This is a good one. While watching the BBC the other night I caught a short astronomers segment called “The Sky At Night”. One of the main stories was about Galaxy Zoo, a massive public effort to categories galaxies from a mass of hundreds of millions of images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The SDSS is an attempt to create a comprehensive 2D and 3D map of our galactic neighborhood. But processing these images is a heavy task, especially for a computer. Galaxies have two major forms; spiral and elliptical. But a spiral from side on looks not at all spiral like. Because the data being used is essentially fairly dodgy photos of the sky, computers don’t have much to go on when trying to make a distinction between a side-on spiral and an elliptical. For humans, it’s pretty easy.

So Galaxy Zoo is a simple web page that serves images one by one to users who then click a button indicating wether they think it’s a spiral or an ellipse. If it’s a spiral, you’ve got to decide which way it’s spinning. So far they’ve got over 80,000 users and over 1 million images processed. In those one million images there has been a bunch of very strange stuff, so apart from the joy of just looking at galaxies, there’s also the lure that you have the chance to discover something new and amazing.

“Get off the road!”

I’ve done over 500 now, quite relaxing. Have a look for yourself!