Archive by Author | karenlmasters

Summer Research With Galaxy Zoo

The below blog post was written by Alex Todd, an Ogden Summer Intern who spent the summer working on Galaxy Zoo related research projects at the University of Portsmouth. Alex is now off to his next adventure – starting his undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Bath.

Alex hard at work on his Galaxy Zoo project.

Alex hard at work on his Galaxy Zoo project.


I have been working with the Galaxy Zoo team at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, in Portsmouth, for 8 weeks this summer. I have been analysing the results of Galaxy Zoo 2, and more specifically the region of the sky known as Stripe 82. In this area, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) took many images of the same patch of sky, instead of only one. These images were combined to produce a single, higher quality image, which showed fainter details and objects. Both these deeper images and the standard depth images of stripe 82 were put into galaxy zoo, and I have been comparing the resulting classifications. I learned to code in python, a programming language, and used it to produce graphs from the data I downloaded from the Galaxy Zoo website. I started by comparing the results directly, comparing the number of people who said that the galaxy had features in each of the image depths.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 11.13.09

On the graph, each blue dot is a galaxy (there are around 4,000) and the red dashed line shows the overall trend. As you can see from the graph, when the proportion of people who see features is low, there is a good match between the two image depths. However, when the proportion is high, there is a much bigger difference between the two image depths, with the proportion being higher in the deep image. This is because fainter features are visible in the deeper image.

I then plotted graphs of the difference between the proportions (P(Features)) against the brightness of the galaxy. To measure the brightness, I used the apparent magnitude, a measure of how bright the galaxy appears to us (as opposed to how bright it actually is).

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 13.41.56

The graph below shows the difference in P(Features) plotted against the apparent magnitude. The blue line is at y=0, and the green line represents the average value of the difference between P(Features). As you can see, there is not much difference between the values of P(Features) when the galaxy is particularly bright (Small apparent magnitude) or when it is particularly dim (large apparent magnitude). However, when the galaxy has an average brightness, the difference is quite substantial. We think this is because in bright galaxies, features can be seen in both images, whilst in dim galaxies they can be seen in neither. In medium brightness galaxies, however, they can only be seen in the deeper image. The fact that there are differences between the classifications means that it would be a good idea to classify deeper images of the rest of the sky, to hopefully improve the accuracy of the classifications.

I have greatly enjoyed my time working on at the ICG on galaxy zoo, and would certainly seize the opportunity to pursue it further.


It’s been a pleasure working with Alex this summer. He really impressed me with the speed at which he picked up programming languages. This information about the differences in perception of morphological features between deeper and shallower images is very useful to us as a science team as we plan for future generations of the Galaxy Zoo project with new, more sensitive images from current and ongoing astronomical surveys.

Eight years and 8 billion years of cosmic history

Next up in our series of eight blog posts celebrating eight years of Galaxy Zoo is this post from Tom Melvin, who was the lead author of the the first publication from Galaxy Zoo: Hubble, which looked at how the fraction of barred disk galaxies has evolved over the last eight billion years. Tom is also the first person to write a PhD thesis substantially based on Galaxy Zoo classifications, which he is in the process of completing final corrections for.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 16.33.13

Barred disc galaxies at high redshift identified by Galaxy Zoo Hubble. The redshift (‘z’) and the fraction of volunteers identifying a bar (‘Pbar’) are noted in each image.

This was the first time the Galaxy Zoo volunteers had been asked to classify galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, which provided beautiful images of galaxies whose light has taken up to eight billion light years to reach us!

With your classifications, we were able to select a sample of disk and barred disk galaxies, as shown above in Figure 1, and explore how the fraction of disk galaxies that are barred has evolved over the last eight billion years. We found that this bar fraction has been increasing as the Universe has grown older, doubling from 11% eight billion years ago to 22% four billion years ago, which is shown below in Figure 2. We also know from Galaxy Zoo 2 that this continues to increase, with around one third of disks having a bar in our local Universe. We were able to expand on this by showing that it was the most massive disk galaxies that were the driver of this evolution.


Redshift evolution of the fraction of barred disc galaxies. Each point represents the observed bar fraction in a 0.3 Gyr bin, with the number of barred disc galaxies and total number of disc galaxies indicated. The grey shaded region indicates the error on the measurement. We show the mean bar fraction for the whole sample (fbar = 13.3 ± 0.7%) as the horizontal dot-dashed line, as well as a linear relationship between the bar fraction and the lookback time which is shown by the solid line.

As bars tend to only form in disk galaxies that are settled and relaxed, or ‘mature’, our results showing an increasing bar fraction over the last eight billion years tells us that the disk galaxy population has matured as the Universe has aged. As this evolution is being driven by the most massive disk galaxies, we were able to conclude that the most massive disk galaxies become mature sooner than their lower mass counterparts.

In addition to these results, we were able to identify a population of ‘red spiral’ galaxies thanks to your classifications. These red spirals’ would typically be omitted from other disk samples, as they would be classified as elliptical galaxies – but as you can see below, these are clearly beautiful red spiral galaxies! What is interesting about this population of disks is that their bar fraction of 45% is much higher than the bar fraction of the whole disk sample, which is roughly 14%.


Images showing 3 unbarred (images a − c) and 3 barred (images d − f) “red spiral” galaxies from Galaxy Zoo Hubble.

So, thanks to your help classifying the amazing images from the Hubble Space Telescope, we were able to track the evolving bar fraction of disk galaxies over the last eight billion years. There is plenty more to be done with this sample of galaxies, so keep an eye out for future results looking at how galaxies have evolved over the past eight billion years!

Eight Years and the 8th Most Cited Paper from Galaxy Zoo


At Galaxy Zoo we’re really proud of our publication record – 48 papers and counting, just from the team using your classifications. In academic research one of the most important numbers a published paper has is the number which counts how many citations that paper has – simply a count of the number of other academic publications mention your work.

And we’re not only proud of the Galaxy Zoo publication record, but the citation record is becoming impressive too (if we do say so ourselves). For this post in the lead up to the 8th anniversary of the launch of Galaxy Zoo, here are the 8 most cited of our papers:

1. Lintott et al. 2008: “Galaxy Zoo: morphologies derived from visual inspection of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey “(with 279 citations)

2. Bamford et al. 2009: “Galaxy Zoo: the dependence of morphology and colour on environment” (219 citations)

3. Lintott et al. 2011: “Galaxy Zoo 1: data release of morphological classifications for nearly 900 000 galaxies” (152 citations)

4. Skibba et al. 2009: “Galaxy Zoo: disentangling the environmental dependence of morphology and colour” (114 citations)

5. Schawinski et al. 2010: “Galaxy Zoo: The Fundamentally Different Co-Evolution of Supermassive Black Holes and Their Early- and Late-Type Host Galaxies” (102 citations)

6. Cardamone et al. 2009: “Galaxy Zoo Green Peas: discovery of a class of compact extremely star-forming galaxies” (101 citations)

7. Darg et al 2010: “Galaxy Zoo: the properties of merging galaxies in the nearby Universe – local environments, colours, masses, star formation rates and AGN activity” (92 citations)

8. Masters et al. 2010: “Galaxy Zoo: passive red spirals” (86 citations)

I’m personally especially proud of paper number 8 on that list, because it is one of the first papers I led making use of Galaxy Zoo classifications (and one of my most cited first author papers in fact). In that paper we explored the properties of the unusually passive (ie. not star forming) red spirals that had been noted in both Bamford et al. 2009 and Skibba et al. 2009. For astronomers this is one of the more well known discoveries from Galaxy Zoo, and these passive red spirals continue to be studied for what they can reveal about the modes of evolution of galaxies in our Universe, and that many spirals must stop forming stars before they lose their spiral structure.


A red elliptical and blue spiral (top), with a blue elliptical and red spiral (lower).

(By the way for academics who might be interested the h-index of Galaxy Zoo is 24).

Explore Galaxy Zoo Classifications

This post (and visualization) is by Coleman Krawczyk, a Zooniverse Data Scientist at the ICG at the University of Portsmouth

Today we’ve added another new tool for visualizing Galaxy Zoo, this time showing the full vote path of all users for each galaxy from GZ2 onward.  The first node of the visualization shows an image of the galaxy and each of the other nodes represents the answer to a question from the Galaxy Zoo decision tree, and the size of the node is proportional to the number of votes for that answer.  The maximal vote path is highlighted and also shown in words across to top of the tree, and the results of the “Is there anything odd?” question are shown across the bottom.
The full Galaxy Zoo catalog can be searched via Zooniverse ID (the same one used for Talk), RA and Dec, or randomly.  After picking a galaxy the nodes can be moved around by clicking and dragging, and the links can be collapsed/expanded by clicking the attached nodes, both of these functions are useful for untangling complex trees.  Various properties of the visualization can also be controlled with the sliders below the tree.  For a guided tour of this tool click the “Take a tour” button, and for a full list of features click the “Help” button.
Screenshot of the Visualisation Tool

Screenshot of the Visualisation Tool

New Images on Galaxy Zoo, Part 1

We’re delighted to announce that we have some new images on Galaxy Zoo for you to classify! There are two sets of new images:

1. Galaxies from the CANDELS survey

2. Galaxies from the GOODS survey

The general look of these images should be quite familiar to our regular classifiers, and we’ve already described them in many previous posts (examples: here, here, and here), so they may not need too much explanation. The only difference for these new images are their sensitivities: the GOODS images are made from more HST orbits and are deeper, so you should be able to better see details in a larger number of galaxies compared to HST.

Comparison of the different sets of images from the GOODS survey taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. The left shows shallower images from GZH with only 2 sets of exposures; the right shows the new, deeper images with 5 sets of exposures now being classified.

Comparison of the different sets of images from the GOODS survey taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. The left shows shallower images from GZH with only 2 sets of exposures; the right shows the new, deeper images with 5 sets of exposures now being classified.

The new CANDELS images, however, are slightly shallower than before. The main reason that these are being included is to help us get data measuring the effect of brightness and imaging depth for your crowdsourced classifications. While they aren’t always as visually stunning as nearby SDSS or HST images, getting accurate data is really crucial for the science we want to do on high-redshift objects, and so we hope you’ll give the new images your best efforts.

Images from the CANDELS survey with the Hubble Space Telescope. Left: deeper 5-epoch images already classified in GZ. Right: the shallower 2-epoch images now being classified.

Images from the CANDELS survey with the Hubble Space Telescope. Left: deeper 5-epoch images already classified in GZ. Right: the shallower 2-epoch images now being classified.

Both of these datasets are relatively small compared to the full Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and Hubble Space Telescope (HST) sets that users have helped us with over the last several years. With about 13,000 total images, we hope that they’ll can be finished by the Galaxy Zoo community within a couple months. We already have more sets of data prepared for as soon as these finish – stay tuned for Part 2 coming up shortly!

As always, thanks to everyone for their help – please ask the scientists or moderators here or on Talk if you have any questions!

What’s all the fuss about bars in galaxies?

Since our discovery in 2010 that the red spirals identified by your classifications in the first phase of Galaxy Zoo were twice as likely to host galactic scale bars as normal blue spirals, a lot of our research time has focused on understanding which types of galaxies host bars, and why that might be.

Barred spiral, NCG 1300, observed with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Barred spiral, NCG 1300, observed with the Hubble Space Telescope.


Our research with the bars identified by you in the second phase of Galaxy Zoo continues to gives us hints that these structures in galaxies might be involved in the process which quenches star formation in spiral galaxies and through that could be part of the process involved in the reduction of star formation in the universe as a whole.

We’ve also used your classifications as part of Galaxy Zoo Hubble and Galaxy Zoo CANDELS to identify the epoch in the universe when disc galaxies were first stable enough to host a significant number of bars, finding them possibly even earlier in the Universe than was previously thought.

Last Friday I spoke at the monthly “Ordinary Meeting” of the Royal Astronomical Society, giving summary of the evidence we’re collecting on the impact bars have on galaxies thanks to your classifications (a video of my talk will be available at some point). This was the second time I’ve spoken at this meeting about results from Galaxy Zoo, and it’s a delightful mix of professional colleagues, and enthusiastic amateurs – including some Galaxy Zoo volunteers.

Prompted by that I thought it was timely to write on this blog about what these bars really are, what they do to galaxies, and why I think they’re so interesting. I wrote the below some time ago when I had a spare few minutes, and was just looking for the right time to post it.

The thing about galaxies, which is sometimes hard to remember, is that they are simply vast collections of stars, and that those stars are all constantly in motion, orbiting their common centre of mass. The structures that we see in galaxies are just a snapshot of the locations of those stars right now (on a cosmic timescale), and the patterns we see in the positions of the stars reveals patterns in their orbital motions. A stellar bar for example reveals a set of very elongated orbits of stars in the disc of a galaxy.

Another extraordinary thing about a disc galaxy is how thin it is. To put this is perspective I’ll give you a real world example. In the Haus der Astronomie in Heidelberg you can walk around inside a scale model of the Whirlpool galaxy. The whole building was laid out in a design which reflects the spiral arms of this galaxy. However it’s not an exact scale model – to properly represent the thickness of the disc of the Whirlpool galaxy the building (which in actual fact has 3 stories and hosts a fairly large planetarium in its centre) would have to be only 90cm tall…..

The Haus der Astronomie, a building laid out like a spiral galaxy.

The Haus der Astronomie, a building laid out like a spiral galaxy.

Such an incredibly thin disc of stars floating independently in space would be quite unstable dynamically (meaning its own gravity should cause it to buckle and collapse on itself). This instability would immediately manifest in elongated orbits of stars, which would make a stellar bar (as part of this process of collapse). Simple computer models of disks of stars immediately form bars. Of course we now know that galaxy discs are submerged in massive halos of dark matter. So my first favourite little fact about bars is

(1) the fact that not all disc galaxies have bars was put forward as evidence that the discs must be embedded in massive halos before the existence of dark matter was widely accepted.

Now we can model dark matter halos better we discover that even with a dark matter halo, as long as that halo can absorb angular momentum (ie. rotate a bit) all discs will eventually make a bar. So my second favourite little fact is that

(2) we still don’t understand why not all disc galaxies have bars.

M101 - an unbarred spiral galaxy (Credit: ESA/NASA HST).

M101 – an unbarred spiral galaxy (Credit: ESA/NASA HST).

What this second fact means is that perhaps what I should really be doing is studying the galaxies you have identified as not having bars to figure out why it is they haven’t been able to form a bar yet. It should really be the properties of these which are unexpected….. We find that this is more likely to happen in blue, intermediate mass spirals with a significant reservoir of atomic hydrogen (the raw material for future star formation). In fact this last thing may be the most significant. Including realistic interstellar gas in computer simulation of galaxies is very difficult, but people do run what is called “smooth particle hydrodynamic” simulations (basically making “particles” of gas and inserting the appropriate properties). If they add too much gas into these simulations they find that bar formation is either very delayed, or doesn’t happen in the time of the simulation…..

Anyway I hope this has given you a flavour of what I find interesting about bars in galaxies. I think it’s fascinating that they give us a morphological way to identify a process which is so dynamical in nature. And it’s a very complex process, even though the basic physics (just orbits of stars) is very simple and well understood. Finally, I have become convinced though tests of the bars identified by you in Galaxy Zoo compared to bars identified by other methods, that if you want a clean sample of very large bars in galaxies that multiple independent human eyes will give you the best result. You are much less easy to trick that automated methods for finding galactic bars.

So thanks again for the classifications, and keep clicking. :)

Here’s a link to all blog posted tagged with “bars”.

Seasons Greetings 2014!

Seasons Greetings for the end of 2014, and many thanks for all the classifications you provided for us at Galaxy Zoo this year!

First Results from Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS

I am very happy to present the results from the first published paper based on your classifications of the HST-CANDELS Images.

Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS combined optical and infrared imaging from the Hubble Space Telescope, which allows us to probe galaxies back to when the universe was only around 3 billion years old (early than we could do with optical HST images alone). So we are looking at galaxies whose light has taken over 10 billion years to reach us!

Our first area of research with this data is to look at disk and barred disk galaxies, as the title suggests…….


This work is based on an initial sample of 876 disk galaxies, which are from the Cosmic Assembly Near-Infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS). We want to explore what happens to barred disk galaxies beyond eight billion years ago, building on our work looking at the evolving bar fraction with Galaxy Zoo: Hubble.

When we began this work, we were unsure what we would find when looking so far back. From our Galaxy Zoo: Hubble work we had identified that 10% of disk galaxies hosted a galactic bar eight billion years ago, but beyond this our knowledge of disks was limited to a single simulation of disk galaxies. This simulation predicted that bars in disk galaxies were very rare beyond the epoch we had observed to, as the Universe would be to young for disk galaxies to
have settled down enough to form barred structures.


Figure 1: The bar fraction of GZ: CANDELS galaxies (top), and the absolute magnitudes of all the disk and barred disk galaxies in the sample (bottom) (Figure 5 in the paper).

As Figure 1 shows, we actually find that roughly 10% of all disk galaxies host a bar, even back to when the Universe was only 3 billion years old! This is a very exciting result, as it shows that disk galaxies were able to settle at much earlier times than originally believed.

What we need to understand now is how do these disk galaxies form their bars? Could they be completely settled disk galaxies which have naturally formed bars, even during this epoch of violent galaxy evolution where galaxy mergers are more frequent? Or were these bars formed by a galaxy-galaxy interaction, as seen by some simulations? The answer could be one or the other, or most likely a combination of these two theories. Either way, we hope to explore this population of barred disk galaxies in greater detail over the coming months!


Figure2: Examples of disk (top row) and barred disk (bottom row) galaxies from Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS (Figure 3 in the paper).

So there is a summary of the first Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS paper. If you would like to see this in more detail, please take a look at the paper here, and why not check out the RAS press release too! Thank you all for your hard work, and keep classifying!

Posted on behalf of Tom Melvin. 

Next Hangout – Thursday March 6th, 12.00pm Taipei Standard Time

Several of the Galaxy Zoo science team are together in Taipei this week for the Citizen Science in Astronomy workshop. If we’ve been a bit quiet it’s because we’re all working hard to get some of the more recent Galaxy Zoo classifications together from all of your clicks into information about galaxies we can make publicly available for science.


Brooke (@vrooje), Kevin (@kevinschawinski) and Zooniverse developer Ed working hard in Taipei on improvements to the process of how we turn your clicks into science papers.

But we thought we’d take this opportunity of all being in the same place to run a live Hangout. We might end up talking a bit about the process of combining multiple clicks into classifications, as well as some of the recent Galaxy Zoo science results. And we’re of course happy to take questions, either as comments below, as Tweets to @galaxyzoo or via the Google+ interface.

We plan to do this during our lunch break  – probably about 12.00pm Taipei Standard Time tomorrow (which is, if I can do my sums, 4.00am UK time, or Wednesday 5th March at 11.00pm EST, 8.00pm PST). As usual the video will also be available to watch later:



Happy Valentine’s Day from Galaxy Zoo

Here are our ideas for #sciencevalentines from GalaxyZoo to help you out today. 

First a heart shaped galaxy, as found on Talk



In fact there’s a whole category of galaxy #hearts to check out. 

Or how about saying “I love you” in galaxies with help from







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