Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hey Buddy, Wanna Be an Astronomer?

Thanks to Phil Plait for turning me onto a new opportunity for amateurs like me (and, presumably, you) to participate in scientific research. In the past several years, advanced astronomical telescopes have collected vast amounts of data--more than can be reasonably processed by astronomers. The solution, of course, was to use advanced pattern-recognition algorithms to analyze the images.

That introduced a secondary problem... namely, that the most advanced pattern-recognition algorithms available today are still not advanced enough to catch everything. That's where amateurs, like me (and, presumably, you) come in. From the GalaxyZoo website:

Why do we need you?
The simple answer is that the human brain is much better at recognising patterns than a computer can ever be [EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't think this is acutally true... eventually computers will surpass our ability to recognize patterns, but certainly not anytime soon.] . Any computer program we write to sort our galaxies into categories would do a reasonable job, but it would also inevitably throw out the unusual, the weird and the wonderful. To rescue these interesting systems which have a story to tell, we need you.

The site includes a tutorial to explain what they're looking for and how to get started, and once you get used to it, it's pretty fun. After that, there's a trial that challenges you to identify galaxies, and if you get at least eight correct (out of 15) you'll be able to get started classifying galaxies and contributing to the advancement of our understanding of the universe.

Happy hunting!

No comments: