Just a quick post to say thank you for your contributions to Galaxy Zoo: 3D in the last couple of weeks. I’m delighted to say that the bar drawing task is now completed. We still have a lot of spirals to draw though, so if you are ready for a challenge come join us in drawing these beautiful structures. Remember we collect 15 answers per galaxy, and use clever algorithms to combine them into a really reliable answer – so do your best, but don’t get too worried if your hand slips slightly! 🙂
I’m posting this on behalf of Amelia Frasier-McKelvie, a postdoc at the University of Nottingham, UK.
Hi – I’m Amelia, and I’m a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham. I work on galaxy evolution using the Mapping Nearby Galaxies at Apache Point Observatory (MaNGA) survey (and yes, I know it’s a contrived acronym!) MaNGA aims to observe 10,000 galaxies using integral field spectroscopy, which means instead of just obtaining one spectrum of a galaxy, we take several hundred at all different points across a galaxy. From this, we can infer interesting spatial information on galaxy properties. For example, we can see the regions in which star formation is occurring, or compare the ages of the stars in the bulge regions of a galaxy to the outer disk. By breaking down a galaxy into its components (such as bulge, disk, spiral arms, and bar) we can discover more about how the galaxy formed, and how it has led its life so far.
I’m really interested in how bars affect their host galaxies. In particular, I’m looking for observational evidence that bars are involved in the quenching of star formation within a galaxy. This phenomenon is known as secular evolution/quenching. The one thing a galaxy needs to form stars is a reservoir of cool hydrogen gas. It’s been postulated that a bar can transfer matter (such as gas) radially inwards through a galaxy’s disk and into its central regions. If this is the case, then maybe it takes this gas required for star formation and funnels it towards the galactic centre, starving the disk, and ceasing star formation. Simultaneously, this gas that is funnelled into the central regions could either induce a final starburst, using up all gas, or feed an active galactic nucleus (AGN), which can heat the gas to a point where it cannot collapse to form stars.
If we wanted to catch a bar in the act of quenching a galaxy, we could look for tell-tale signs of this funnelling action, namely a difference in the age and chemical composition of the stellar populations in the bar region of a galaxy when compared to the disk.
This is where Galaxy Zoo 3D comes in — I need to know where the bars actually lie in their host galaxies! Galaxy Zoo 3D citizen scientists mark out the bar (and spiral arm) regions of the MaNGA galaxy sample, which I can apply to our data cubes and extract spectra belonging to the galactic bar and disk regions. I can then analyse the bar and disk spectra separately and compare their properties. I’m interested in the global properties of a large sample of galaxies, so I need as many bar and disk region classifications as possible!
If I can find observational evidence that bars are helping to quench galaxies this will confirm the idea that internal secular evolutionary processes are important in galaxy evolution.
This will prove that along with external factors, internal structures such as bars are extremely important in determining a galaxy’s fate!
We hope you enjoyed hearing about how the masks made in Galaxy Zoo: 3D are being used. There’s still plenty of bars and lots and lots of spirals to mark in the project, so please join in if you’d like to help us complete our sample and help Amelia and others (including me!) with their research.
Some of you may remember a while back we posted a blog announcing that we would be testing a new messaging system on Galaxy Zoo. Some of you may even have seen these messages while classifying on the site! This test was also part of a study of how we could use messaging to increase engagement on the project. Working with researchers from Ben Gurion University and Microsoft Research we delivered messages to volunteers at key times during their participation on Galaxy Zoo and observed how these messages affected their engagement. This research was based on previous work we had done that demonstrated that sending similar messages in emails could increase the likelihood of volunteers returning and engaging more with the project.
The volunteers were split into three main cohorts; One group who were delivered the messages at random intervals, one group who were delivered the messages at what were predicted to be optimal times, and a final control group who received no messages. This study has led to two peer-reviewed publications and the results show that optimal timing of an intervention message can significantly increase the engagement of volunteers on Galaxy Zoo.
These early results are intriguing, and we’d like to do more tests to see if it’s something we can use more broadly across Zooniverse projects. The same machinery might also be used by Zooniverse teams to send messages to volunteers – either in a group or individually – as they participate in their projects. We’ll keep you informed on the blog.
To read about the study and its finding in more detail please see the following papers:
For a discussion regarding the ethics of this study, please read this Zooniverse Talk thread https://www.zooniverse.org/talk/14/675633.
For the past few years, a new Galaxy Zoo project has been under development. This project allows the creation of models of galaxies inside the Zooniverse website (although in a slightly experimental fashion). Many of you helped trial this project in December of 2017, and some have classified since it was quietly launched in late April. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the early results we have obtained from your classifications!
From the beta
260 of you helped beta test and debug the project in our beta, providing invaluable feedback (most of which we hope we addressed!) and submitting over one thousand test classifications of our small test sample. One of the images in this sample was the SDSS r-band image of the galaxy below, catchily known as SDSS J104238.12+235706.8.
In this post we’ll look specifically at the spiral arms drawn on this galaxy, and how we can recover information about the shape of the spirals from your drawn arms. If we plot every spiral arm drawn on the galaxy, two distinct spiral appear:
There are a number of classifications which have either crossed the center of the galaxy, linking the two arms with one line, or which attempt to enclose the spiral (as in the GZ:3D project) rather than tracing along the center line. This confusion arose from the short tutorial and confusing help text present in the beta, which was flagged by our testers (thank you!).
We can make use of unsupervised machine learning techniques to cluster together these drawn arms, and extract points corresponding to each arm (while throwing away some lines which didn’t fit into our groups).
Taking one arm as an example, we identify points which could be considered outliers, and remove them to improve our later fit (using another unsupervised machine learning technique called Local Outlier Factor). In the image below, red dots correspond to points identified as outliers, and the blue contours can be seen as a probability map, with points in regions of darker blue being more likely to be an outlier.
Fitting a spiral
Brilliant – we now have a load of (unordered) points which roughly resemble the spiral arm of our galaxy! We’ll fit a smooth line to obtain a “best guess” of the galaxy’s spiral properties, the result of which can be seen below:
What we’ve discovered from the beta trial is that we need at least 20 attempts at drawing spirals on a galaxy to get reliable answers, so we’re keen to get more people trying to build galaxies on Galaxy Builder.
If you’d like to help please join us at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/tingard/galaxy-builder. If that’s not your thing we still need classifications on Galaxy Zoo: 3D, and the classic Galaxy Zoo is still live with all new images from the DECaLS survey.
There are various kind of rings we see in galaxies – nuclear, inner, outer, pseudo rings, collisional, accretion, maybe even disk instability at high redshift. We discussed how all of these are thought to form, and enjoyed a parade of beautiful images of ring galaxies.
Spiral arms and how they form were a big discussion at the conference. Bill Keel (who you may now better for his work on overlapping galaxies found in the forum), presented work by the most recent Galaxy Zoo PhD – Dr. Ross Hart (who unfortunately could not make the meeting) on Galaxy Zoo constraints on spirals. This included results from a small side project Spiral Spotter. What is clear from this result (and many others presented at the meeting) on spirals – we really don’t understand which spiral arm formation mechanisms are the most important in galaxies, or how to tell in an individual galaxy which mechanism makes its spirals. There’s a dizzying array of possibilities – so lots of results to test with morphology. Overlapping systems did still get a mention – presented by Benne Holwerda.
For the last few weeks, the main Galaxy Zoo has been waiting for new images, but we’re now back with a new site – and new galaxies.
Galaxies first. There are a few extra images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to work through, but we’ve also lined up images from the latest Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey (DECaLS) data release. We’ve looked at DeCALS data before; its images come from a four meter telescope, larger than any we’ve used for Galaxy Zoo before, and so we get to see fainter details and finer structures than would otherwise be possible. The galaxies in the site now have never been inspected before, so do get clicking – who knows what might be there to find?
You’ll also notice the site is different. We’ve moved Galaxy Zoo over to Panoptes, the system that powers almost all of the Zooniverse projects. Moving to this software makes it much, much easier for us to upload new images, and will mean that Galaxy Zoo will continue to be supported for a long time to come. We don’t, as a team, have any funding ourselves for development, so it’s important we use the up-to-date software maintained by Zooniverse. The old site will continue to be accessible at zoo4.galaxyzoo.org.
There are a few downsides. It will take us a little while to translate the new site – those who translated the old one should have received an email but let us know if not. Most importantly, it means a new instance of Talk, the software that hosts discussion and conversation. Our wonderful moderators have been moving important threads across, and the old site will continue to be available at talk.galaxyzoo.org. We’re also still working on the best way to color our new galaxies. For the first few days, you may notice some galaxies with unusually bright colors. These are rare duplicates created using a different color palette – let us know what you think on the new Talk!
With new galaxies and a stable software platform, Galaxy Zoo is in good shape to carry on producing excellent science. Do come and explore!
It’s away! The final observation plan for the Gems of the Galaxy Zoos Hubble program was submitted earlier this week (24 hours before our deadline, I want you all to know).
We collected votes for over 2 weeks, separately for Galaxy Zoo and Radio Galaxy Zoo objects since they needed distinct image layouts. About 18,000 votes were cast. The Talk interfaces turned out to be very useful for immediate practical matters – some users seeing images twice, some cases of the wrong coordinates being used for images that had been uploaded and needed to be replaced, and finding duplicates both within the candidates and versus older Hubble observations. (A major “thank you” to the volunteers who contributed in these ways). I was strongly impressed at the level of discussions on the Talk sites that went into some of these decisions.
Help vote for Radio Galaxy Zoo Gems!
At the Galaxy Zoos (both at Galaxy Zoo & Radio Galaxy Zoo), we are fizzling with excitement as we prepare for observations using the Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument on board the Hubble Space Telescope. These new Hubble maps will have greater resolution than those that we have from the Sloan Digital Sky Server.
As mentioned by Bill’s blogpost, we have been allocated fewer observing slots than our full list of candidates. Therefore, we invite all of you to help shape the observing priorities of our current target list. You will help determine which host galaxies would gain the most from these Hubble observations (and thus have highest priorities on the target list).
The main science targets specific to these Hubble observations are the host galaxies of Green Double Radio-lobed Active Galactic Nuclei (Green DRAGN — pronounced Green Dragon) and Spiral Double
Radio-lobed Active Galactic Nuclei (S-DRAGN).
Green DRAGN — The prominent green appearance in these DRAGN host galaxies come from the strong [OIII] emission line that dominate the emission in the Sloan r-band. Therefore, these galaxies appear very green in a Sloan 3-colour (g,r,i) image due the lack of equivalently-strong emission in the Sloan g– and i– bands (the blue- and red- filters, respectively). The Green Pea galaxies (Cardamone et al 2009) from the original Galaxy Zoo project are a class of green galaxies that appear to be dominated
by star formation. On the other hand, the Green Bean galaxies (Schirmer et al 2013) are thought to consists of quasar light echoes (eg Galaxy Zoo’s Hanny’s Voorwerp). However, the original Green Bean population show little to no emission at radio wavelengths.
In Radio Galaxy Zoo, we have found a population of Green Bean-like galaxies which host bright radio lobes. Therefore, what sort of feedback are galaxies getting from these “radio-active” Green DRAGNs and how do they relate to the other green galaxies and our understanding of galaxy evolution? Figure 1 shows an example of a Green DRAGN that also happened to be a Hybrid Morphology Radio Galaxy
found by Radio Galaxy Zoo and published by team scientist Anna Kapinska in collaboration with citizen scientist Ivan Terentev (see blogpost on their paper).
Spiral DRAGN — Typically, radio galaxies with big radio jets and lobes are hosted by early-type galaxies. Spiral galaxies are often thought to not be “mature” or massive enough to host giant radio lobes. However, a few S-DRAGNs have been found in the past by our very own Bill Keel (Keel et al 2006, see Figure 2) and Minnie Mao (Mao et al 2015). To shed light on this rare phenomena,
we seek your help through Radio Galaxy Zoo and this observing programme to assemble a more statistically significant number of this rare class of objects. Figure 2 shows a combined HST and VLA map of the S-DRAGN
published by Bill in 2006.
We have to finish this priority selection by the 16th February 2018. So, please help vote now by clicking here. We have uploaded the targets in batches of 24 and so please click on all the batches for a view of the full target list. A handy tip for inspecting these images is to ensure that your screen brightness is adjusted to its maximum because many of the host galaxy features can be very faint.
We thank Radio Galaxy Zooites, Jean and Victor, for their immense help with assembling the priority selection project interface. You can track what Hubble is observing by proceding to the Hubble archive link or the Hubble Legacy Archive interface here.
Galaxy Zoo and Radio Galaxy Zoo participants have an unusual opportunity to help shape a list of galaxies to be observed by the Hubble Space Telescope, as part of the “Gems of the Galaxy Zoos” project.
The project came about when the Space Telescope Science Institute circulated a message in August of 2017, seeking proposals for a new category of observation – gap-fillers. These projects will provide lists of target objects around the sky for brief observations when high-priority projects leave gaps in the telescope schedule, allowing 10-12 minutes of observation at intermediate places in the sky. Read More…
We’re excited to announce the publication of another scientific study. that wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of the Galaxy Zoo volunteers. The paper:
“Galaxy Zoo: Morphological classification of galaxy images from the Illustris simulation”
is the first Galaxy Zoo publication that examines visual morphological classifications of computer-generated galaxy images. The images were produced in collaboration with the international team of scientists who implemented and analyzed the highly sophisticated Illustris cosmological simulation (you can find many more details about Illustris on the main Illustris project website and about the Galaxy Zoo: Illustris project in this previous blog post). Illustris is designed to accurately model the evolution of our Universe from a time shortly after its birth until the present day. In the process, simulated particles of dark matter, gas, and stars aggregate and condense to form galaxy clusters that contain seemingly realistic galaxies. In our paper we wanted to test the realism of those simulated galaxies by inviting Galaxy Zoo volunteers to evaluate their morphological appearance. We wanted to know whether Illustris galaxies look like real galaxies.
But where to start looking? Well, if you’ve ever classified a galaxy on Galaxy Zoo then you must have answered a question worded something like:
Is the galaxy simply smooth and rounded, or does it have features?
This question represents one of the simplest ways to distinguish between different groups of galaxies, but its answer can reveal a lot of information about a galaxy’s history, as well as its current activity. Visible features and substructure like discs, spiral arms and bars in galaxy images often indicate sites of ongoing star formation and can provide evidence for complex dynamical processes within a galaxy. On the other hand, apparently featureless galaxies may have formed in dense environments where galaxy-galaxy interactions are more common and might act to destroy features or even prevent them from forming in the first place.
In our paper, we compared the prevalence of visible features in galaxy images that were produced using Illustris against an equivalent sample of real galaxy images that were derived from Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) observations. Some of the differences we found were surprising but quite illuminating!
Each image in Galaxy Zoo is classified by about forty volunteers and their votes for each question are aggregated to obtain a consensus. The level of agreement between volunteers can be quantified using the vote fraction for a particular response. For a particular image and question the vote fraction for a possible response is just the number of volunteers who voted for that response, divided by the total number of votes cast for that question, for that image. A concrete example that applies here is the “featured” vote fraction: the number of volunteers who classified a galaxy image as exhibiting visible features divided by the total number of votes cast for the simple question that was quoted above. Vote fractions close to zero indicate that most volunteers thought the galaxy was smooth and rounded, while vote fractions around one imply almost unanimous consensus that a galaxy has visible features.
The filled green bars in Figure 1 illustrate the distribution of this “featured” vote fraction for real galaxy images. The distribution is dominated by a peak close to zero, which means that most volunteers thought that most galaxies looked smooth and featureless. There is also a smaller peak close to one, corresponding to a population of obviously featured galaxies. In contrast, the blue line shows the “featured” vote fraction for Illustris galaxy images. The bulk of the distribution is now peaked around 0.6, which means that Illustris galaxies were generally perceived to be predominantly featured. However, there are very few Illustris galaxies that were unanimously labeled as exhibiting visible features and a substantial population of visibly smooth galaxies is also present. Overall, the Illustris galaxy images seem more feature rich, but perhaps slightly more ambiguous than their SDSS counterparts.
To try to understand the origin of the mismatch between Illustris galaxies and those in the real Universe, we separated both of the image samples into three sub-groups based on the total mass of the stars that the galaxies contain (more succinctly described as their “stellar mass”). Each of the panels in Figure 2 can be interpreted in the same way as Figure 1, except that they correspond only to the galaxies for each of the three stellar mass sub-groups. The two panels to the left are for galaxies with stellar masses less than the mass of 1000 billion suns. They look remarkably similar to Figure 1 with the SDSS and Illustris distributions matching very poorly. However, the situation changes markedly in the right-hand panel. For these extremely massive galaxies, it appears that the Illustris simulation reproduces the observed proportion of visibly featured galaxies much better, although the population of unambiguously featured galaxies is still absent.
The change in behavior with stellar-mass that we have identified might simply be an artifact of the finite resolution at which Illustris is able to simulate the Universe. Computational power is limited, so Illustris cannot accurately model the positions, interactions and evolution of every star in its simulation volume (and of course tracking individual gas atoms or dark matter particles is completely impossible!). Instead, Illustris models large groups of stars, and large accumulations of gas and dark matter as single “particles” and models the way that they interact with each other. The features that volunteers perceive in Illustris galaxy images manifest substructures formed by groups of many such particles. Simulated galaxies with larger stellar masses contain more stellar particles that enable the simulation to model finer structural details which may be necessary to emulate the appearance of real galaxies.
Studies involving automatic morphological classification of Illustris galaxy images (e.g. Bottrell et al 2017, Snyder et al 2015) have also identified a marked divergence with galaxies in the real Universe below the same 1000 billion solar mass limit that we have found. Confirmation that the visual appearance of galaxies also changes perceptibly complements a growing body of knowledge on this subject.
Dust is another constituent of galaxies that can substantially modify their appearance by absorbing bluer light that typically indicates star formation and re-emitting it at redder wavelengths. This dust reddening effect is not accounted for by the Illustris simulations and could obscure the visibility of features that are actually present in real galaxies. This means that Illustris might be modeling real galaxies better than it seems, and coupling of a dust reddening model to the simulation output might improve the correspondence between the mismatched vote fraction distributions at lower stellar masses.
As is often the case in scientific research, an unanticipated result has provided valuable insight. The results from Galaxy Zoo: Illustris will help cosmologists to improve their models as they develop the next generation of large-scale simulations of our Universe. The results also underline the ongoing potential utility for visual morphological classification of simulated galaxies. The most recent cosmological simulations, including a next-generation Illustris Simulation, address many of the shortcomings that this and other studies have revealed. Comparing their outputs with SDSS galaxy images, as well as observational data produced by other surveys, will undoubtedly yield more insights into the processes that govern the formation and evolution of galaxies. Watch this space!
A preprint of the new paper, which has been accepted by the Astrophysical Journal, can be downloaded from the arXiv.