Galaxy Classification Project Finds Big Success on the Web

February 24, 2009 09:46 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Galaxy Zoo 2, the latest online galaxy classification program, has become immensely popular, indicating how effective public-powered programs can become with Web exposure.

Galaxy Zoo 2 Already a Success

The original Galaxy Zoo project invited the public to assist in cataloging more than 1 million images taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope during the last 16 years. The site was slightly less involved than its successor, requesting that users only determine “whether a galaxy was spiral or elliptical, and which way it was rotating,” according to BBC News. Galaxy Zoo 2 asks visitors to “describe any distinctive or unusual features” about the 250,000 galaxies in the database.

Since the Feb. 17 launch, 2 million questions have been answered on Galaxy Zoo 2, a feat that could have required eight months of work by a single PhD student, according to co-founder Dr. Chris Lintott. He and co-founder Steven Bamford believe public contributors to the site “have proven to be just as good at galaxy-spotting as professional astronomers.”

Last year, Galaxy Zoo gained attention when Dutch schoolteacher Hanny van Arkel spotted a mysterious green cloud formation in the database. Van Arkel’s discovery exemplified an intriguing phenomenon, in which members of the public do official astronomical work.

In a similar program, Harvard University and IBM are seeking out the public’s “unused computing cycles … to complete some time-consuming energy projects,” including building plastics suited for solar panels, according to eWeek. Project coordinator Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a Harvard chemistry researcher, told eWeek that utilizing many peoples’ computers will allow the correct plastic molecules to be found more quickly and easily.

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