Archive by Author | karenlmasters

Galaxy Zoo: Literature Search – Initial Results

Thanks to everyone who has helped with the Galaxy Zoo Literature Search so far. It’s not too late to join in (for full details see the first blog post), but I thought I would write a followup summarising some of the findings so far. Hopefully it’ll help clarify what we’re looking for, and you won’t have to worry about repeating any of the papers we already have.

Academic life is full of lots of different tasks which occupy our time more or less at different parts of the year. It’s one of those things which I enjoy about it so much, but is is also basically my excuse for why work on the paper has ground to a halt in the last month. I have been occupied with teaching undergraduate Computational Physics, SDSS Spokesperson duties, and keeping on top of lots of remote observing with the Green Bank Radio Telescope. All good fun, but not paper writing! However this paper is making it back up to the top of my to do list now (hence this blog post!), so I hope to have more news for you on it soon.

Anyway here’s my summary of the new papers you have found for us in the different categories. We had no submissions yet of new papers defining early-types as E/S0/Sa, or late-types as being only types Sb/Sc/Sd yet, so keep looking for those.

Also as a reminder that when we’re talking about galaxies red = shorthand for not forming stars (or quenched), so sometimes astronomers use red and quenched (or passive) interchangeably. And spectra can also be used to find galaxies which are not forming stars, so spectral type and colour are highly related.

We also have a ton of different ways to talk about galaxy bulge size, from B/T (bulge-total ratio), to various model fits to light profiles (e.g. the Sersic profile, where Sersic n>2.5 is generally take to mean there’s a bulge, and n=1 means a pure disc). Concentration is also talked about – a more concentrated galaxy is more likely to have a bulge, than a less concentrated galaxy. And in SDSS there is a “fracDeV” parameter, which is the fraction of the model light curve made up from a “De Vaucouleur profile”, which is the same as a Sersic profile with n=4. We don’t like to make life too easy for newcomers in astronomy! 😉

The list of papers that:

  1. Claim that colour and morphology are equivalent

Strateva et al. 2001:….122.1861S/abstract
A classic here, and possibly the root of this idea: “We use visual morphology and spectral classification of subsamples of 287 and 500 galaxies, respectively, to show that the two peaks correspond roughly to early- (E, S0, and Sa) and late-type (Sb, Sc, and Irr) galaxies, as expected from their different stellar populations.”
Note that they are defining early- and late-types in the way I would like to find more examples of.

Fang et al. 2013:…776…63F/abstract
This one is a bit complicated. They state in the Introduction that “galaxies above a Sersic value of n ≈ 2.5 tend to be quiescent. “ and go on to claim that having a large bulge is necessary but not sufficient to be quenched (ie. red). Which means they acknowledge the existence of blue ellipticals (or blue galaxies with large bulges), but not red spirals with small bulges.

In their conclusions they state: “our results imply that galaxy quenching requires the presence of a bulge, but that a bulge alone is not enough to ensure the complete cessation of SF. “

This was not exactly what we were looking for, but definitely related, and interesting.
Huerta-Company et al. 2011…525A.157H

Good try, but I’m not sure this quite counts in this category – they use colour as part of their classification scheme (which we would definitely not recommend), but it’s not the only part, so they’re not really saying it’s the same as morphology. “Three types of parameters used to estimate morphology probabilities; “we decided to include three types of parameters: (1) color (g − r, r − i) k-corrected with Blanton et al. (2005) code; (2) shape (isoB/isoA in the i-band and deVAB_i); and (3) light concentration (R90/R50 in the i-band). For color measurements we use modelmagnitudes corrected for galactic extinction. isoB and isoA are the isophotal minor and major axes respectively, and deVAB_i is the DeVaucouleurs fit b/a. R90 and R50 are the radii containing 90% and 50% of the petrosian flux, respectively”

Cooper et al. 2010:
In the introduction they say: “Various observational studies have investigated the formation of early-type or red-sequence galaxies “
They then go on to use colour to define their sample: sec. 2 p. 1943:”To isolate the red- sequence population, we use the following magnitude-dependent cut: g − r = −0.02667 · M r + 0.113”
Good find. This definitely just assumes that colour=morphology.

Tal & van Dokkum 2011:…731…89T
In the words of our volunteer (Jean Tate):
“Throughout this paper, the authors conflate “massive red” with “elliptical”. This formally begins with the selection criteria (“We selected galaxy images for this study from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS, Abazajian et al. 2009) including all objects classified as Luminous Red Galaxies (LRG) that have a spectroscopic redshift measurement. LRGs are intrinsically red and luminous objects that were identified as such from their central surface brightness and location on a rotated color-color diagram (for full details see Eisenstein et al. 2001). This selection is aimed at finding the most luminous red galaxies in the nearby Universe (L 3L⋆) out to a redshift of z = 0.5.”)”) which does not distinguish between red ellipticals and red spirals (nor red S0s). However, the first sentence in the Discussion section strongly implies that massive red S0s and massive red spirals are irrelevant (“The first and foremost result that arises from this study is that faint, gravitationally bound stellar light can be traced in massive elliptical galaxies out to a radius of 100 kpc.”), to take just one example.”

Another good find, and very common that LRG=elliptical is assumed.

2. Define “early-type” galaxy as any galaxy without visible spiral arms (e.g. our “smooth” category, which can include elliptical galaxies, and smooth disks), rather than as a galaxy that isn’t a disk.

So here I basically meant they were defining early-type as E and S0 only, and we got one submission like that:

Stanford et al. 1998:…492..461S. “We present results from an optical-infrared photometric study of early-type (E+S0) galaxies in 19 galaxy clusters out to z = 0.9.”
“In this paper, we use the term ““early-type” galaxy to refer to those galaxies classified morphologically as having Hubble classes E, E/S0, or S0. “

3. Define “early-type” galaxy as including Sa spirals as well as lenticular and ellipticals.

No submissions yet – although note that Strateva et al. 2001 (above) do this.

4. Define “late-type” galaxy as only late-type spirals (e.g. excluding Sa spirals)

No submissions yet – although note that Strateva et al. 2001 (above) do this.

5. Use colour or spectral type to split galaxies into “early-“ or “late-“ types (or “elliptical” and “spiral”)

van den Bergh 2007:….134.1508V&db_key=AST&nosetcookie=1 actually has a contrary view, claiming that “there appears to be no obvious dichotomy between the morphologies of galaxies that are situated on the broad blue and on the narrow red sequences in the galaxian color-magnitude diagram.”

Bell et al. 2004:…608..752B
Exactly what we were looking for. They use colour to split their sample into “late” and “early” types, saying:
“”We find that the rest-frame color distribution of these galaxies is bimodal at all redshifts out to z ~ 1. This bimodality permits a model-independent definition of red early-type galaxies and blue late-type galaxies at any given redshift. ”

Cooper et al. 2010:
Another good example of using colour to define an early-type sample:
sec. 2 p. 1943:”To isolate the red- sequence population, we use the following magnitude-dependent cut:
g − r = −0.02667 · M r + 0.113”
In doing this they are assuming that red = early-type. In the introduction they say: “Various observational studies have investigated the formation of early-type or red-sequence galaxies “

Almedia et al. 2011:…735..125S
Actually seem to be looking into how well the correlation between spectral type and morphology works, saying: “Given a spectral class, the morphological type wavers with a standard deviation between 2 and 3 T types, and the same large dispersion characterizes the variability of spectral classes given a morphological type.”

So this is actually evidence that morphology and spectral type are not completely equivalent.

Ascasibar & Almeida 2011:
But now in this one, the claim is that the correlation is good enough to use spectral classifications to place galaxies into a morphological sequence: “Considering galaxy spectra as multidimensional vectors, the majority of the spectral classes are distributed along a well-defined curve going from the earliest to the latest types, suggesting that the optical spectra of normal galaxies can be described in terms of a single affine parameter.”

6. Use the bulge-to-total ratio (or some proxy for it like concentration, or the SDSS “fracDeV” parameter) to place spiral galaxies in a sequence.

Goto et al. 2003:
p. 604 : “Based on the Tauto parameter, we divide galaxies into four subsamples…”
Looking into this, “Tauto” is an attempt to parameters both the bulge size, and the amount of structure not captured in a smooth light profile (some form of clumpiness), so it does indeed neglect the degree of windiness of the spiral arm in placing them in a sequence by bulge size and clumsiness only. Nice find.

Drory & Fisher 2007:…664..640D
This paper actually provides evidence that B/T is not enough to classify galaxies into a sequence, pointing out that there are different types of bulge (pseudobulges, which are thought to be build up slowly from discs, and classical bulges, general thought to form in mergers) which correlate with galaxy colour even at the same B/T.

“(1) the red-blue dichotomy is a function of bulge type: at the same B/T, pseudobulges are in globally blue galaxies and classical bulges are in globally red galaxies; “

In summary, I hope this was interesting, and there’s definitely some examples you hve found which will make it into the reference list for the paper.  Thanks again for your help, and if you are now inspired to join in go read the instructions here. We’d love to have you along.

Galaxy Zoo Literature Search

Dear volunteers,
Here at Galaxy Zoo we know that some of you are looking for ways to be more involved in the entire process of making science from your clicks.

So we had an idea…..

The team are currently in the process of writing a paper which in its introduction discusses some of the current assumptions/errors/approximations common among our fellow astronomers when thinking about galaxy morphology and classification. As such we’d like to collect as many papers as possible which do the following things:

  1. Claim that colour and morphology are equivalent
  2. Define “early-type” galaxy as any galaxy without visible spiral arms (e.g. our “smooth” category, which can include elliptical galaxies, and smooth disks), rather than as a galaxy that isn’t a disk.
  3. Define “early-type” galaxy as including Sa spirals as well as lenticular and ellipticals.
  4. Define “late-type” galaxy as only late-type spirals (e.g. excluding Sa spirals)
  5. Use colour or spectral type to split galaxies into “early-“ or “late-“ types (or “elliptical” and “spiral”)
  6. Use the bulge-to-total ratio (or some proxy for it like concentration, or the SDSS “fracDeV” parameter) to place spiral galaxies in a sequence.

The current draft text in the paper which talks about these assumptions is:

“The morphology of a galaxy encodes information about its formation history and evolution through what it reveals about the orbits of the stars in the galaxy, and is known to correlate remarkably well with other physical properties (e.g. Roberts & Haynes 1994). These correlations, along with the ease of automated measurement of colour or spectral type, have resulted in a recent trend for classification on the basis of these properties rather than morphology per se (e.g. Weinmann et al. 2006, van den Bosch et al. 2008, Zehavi et al. 2011). Indeed the strength of the correlation has led some to authors to claim that the correspondance between colour and morphology is so good that that classification by colour alone can be used to replace morphology (e.g. Park & Choi 2005, Faber et al. 2007). Meanwhile the size of modern data sets (e.g. the Main Galaxy Sample of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, SDSS, Strauss et al. 2002) made the traditional techniques of morphological classification by small numbers of experts implausible. This problem was solved making use of the technique of crowdsourcing by the Galaxy Zoo project (Lintott et al. 2008, 2011). One of the first results from the Galaxy Zoo morphological classifications was to demonstrate on a firm statistical basis that colour and morphology are not equivalent for all galaxies (Bamford et al. 2009, Schawinski et al. 2009, Masters et al. 2010) and that morphology provides complementary information on galaxy populations useful to understand the processes of galaxy evolution. “

and later when talking about the spiral sequence:

“Modern automatic galaxy classification has tended to conflate bulge size alone with spiral type (e.g. Laurikainen et al. 2007, Masters et al. 2010a), and automatic classification of galaxies into “early-” and “late-” types, referring to their location on the Hubble Sequence and based on bulge-total luminosity ratio (B/T ) or some proxy for this through a measure of central concentration, or light profile shape (e.g. Sersic index, as reviewed by Graham & Driver 2005) has become common (e.g. van der Wel et al. 2011). Indeed, Sandage (2005) says this is not new, claiming ”the Hubble system for disk galaxies had its roots in an arrange- ment of spirals in a continuous sequence of decreasing bulge size and increasing presence of condensations over the face of the image that had been devised by Reynolds in 1920.””

We’d like to ask for your help in searching for more examples of these behaviours. We have made a simple Google form, and we ask that you submit any examples you find in the next few weeks.

Some of the papers you find might end up cited in the Galaxy Zoo team paper (please be aware there are rules/guidelines about the appropriate number – we don’t want to have too few;  it doesn’t make the point about how widespread this is, and we don’t want to single out specific astronomers,  but the journal won’t accept too many either). If there are more papers found than we can use, they will be kept in a list on the Galaxy Zoo website (and we can continue to add to them if needed).

I want to reassure you that helping with this does not mean you have to read the entire extragalactic astronomy literature, or even the entirety of a paper! The best place to look for this information in a paper will be the “Sample Selection”, or “Data” sections. Modern online PDF papers also have excellent search facilities – so searching the text for key words (e.g. “spiral”, “early-type”, “colour/color-selected”) may work extremely well.

We’re happy for you to do this however you like (e.g. Google Scholar is fine), but we’d like you to return the NASA ADS (Astrophysics Data System) URL for the paper you find. You can search ADS here:, and I give examples below of the URL I mean. This makes it easy for us to get the full bibliographic data to add the reference to the paper.

One tip – there are some papers in extragalactic astronomy which are cited by most/many results. A good place to start looking through recent papers would be the citation and reference lists of such papers, which can be found in ADS.

For example:

Strateva et al. 2001 “Color Separation of Galaxy Types in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Imaging Data”….122.1861S  is cited by 926 papers, and references 25 – this would be an excellent starting place, and the more papers you read the more mentions you may find other other papers doing similar things.

Other good starting places:
Strauss et al. 2002: “Spectroscopic Target Selection in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey: The Main Galaxy Sample”….124.1810S

Ironically the papers which cite some of our Galaxy Zoo papers where we demonstrate there are galaxies which are not in the normal correlation between colour and morphology may also be good starting points (some citations to these are along the lines of saying things like: “most galaxies fall into blue=spiral; red=elliptical, a few don’t (cite Galaxy Zoo here), but we’re going to use this definition anyway”.

The initial papers on colour not being the same as morphology are:

Bamford et al. 2009 (281 citations):
Schawinski et al. 2009 (81 citations):
Masters et al. 2010 (125 citations):
We hope that if several of you take up the challenge, you’ll find different paths through the literature and find lots of different examples for us. Again here’s the link to our Galaxy Zoo Literature Survey.

Thanks for your help!

Karen Masters (Galaxy Zoo Project Scientist)

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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 16.47.42.png

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).


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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 16.57.42.png

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.



Galaxy Zoo Highlights from 2015

Following on from the excellent summary of the hi-lights in 2015 for the Radio Galaxy Zoo project, here’s a similar post about results from Galaxy Zoo.

This year we collected 4,755,448 classifications on 209,291 different images of galaxies. You continue to amaze us with your collective efforts. Thank you so much for each and everyone of of these classifications.

The year started with Galaxy Zoo scientists at Mauna Kea observing galaxies, and reported in this wonderful series of blog posts by (former) Zooniverse developer Ed Paget.

Ed, Chris, Sandor, and Becky in front of the telescope

Ed, Chris, Sandor, and Becky on Mauna Kea.

We celebrated 8 years of Galaxy Zoo back in July, with this blog series of all things 8-like about Galaxy Zoo.

An 8 for our 8th birthday!

An 8 for our 8th birthday!

Back in May we finished collecting classifications on the last of our Hubble Space Telescope images. At the AAS in Florida this week, Kyle Willett and Brooke Simmons presented posters on the planned data releases for the classifications.

We both launched and finished classifying the first set of images of simulated galaxies from the Illustris Simulation (read more here: New Images for Galaxy Zoo: Illustris and here: Finished with First Set of Illustris Images). We also launched our first set of images from the DECaLS survey, which is using the Dark Energy Camera (New Images for Galaxy Zoo: DECaLS)

We also launched a new Galaxy Zoo side project – Galaxy Zoo Bars (one of the first projects built on the new Zooniverse Project Builder software), measuring bar lengths of galaxies in the distant Universe. The entire set were measured in less than a year, so thank you to any of you who contributed to that, and if you missed it don’t worry, we have plans for more special projects this year.

We launched a new web interface to explore the Galaxy Zoo classifications.

Screenshot of the Visualisation Tool

Screenshot of the Visualisation Tool

Our contributions to the peer reviewed astronomical literature continue. Papers number 45-48 from the team were officially published in 2015. They were:
– Galaxy Zoo: the effect of bar-driven fueling on the presence of an active galactic nucleus in disc galaxies, Galloway+ 2015.
– Galaxy Zoo: Evidence for Diverse Star Formation Histories through the Green Valley, Smethurst+ 2015.
– Galaxy Zoo: the dependence of the star formation-stellar mass relation on spiral disc morphology, Willett+ 2015.

You can access all 48 team papers using your classifications at the Zooniverse Publication Page. Remember that all Zooniverse papers published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society – which includes most of the Galaxy Zoo papers – are available open access to any reader, and if we happen to publish elsewhere we always make the post-acceptance version available on the

All of our papers include a version of this acknowledgement to our classifiers: “The data in this paper are the result of the efforts of the Galaxy Zoo volunteers, without whom none of this work would be possible. Their efforts are individually acknowledged at” We all hope you all know how grateful we are for each and every one of your classifications.

This year saw publication of the first paper on Hubble observations of Voorwerpje systems accompanied by an HST press release.

Montage of Hubble images of Voorwerpjes

Montage of Hubble images of Voorwerpjes

One of those papers from (mostly) outside the GZ team discussed a rare examples of double radio sources from spiral hosts, something Radio Galaxy Zoo will find many more of: “J1649+2635: a grand-design spiral with a large double-lobed radio source”, Mao et al. 2015.

Another exciting thing about this year has been the number of papers from non team members using the classifications which are now public (see To date almost 300 astronomical papers have been written which cite the original description of Galaxy Zoo (Lintott et al. 2008) and the two data release papers so far (Lintott et al. 2011 for GZ1 and Willett et al. 2013 for GZ2) have 164 and 34 citations respectively. The number of papers in the Astrophysics Data System which contain the words “Galaxy Zoo” (which you can search in ADS Labs) is an astonishing 700 (409 for refereed publications).

These are just some of the high-lights I’ve pulled together. If I’ve missed your favourite feel free to add it in the comments below. All in all it’s been a great year. Here’s to an equally good 2016!

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”.