Introducing the 100th Zooniverse Project: Galaxy Nurseries

It is my pleasure to announce the launch of a brand new Zooniverse project: Galaxy Nurseries. By taking part in this project, volunteers will help us measure the distances of thousands of galaxies, using their spectra. Before I tell you more about the new project and the fascinating science that you will be helping with, I have an announcement to make. Galaxy Nurseries is actually the 100th Zooniverse project, and we’re launching it in the year that Galaxy Zoo (the project that started the Zooniverse phenomenon) celebrates its 10 year anniversary. We can’t think of a better birthday present than a brand new galaxy project!

To celebrate these watersheds in the histories of the Zooniverse and Galaxy Zoo, we’re issuing a special challenge. Can you complete Galaxy Nurseries – the 100th Zooniverse project – in just 100 hours? We think you can do it. Prove us right!

Back to the science! What is Galaxy Nurseries? The main goal of this new project is to discover thousands of new baby galaxies in the distant Universe, using the light they emitted when the Universe was only half of its current age. Accurately measuring the distances to these galaxies is crucial, but this is not an easy task! To measure distances, images are not sufficient, and we need to analyze galaxy spectra. A spectrum is produced by decomposing the light that enters a telescope camera into its many different colors (or wavelengths). This is similar to the way that water droplets split white light into the beautiful colors of a rainbow after a storm.

The data that we use in this project come from the WISP survey. The “WISP” part stands for WFC3 IR Spectroscopic Parallel. This project uses the Wide Field Camera 3 carried by the Hubble Space Telescope to capture both images and spectra of hundreds of regions in the sky. These data allow us to find new galaxies (from the images) and simultaneously measure their distances (using the spectra).

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This animation shows how a galaxy’s white light going through a prism gets decomposed into all its colors. Like the rainbow! The figure shows how the different colors end up in different positions. In this example violet/blue toward the bottom, orange/red toward the top. At each color, we have an image of the galaxy. When we sum the intensity at any given color, we obtained the spectrum to the right.

How do we do that? We need to identify features called “emission lines” in galaxy spectra. Emission lines appear as peaks in the spectrum and are produced when the presence of certain atomic elements in a galaxy (for example oxygen, or hydrogen), cause it to emit light much more strongly at a specific wavelength. The laws of physics tell us the exact wavelengths at which specific elements produce emission lines. We can use that information to tell how fast the galaxy is moving away from us by comparing the color of the emission line we actually measure with the color we know it had when it was produced. In the same way that the Doppler effect changes the apparent pitch of an ambulance’s siren as it approaches or recedes, the apparent color of an emission line depends on the speed of the galaxy that produced it. Then, we can relate the speed of the receding galaxy to how far it is from us through Edwin Hubble’s famous law.

The real trick is finding the emission line features in the galaxy spectra. Like many modern scientific experiments, we have written computer code that tries to identify these lines for us, but because our automatic line finder is only a machine, the code produces many bogus detections. It turns out that the visual processing power and critical thinking that human beings bring to bear is ideally suited for filtering out these bogus detections. By helping us to spot and eliminate the false positives, you will help us find galaxies that are  some of the youngest and smallest that have ever been discovered. In addition, we can use your classifications to create a next-generation galaxy and line detection algorithm that is much less susceptible to being fooled and generating spurious detections. All your work will also be very valuable for the new NASA WFIRST telescope and for the ESA/NASA Euclid mission, which both will be launched in the coming decade.

Emission lines in a galaxy’s spectrum can tell us about much more than “just” its distance. For example, the presence of hydrogen and oxygen lines tells us that the galaxy contains very young, newborn stars. Only these stars are hot enough to warm the surrounding gas to sufficiently high temperatures that some of these lines appear. By examining emission lines we can also learn what kind of elements were already present and in what relative proportions. We too are “star-stuff”, and by looking at these young galaxies we are following the earliest formation of the elements that make all of us.

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The horizontal rainbows show the spectra for the three objects on the left. The bottom, very compact object is a star in our own Milky Way. The other two objects are an interacting pair of young galaxies, observed as they were 7 billion years ago! We can say this because we see an emission line from hydrogen in both galaxies (indicated with arrows). This emission line allows us to measure the galaxies’ distances. 

How do spiral arms affect star-formation?

Hi everyone! For those unaware, I am a PhD student at the University of Nottingham looking at spiral galaxies in Galaxy Zoo (for an overview, see this blog post). Following the release of my first refereed publication last year, my second refereed publication has now been accepted (woohoo!). As can be seen from my previous post (found here), we found remarkable differences between the spiral galaxies that we observe in the local Universe, simply by comparing galaxies with different numbers of spiral arms. Galaxies with two spiral arms are distinctly redder in colour than many-armed galaxies. However, the exact reasons for these differences was still up for debate. Red galaxies could have very low star-formation rates, or contain a significant amount of dust, blocking the escaping blue light.

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The IRX-beta relation for galaxies with different numbers of spiral arms. A higher IRX value means more light is absorbed by dust: two-armed galaxies are more heavily dust-obscured.

With this in mind, we decided to follow-up that paper with panchromatic data from UV and infra-red wavelengths. UV wavelengths bluer than optical probe the very youngest stars, and infra-red wavelengths redder than optical measure dust emission directly. Combining these measurements allowed us to show the following things:

  1. Star-formation rate does not depend on spiral arm number: all spiral galaxies seem to be forming the same number of stars, regardless of what their spiral arms look like.
  2. The amount of blue light being absorbed by dust is significantly greater in two-armed spiral galaxies.

These two striking results have now shown us that spiral arms are not simply a visual pattern. They act to change the conditions of star-formation in local galaxies, making them much more sensitive to dust. Interested readers can find the full paper here.

See you in Hull

As part of the celebrations of Galaxy Zoo’s tenth birthday (!), we’ll be hosting sessions at the UK’s National Astronomy Meeting in Hull.

I’ll be giving a public talk on Monday 3rd July – ticket details coming shortly. Then on the 4th and 5th July there will be scientific sessions on the theme of Modern Morphologies: 10 years of Galaxy Zoo.

The session abstract is as follows:

As our community has developed increasingly sophisticated techniques to analyse the data in large galaxy surveys, we have seen a resurgence of interest in galaxy morphology. Clues to a galaxy’s formation and evolution are recorded in its morphology, and we are now seeing growing evidence that its evolution may also be affected by its internal structures. This session, marking the 10th anniversary of Galaxy Zoo, will discuss results from the use of morphological markers including the effects of bars, bulges and disks.

and researchers are welcome to submit via the abstract form. Though this is part of the formal scientific conference, we’ll make sure our worldwide community are included in what’s going on.

Watch this space for more Galaxy Zoo birthday news shortly.

Introducing Galaxy Zoo “3D”, aka “Why are SDSS galaxies back?”

I’m delighted to announce the launch of “Galaxy Zoo: 3D” today – this is a small project from a subset of the Galaxy Zoo team where we ask you to help us identify in detail the locations of internal structures seen in a sample of about 30,000 galaxies.

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What’s special about these galaxies is that they have been selected to potentially be observed (or in some cases have already been observed) by the “MaNGA” project.

MaNGA (which stands for “Mapping Nearby Galaxies at Apache Point Observatory” – sorry about that!), is a spectroscopic mapping survey that I have been working with for the last several years. This one of the current surveys which form part of the 4th generation of Sloan Digital Sky Surveys.

SDSS retired its camera in 2012 (its in the basement of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C!), and is now focusing on measuring spectra of things in space. Instead of taking images of galaxies in just a couple of filters, MaNGA takes spectral images – each of up to hundreds of points in the galaxy has a full spectrum measured, which means we can decode the types of stars and gas found in that part of the galaxy. We can also recover the motions of the stars and gas in the galaxy making use of the Doppler shift (the redshift or blue shift we see in light which comes from moving sources).

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An illustration of the type of data MaNGA is taking. You get an image of the galaxy at each wavelength slice (e.g. the green one shown), or a spectrum at any point. You can also combine all the light into a single image. The resolution (sharpness) is poorer than using a camera, but you get a lot more information. Illustration credit: CubeVisualisation

MaNGA will ultimately do this for about 10,000 of the total list (this is how many we can manage in 6 years of operations), and since 2015 has already measured these data for a bit more than 3000 galaxies. To help us interpret this vast quantity of data we’re asking you to draw on the galaxies to mark the locations of spiral arms and bars. We also want to double check the galaxy centres are recorded correctly, and that we have found all the foreground stars which might be getting in the way of the galaxy.

Now one thing you know all about as Galaxy Zoo volunteers is the benefit of human eyes on large samples of galaxies. When we first launched Galaxy Zoo we made use of the “Main Galaxy Sample” from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey as the input list of galaxies. This is a sample of 1 million galaxies automatically identified from the SDSS images, and which had their distances (redshifts) measured in SDSS-I/II. However (perhaps ironically) the algorithm which selected this sample wasn’t very good at finding the biggest most nearby galaxies. Specifically it tended to “shred” them into what it thought were multiple galaxies. My favourite demonstration of this is the Pinwheel galaxy (M101), which the first SDSS galaxy detection algorithm interpreted as a cluster of galaxies.

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M101 as seen by the original SDSS galaxy finding algorithm – each red box was thought to be a separate galaxy. Image from Brichman et al. 2013.

(Don’t worry – ever resourceful, astronomers have made plenty of use of these galaxies which have multiple spectra measured – it turns out to be really useful).

By the time MaNGA came along this problem was well known, and instead of making use of the standard SDSS galaxy catalogues, MaNGA targeted nearby galaxies by making use of the “NASA Sloan Atlas“- a NASA funded project to make a more  careful list of nearby bright galaxies in the SDSS images.

So what we discovered when putting together the sample for Galaxy Zoo: 3D is that not all MaNGA galaxies have Galaxy Zoo classifications. In fact about 10% are missing, and we also found some more galaxies we missed first time round. It turns out that by relying on automatic galaxy finding there were a quite a few galaxies which had been missed before.

So these are back in the main site right now.

In Galaxy Zoo: 3D we will only ask you to draw spiral arms on galaxies you have previously said have spiral arms, so we’ll be making use of the new classifications to sort out the last 10% of MaNGA galaxies. We’ll also create a complete Galaxy Zoo classification list for the MaNGA sample, which will be really useful for people working with that sample.

To tempt you to give it a go, here are some interesting and beautiful MaNGA galaxies being discussed in Talk by our beta testers (the purple hexagon indicates the part of the galaxy where MaNGA can measure spectra). More than half of all the galaxies in MaNGA them are nearby galaxies with lots of structure. I think you’re really going to enjoy exploring them, and at the same time really help us learn a lot about galaxies.

 

 

FERENGI complete + new Illustris images!

Hi everyone, it’s Mel and Hugh from Minnesota, and we (especially Mel) would like to give a big THANK YOU for all of your help classifying these last couple of months! When we originally launched the second Ferengi set , it was estimated that it would take four months for the data to be complete, based on the current classification rates. Thanks to your help, that time was cut in half, and Mel’s thesis is officially saved! (Stay tuned this Spring for updates on how Mel is using these classifications to study morphological transformations of Hubble galaxies from 6 billion years ago to today.)

Now that those are complete, we have another announcement…

Illustris is back!

This week Galaxy Zoo volunteers may notice the appearance of simulated galaxy images produced by the Illustris project.

Illustris is one of several large-scale cosmological simulations that play a key role in helping us to understand how galaxies formed and how the Universe and its contents have evolved throughout cosmic history.

To learn more about Illustris, check out this previous blog post  or the main Illustris project website.

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An Illustris galaxy – on the left is the original image from the simulation, on the right is the galaxy “Sloanified” with realistic colors and dropping it onto a real SDSS background.

 

New images for Galaxy Zoo from GAMA-KiDS!

Hello Zooniverse citizen scientists! We’re extremely excited to announce the release of a new dataset on Galaxy Zoo. For the past several months we’ve been working with scientific collaborators from the Galaxy And Mass Assembly Survey and the VST Kilo-Degree Survey. This blog post will give you a few details about these surveys, the new data set, and what we hope to achieve with Galaxy Zoo classifications.

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The Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) Survey is an international project to exploit the latest generation of ground and space-based survey facilities. Its aim is to study cosmology and galaxy formation and evolution from scales of thousands up to millions of light years across. The science goals include furthering our understanding of how the mass of stars within galaxies builds up over time, how and when do galaxies form their stars, how are those previous questions related to a galaxy’s environment, and at what epoch did star-formation and mass-build-up dominate? Visual morphologies from Galaxy Zoo will allow us to explore if, how, when, and where galaxies transition from one type into another, what impact this has on the formation of stars, and to look for new types of unique and interesting galaxies.

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The observations are from the Kilo-Degree Survey (KiDS) on the 2.6m VLT Survey Telescope (VST) located at the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile. KiDS is a large optical imaging survey in the Southern sky designed to tackle some of the most fundamental questions of cosmology and galaxy formation of today. At the heart of KiDS lies the 300 million pixel camera OmegaCAM. Its instantaneous field of view is a full square degree and it was designed to provide extremely accurate measurements of the intrinsic shapes of faint, small galaxies.

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The 2.6m VLT Survey Telescope (VST), located at the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile, is carrying out observations for the Kilo-Degree Survey (KiDS).

The scientific teams behind GAMA and KiDS have been working closely to put together this new set of images. Galaxies have been selected from a catalogue produced by the GAMA Survey and images have been constructed based on observations from KiDS. While some of these galaxies have already been looked at by Galaxy Zoo citizen scientists before using their Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) images, the improvement in the resolution and depth of KiDS images over SDSS imaging is remarkable. With this new GAMA-KiDS data set we hope to be able to study the very faintest structures within galaxies, as well as more accurately classify features which may have been missed before. Take a look at the image below to see how much clearer the new images are!

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This image compares SDSS images (on the left) with those from GAMA-KiDS (right) for three example galaxies: G107214, G298570 and G551505.  Our new images reveal a lot more detail!

We’re really excited about getting classifications for these new images, and we hope you are too! We’re more than happy to talk about any interesting galaxies you may come across and to answer any questions you may have. Until then, enjoy, and thank you for your help!

– by Dr Lee Kelvin, on behalf of the GAMA and KiDS teams

RGZ Team Spotlight: James Ansell

Hi everyone! I’m James and I’ve joined the RGZ team as a Communication/Engagement intern. I’m a PhD Candidate at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) which is part of the Australian National University (ANU). I’m also a Sessional Academic (read: Tutor and marker) for a couple undergraduate courses covering things from ‘the Public Awareness of Science’ to ‘Science, Risk and Ethics’. And to pay the bills I work for the ANU in an administration role at (essentially) the Business School as well as a few other odd jobs.

But I am at heart an errant astronomer – having double majored in Astronomy/Astrophysics and Science Communications at the ANU for my B.Sci, graduating with Honours in 2015. I grew up in Alice Springs in the middle of Australia and had a purely spectacular night sky to look at. Something I only appreciated when I lived Brazil after graduating high school.

As part of my undergraduate studies I did dabbled a bit in some astronomy research. Firstly I did a project with Dr Charley Lineweaver (if you don’t know Charley, you should!) looking at the (surprisingly fuzzy) distinctions we make between objects in space e.g. planet, dwarf-planet, asteroid, moon. Let’s just say the project didn’t go where I thought it would.

Secondly, as part of an Astronomy Winter School I did research looking for ‘intergalactic stellar bridges’. Essentially chains of stars going from one galaxy to another which may have played a role in stellar formation in galaxies. I think. It was several years ago and the weather was against us when we went to do observations, so it didn’t go anywhere and my memory is pretty fuzzy on the details.

Outside of academia, I was involved in the ANU Black Hole Society (the Astronomy Club), the ANU Physics Society and the Science Communication Society. Also I absolutely love the TV series Cosmos, both the Carl Sagan original which I saw as a teenager and then the Neil deGrasse Tyson remake from a few years ago.

Since my astronomy research didn’t turn out particularly well, I ended up going down the science communication route. I’ve since done research looking into the effects of fictional doctors on young people’s perceptions of healthcare, factors affecting the uptake of vaccinations in Australia and the relationship between people’s perceptions of ‘Superfoods’ and their health behaviours. But I do miss the Astronomy and Astrophysics side of things so I’m super excited to be able to combine my two interests as part of the Radio Galaxy Zoo team.

(Also for some random fun facts about me – I used to host a music program on a Canberra community radio station, I founded the Canberra pop-culture festival ‘GAMMA.CON’ which is basically our local Comic-Con and I fly Hot Air Balloons with the ACT branch of the Scout Association.)

I’ll be hanging around in the forums under the name ‘JRAnsell’ and am keen to hear from you – if you’ve got questions about RGZ specifically or astronomy more broadly let me know! You can also hit me up on Twitter @radiogalaxyzoo or at radiogalaxyzoo@gmail.com.

Galaxy Zoo relatives at AAS meeting – Hubble does overlapping galaxies

Among the results being presented at this week’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Texas (near Dallas) is this poster presentation on the status of the STARSMOG project. This program, a “snapshot” survey using the Hubble Space Telescope, selected targets from a list of overlapping galaxy pairs with spiral members and very different redshifts, so they are not interacting with each there and likely to be more symmetric. The source list includes pairs from Galaxy Zoo (about 60%) and the GAMA (Galaxy And Mass Assembly) survey. These data will allow very extensive analysis; this presentation reads more like a movie trailer in comparison, highlighting only a few results (primarily from the master’s thesis work by Sarah Bradford).

Among the highlights are:

Sharp outer edges to the location of dust lanes in spiral disks.

Distinct dust lanes disappearing for galaxies “late” in the Hubble sequence (Scd-Sd-Sdm-Sm, for those keeping track), maybe happening earlier in the sequence when there is a bar.

The dust web – in the outer disks of some spirals, we see not only dust lanes following the spiral pattern, but additional lanes cutting almost perpendicular to them. This is not completely new, but we can measure the dust more accurately with backlighting where the galaxy’s own light does not dilute its effects.

A first look at the fraction of area in the backlit regions with various levels of transmitted light. This goes beyond  our earlier arm/interam distinction to provide a more rigorous description of the dust distributions.

Bars and rings sweeping adjacent disk regions nearly free of dust (didn’t have room for a separate image on that, although the whole sample is shown in tiny versions across the bottom)

Here is a PNG of the poster. It doesn’t do the images justice, but the text is (just) legible.

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The shoulder of Giants

To stand on the shoulder of giants, we first have to find them.   In Radio Galaxy Zoo, we are of course referring to the hunt for Giant Radio Galaxies.  These Giants can provide us with valuable insights into the environment in which they reside as well as the evolution of radio AGN.   In this post, I will present a summary of the highlights that Heinz A. has reported on RGZ’s search for Giants in 2016.

As of late September 2016, RGZ citizen scientists have uncovered at least 313 Giant candidates which are larger than 1 Mpc in projected size.  Of the 313, 201 are new discoveries made by RGZ!  Of course, follow-up observations and further verification checks are required.  However, this is still fantastic job and no small feat by the team.  A big thank you goes to RG Zooite Antikodon & Dolorous_Edd for paving the way again and discovering ~78% of these Giant candidates.  To put things into perspective, if one wanted to extract a list of Giants from the NASA Extragalactic Database (NED; a well-known archive used by professional astronomers) one would find only 55 objects tagged as Giant Radio Galaxies!  This is partly due to the fact that in publications such objects are not always explicitly labelled as such.  Here is Heinz’s table comparing the properties of the published Giants versus the newly-discovered RGZ candidates :

Property Published New RGZ candidates
Number 231 201
Median redshift 0.26 0.57
Median linear size (Mpc) 1.3 1.18
Number (size> 2 Mpc) 29 6

It is clear that RGZ is leading the pack in collating and cataloguing these unusual radio galaxies.  With our upcoming observing run using the Gemini-North 8-meter telescope in Hawaii, we will be following up several of these candidates.

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FIRST image of an example of one of the largest known Giant Radio Galaxy J1102+1345

My warmest congratulations again to the Giants Team! Keep up the fantastic work. After all, we still have a third of RGZ to complete and I am sure more Giant candidates will be discovered in 2017.  More information can be found at the Giant team’s RadioTalk Discussion thread.

 

 

 

There be S-DRAGNs!

This end-of-year post is written by Jean Tate, an RGZ citizen scientist and associate science team member who is providing us with the 2016 update on her team’s hunt for more Spiral Double Radio-lobe AGNs — SDRAGNs.   My warmest congratulations again to the SDRAGN Team!  I will be sure to look out for more SDRAGN news in 2017.  More information can be found at the SDRAGN team’s RadioTalk Discussion thread.

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A small band of intrepid scientists – citizen and regular – have been hunting SDRAGNs for quite some time now.  These strange beasts were mythical, until 1998 when one was spotted above the Antipodes (it goes by the highly memorable name of 0313-192 … not).  Since then a dozen or so other Spiral galaxies which host Double Radio lobes (and which have Active Galactic Nuclei; SDRAGN, get it?) have been bagged. With thousands of sharp-eyed citizen scientists, RGZ is an ideal place to look for more.

It has been relatively easy to find  SDRAGN candidates – two known ones were flagged by RGZooites, who were quite unaware of their status – but rather more challenging to turn candidates into certainties; for example, chance alignments can appear very convincing. Anyway, from ~a thousand “possibles”, the SDRAGN team picked ten really promising ones, and is now writing up a paper on them (actually, while doing some final checks, two of the ten turned out to be imposters; never mind, there are dozens more good candidates for a second paper).  Curiously, one of the most difficult questions was (and still is) “is this really a spiral?”

jtsdragnThe figure above shows J1649+26, an SDRAGN published by Minnie M. in 2015 (URL Link to her paper).  The red contours represent the double radio lobes emanating from the supermassive black hole of this galaxy.

You can see some of the SDRAGN candidates in RGZ Talk, by searching for the hashtag #SDRAGN (some will also have the hashtag #spiral; many candidates do not have either hashtag). If you find an SDRAGN candidate, please include the #SDRAGN hashtag in your comment.