Galaxy Zoo is a scientific project that has invited members of the public to help classify a million galaxies. Those involved are directly contributing to scientific research, while getting an opportunity to view the beautiful and varied galaxies that inhabit our universe. Why do we need people to do this, rather than just using a computer? The simple answer is that the human brain is much better at recognising patterns than a computer. Galaxies are complicated objects that vary in appearance enormously, and yet in some ways they can be very similar. We could write a computer program to classify these galaxies, and many researchers have, but so far none have really done a good enough job. We have not been able to make computers ‘see past’ the complexity, to reliably identify the similarities that appear obvious to our eyes and brain. For now, and probably for some time yet, people do the best job of classifying galaxies.
Getting all these galaxy classifications is just the first stage of our project. What we really want to do is some science, to try and understand what kind of galaxies there are, how they formed, and the processes that have changed them into the systems we see today. The journey from raw classifications to accepted scientific results is often long and arduous. In this blog we aim to explain the steps involved, and the scientific ideas we are working on.