sweep stodgy stature from Saturn's C ring

December 9, 2016

As a cosmic dust magnet, Saturn's C ring gives away its youth. Once thought formed in an older, primordial era, the ring may be but a mere babe – less than 100 million years old, according to Cornell-led astronomers in ...

Japan launching 'space junk' collector

December 9, 2016

Japan will launch a cargo ship Friday bound for the International Space Station, carrying a 'space junk' collector that was made with the help of a fishnet company.

Dark matter may be smoother than expected

December 7, 2016

Analysis of a giant new galaxy survey, made with ESO's VLT Survey Telescope in Chile, suggests that dark matter may be less dense and more smoothly distributed throughout space than previously thought. An international team ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 24, 2009
I tried this out and it requires a lot of patience together with a lot of trial and error. It's interesting to see how much galactic mass and speeds produce widely different outcomes.
3 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2009
"The collisions examined in the project are a foretaste of what will happen when our own galaxy, the Milky Way, eventually merges with our galactic neighbour Andromeda in the distant future."

Forecasting the future these days?

The approach they are trying is like throwing a bunch of mud at the wall to see what sticks.

Their theory doesnt predict anything because its wrong so they try a bunch of parameteres and then cherry pick the data. Hey wait a minute... Isnt there a problem with this modus operandi in another scientific institution right now??.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.