I am a big fan of some of the popular astronomy forums like Cloudy Nights and IceInSpace. Every once in awhile someone will submit a post that says something like "I really enjoy amateur astronomy but I would like to do some real science. How should I start?" I think this is a very interesting question and the answers are usually useful and thought provoking. Starting with this blog post I’m going to explore some of the options open to people interested in doing "real science". My first suggestion: Galaxy Zoo.
Galaxy Zoo was launched in 2007 with the basic premise that for some things your brain works better than a computer. Specifically, humans can do an excellent job classifying galaxies. When Galaxy Zoo launched they started with a data set of 1 million galaxy images taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey that needed to be classified into two groups – spiral galaxies and elliptical galaxies. If the galaxy was a spiral galaxy then the direction of the arms needed to be recorded. All work was to be performed by volunteers. And volunteers they got. In the first year alone almost 150,000 people volunteered to assist with this effort and 50 million classifications were done. A large number of classifications was vital because the more classifications performed the more reliable the data.
Galaxy Zoo has now moved to its second phase – Galaxy Zoo 2. In this phase 250,000 galaxies need to be further classified. Volunteers examine images of galaxies and answer a series of detailed questions about the image being analyzed. The exact number of questions can vary and is dependent upon the volunteers answer to previous questions.
If you’re interested in doing some "real science" be sure to check out Galaxy Zoo. Even if you don’t want to be a volunteer be sure to check out the web site. It’s very interesting.