Armchair science: Bag and tag glowing galactic clouds

Dec 20, 2012 by Whitney Clavin
This is a screen shot from the Clouds game, a new addition to the Milky Way Project, where everyone can help astronomers sort and measure our galaxy. Credit: 2010-2012 Zooniverse

(Phys.org)—A new galactic game launching today lets citizen scientists identify the glowing clouds where future stars will be born. The online experience, called Clouds, is a new addition to the Milky Way Project, where everyone can help astronomers sort and measure our galaxy. Clouds features images and data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important participation from NASA.

In the rapid-fire game, players gauge whether a targeted section of a presented image is a cloud, a "hole"—an empty region of space—or something in between. The cataloging of these snapshots of the local cosmos will help astronomers learn more about the architecture and character of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

The organizers of Clouds encourage astronomy enthusiasts to start playing now, because with enough participation, important insights into the Milky Way could come as soon as early next year.

"We're really excited to launch Clouds and see results back from our giant volunteer team of amateur scientists," said Robert Simpson, a in astronomy at Oxford University, England, and principal investigator of the Milky Way Project. "We think the community can blast through all these data fairly quickly. We may even be done by the spring, and that would be an amazing result for citizen science."

Clouds joins its predecessor Milky Way Project game, Bubbles, as one of the many "crowdsourced" efforts underway at Zooniverse, home to the Internet's biggest and most popular online citizen science projects.

The crowdsourcing concept involves having a lot of people evaluate the same image or pieces of data. A consensus decision on some aspect of the image is then reached through the collective "." Crowdsourced citizen science becomes especially important when humans can do a better job at analyzing images or objects than a computer can. The Clouds game is an example of just such an exercise in which eyeballs and brains beat out cameras and computer algorithms.

The goal of Clouds is to tag the dense, cold cores of gas and dust known as infrared dark clouds. These clouds collapse under their own gravity and then burst forth as new stars. An empty region of space, however, can look rather like one of these dark clouds and deceive a computer accordingly. "Automated routines have tried to decide which of these objects are holes and which are true infrared dark clouds, but the task is often tricky and it takes a human eye to decide," said Simpson.

Clouds combines infrared observations from Herschel and Spitzer to reveal cool clouds and holes throughout the Milky Way's disk. The Herschel data, at a wavelength of 250 microns, appears in yellow throughout the game. The Spitzer data, at 8 microns, is rendered in blue.

Together with its companion Bubbles game, Clouds serves as another example of how Zooniverse makes cutting-edge scientific investigation freely available to the general public. " through Zooniverse has been a real boon to research in fields ranging from astronomy to biology to history," noted Simpson. "We feel very fortunate to be able to send science work out to computer, tablet and smartphone screens and for people to collaborate with us in a quest to better understand our universe."

Explore further: Mars, Saturn and the claws of Scorpius

More information: For those interested in looking for infrared clouds and contributing to the Milky Way Project, visit the following link: www.milkywayproject.org. To learn of other citizen science-based efforts, check out the Zooniverse: www.zooniverse.org.

Related Stories

Today in the Milky Way: Cloudy skies

Jul 02, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Adam Block of the UA's Mount Lemmon SkyCenter brings us a rare view of the clouds wafting through our Milky Way in this Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Herschel and Spitzer see nearby galaxies' stardust

Jan 10, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- The cold dust that builds blazing stars is revealed in new images that combine observations from the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency-led mission with important NASA contributions; ...

A green ring fit for a superhero

Jun 16, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- This glowing emerald nebula seen by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is reminiscent of the glowing ring wielded by the superhero Green Lantern. In the comic books, the diminutive Guardians of ...

Citizen scientists reveal a bubbly Milky Way

Mar 07, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of volunteers has pored over observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and discovered more than 5,000 "bubbles" in the disk of our Milky Way galaxy. Young, hot stars blow these ...

Recommended for you

Amazing raw Cassini images from this week

2 hours ago

When Saturn is at its closest to Earth, it's three-quarters of a billion miles away—or more than a billion kilometers! That makes these raw images from the ringed planet all the more remarkable.

SpaceX gets 10-year tax exemption for Texas site

3 hours ago

Cameron County commissioners have agreed to waive 10 years of county taxes as part of an agreement bringing the world's first commercial site for orbital rocket launches to the southernmost tip of Texas.

Voyager map details Neptune's strange moon Triton

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up look at Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. Like an old film, Voyager's historic footage of Triton has been "restored" ...

How the sun caused an aurora this week

5 hours ago

On the evening of Aug. 20, 2014, the International Space Station was flying past North America when it flew over the dazzling, green blue lights of an aurora. On board, astronaut Reid Wiseman captured this ...

User comments : 0