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Rocks… In… Spaaaaaace

You know those odd features in some SDSS images that look like intergalactic traffic lights?

examples of asteroids in SDSS images

Stop! Asteroid Time.

They aren’t intergalactic at all: they’re asteroids on the move in our own solar system. They move slowly compared to satellite trails (which look more like #spacelasers), but they often move quickly enough that they’ve shifted noticeably between the red, green, and blue exposures that make up the images in SDSS/Galaxy Zoo. When the images from each filter are aligned and combined, the moving asteroid dots its way colorfully across part of the image.

These objects are a source of intense study for some astronomers and planetary scientists, and the SDSS Moving Object Catalog gives the properties of over 100,000 of them. Planetary astronomer Alex Parker, who studies asteroids, has made a video showing their orbits.

I find their orbits mesmerizing, and there’s quite a lot of science in there too, with the relative sizes illustrated by the point sizes, and colors representing different asteroid compositions and families. There’s more information at the Vimeo page (and thanks to Amanda Bauer for posting the video on her awesome blog).

One of the most common questions we receive about asteroids from Galaxy Zoo volunteers is whether there will ever be a citizen science project to find them. So far, as the catalog linked above shows, the answer has been that computers are pretty good at finding asteroids, so there hasn’t been quite the need for your clicks… yet. There are some asteroids that are a little more difficult to spot, and those we’d really like to spot are quite rare, so stay tuned for a different answer to the question in the future. And in the meantime, enjoy the very cool show provided by all those little traffic lights traversing their way around our solar system.

And the winner is….. Arp 142 (The Penguin Galaxy)

Well it was a very close fought battle, but the winner of our fun vote to pick the cover image for the October A&G was:

Apr 142 (aka The Penguin Galaxy):

I include below  a screen shot of the poll from today, which confirms that choice. We have now sent this choice to the cover editor, so we won’t count any more votes.


ZooCon Oxford is Tomorrow!


After a very busy week, I’ve suddenly had the happy realization that ZooCon ’13 (in Oxford) is tomorrow.

Okay, it’s not like I had completely forgotten about it – I’ve been thinking about what I want to say in my talk and discussing the schedule with the other organizers for a while now – but what a lovely feeling to suddenly connect that the thing you’ve been looking forward to as an opportunity to meet some interesting people and talk about interesting stuff is less than 24 hours away!

There’s still time to register: just go to the Eventbrite page and sign up (it’s free!) and we’ll see you tomorrow.

I’m planning to talk mostly about the future of Galaxy Zoo, including CANDELS and other projects as well as interesting new tools to enable different kinds of collaborative science, including volunteer-led science. But I’m most looking forward to the other talks, which will include updates from Old Weather, Space Warps and Planet Four.

What are you most looking forward to?

(Besides the pub afterwards, of course!)

A Galaxy Zoo science team dinner

Almost a month ago now, Galaxy Zoo hosted a Specialist Discussion at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, on the topic of Morphology in the Era of Large Surveys. It was actually a wonderful day full of interesting talks and discussion, and we will be sharing more of the science content from the discussion as soon as we find time to put that together.

One of the other fun things about this meeting was that as well as the fantastic invited speakers, mostly from outside Galaxy Zoo collaboration, many members of the Galaxy Zoo science team were able to attend and contribute talks. We had representatives of team members from Minnesota, Oxford, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Hertfordshire and Zurich in attendance. It was a great chance for us to catch up both scientifically and socially. Below is a set of round table pictures we took during our “team dinner” that Friday night in London’s Chinatown. The captions always list names from left to right. The poor photography is entirely my fault!


Kevin Schawinski (Zurich, Galaxy Zoo Co-founder); Chris Lintott (Oxford; Galaxy Zoo Co-founder and “PI of the Universe” – or maybe just the Zooniverse is enough); Jen Gupta (Portsmouth – Zooteach/Education)


Sugata Kaviraj (Oxford -> Hertfordshire, Dust lanes in early types and more); Tom Melvin (Portsmouth PhD student on redshift evolution of bars); Steven Bamford (Nottingham, GZ1 Data Guru, Colour-morphology and environment and more)



Kyle Willet (Minnesota; GZ2 Data Guru), Brooke Simmons (Oxford, Black Holes in Bulgeless Galaxies, Google+ Hangouts and much more), Boris Haussleur (Nottingham->Oxford; CANDELS team member)


Karen Masters (that’s me – Portsmouth, Galaxy Zoo Project Scientist), and back round to Kevin.


600 Most-Galaxified Words

When we launched the new Galaxy Zoo in September we also launched our ‘galaxify‘ tool, which allows you to write in an alphabet of Galaxy Zoo galaxies. Since that time you have created 320,000 messages, all written in galaxies! 18,468 contained the word ‘love’ and only 218 contain ‘hate’. 302 contained ‘marry me’ (5,853 contain swear words). Here’s the top 600 words so far, in one giant green word ball:


Go write your own message at and don’t forget to check out the Zooniverse Advent Calendar for more fun items like this one in December.

Galaxy Merger Gallery


I’m Joel Miller, I’m just about to start year 13 at The Marlborough School, Woodstock, and I am here at Oxford University working on mergers from the Galaxy Zoo Hubble data as part of my Nuffield Science Bursary. I have/will be looking at the data and plotting graphs to see how the fraction of galaxies which are mergers changes with other factors therefore determining if there is a correlation between these factors and galaxy mergers. Having looked though many images of merging galaxies I found some really amazing ones.

With some of the images from the SDSS I was able to find high-res HST images of the same galaxy and also find out some more information about them.

Spiral Galaxies NGC 5278 and NGC 5279 (Arp 239) in the Constellation of Ursa Major form an M-51-like interacting pair. This group is sometimes called the “telephone receiver”. The galaxies are not only connected via one spiral arm like M-51, but they also have a dimmer bridge between their disks. Spiral galaxies UGC 8671 and MCG +9-22-94 do not have measured red shifts and therefore there is no data on their distances. They may well be a part of a small cluster of galaxies that includes the “telephone receiver”, but this is not determined at this time.

NGC 5331 is a pair of interacting galaxies beginning to “link arms”. There is a blue trail which appears in the image flowing to the right of the system. NGC 5331 is very bright in the infrared, with about a hundred billion times the luminosity of the Sun. It is located in the constellation Virgo, about 450 million light-years away from Earth.

This pair of Spiral Galaxies in Virgo is known as “The Siamese Twins” or “The Butterfly Galaxies”. Both are classic spiral galaxies with small bright nuclei, several knotty arms, and arm segments. Both also have a hint of an inner ring. The pair is thought to be a member of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. NGC 4568 is currently the host galaxy of Supernova 2004cc (Type Ic) and was also the host of Supernova 1990B a Type Ic that reached a maximum magnitude of 14.4.

Arp 272 is a collision between two spiral galaxies, NGC 6050 and IC 1179, and is part of the Hercules Galaxy Cluster, located in the constellation of Hercules. The galaxy cluster is part of the Great Wall of clusters and superclusters, the largest known structure in the Universe. The two spiral galaxies are linked by their swirling arms and is located about 450 million light-years away from Earth.

This galaxy pair (Arp 240) is composed of two spiral galaxies of similar mass and size, NGC 5257 and NGC 5258. The galaxies are visibly interacting with each other via a bridge of dim stars connecting the two galaxies. Both galaxies have supermassive black holes in their centres and are actively forming new stars in their discs. Arp 240 is located in the constellation Virgo, approximately 300 million light-years away, and is the 240th galaxy in Arp’s Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies.

With the exception of a few foreground stars from our own Milky Way all the objects in this image are galaxies.

Galaxy Zoo on the Naked Astronomy Podcast

The July 2012 of the Naked Astronomy podcast includes an interview I did with them (at the UK National Astronomy meeting this spring) about Galaxy Zoo and why it’s such a great way of learning about galaxies in the universe.

Listen online here.

What we still don’t know

I used to think that science was about discovery, about adding certainty to what we know about the Universe. Discoveries happen, of course, but I’ve learned that the really exciting stuff happens not when we expand our knowledge, but our ignorance; progress is measured in the number of unanswered questions we have. After all, any good result raises more of those than it answers.

I have this in mind because today is the 5th anniversary of the launch of Galaxy Zoo, and it’s tempting to write about how we – with your help – have magnificently fulfilled the vision we had back in 2007. After all, in that first story on the BBC news website; a youthful version of me chirps that “We hope that participants in Galaxy Zoo will not only contribute to science, but have a lot of fun along the way”. Science? Check. Fun? Check..

But did we really understand what we were getting into? Certainly not. We’ve rehearsed before the story that we didn’t understand the size of the response we would get, nor the undimmed enthusiasm for sharing in exploring the Universe that still motivates volunteers today. But on launch, we didn’t realize we needed this blog to explain what we were doing with the clicks, nor the forum; which (thanks to the efforts of Alice Sheppard and team) has played such an important role in defining Galaxy Zoo. We didn’t realize that detailed classifications, of bars and three-armed spirals, of bulgeless disks and merging galaxies, were possible, nor that thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope we’d end up exploring the distant Universe, peering at blue blobby galaxies in a mixture of interest, awe and frustration.

We didn’t realize that spontaneous discovery, serendipitous exploration of the cosmos would come to provide some of the most entertaining and scientifically valuable results from the project. From the Voorwerp, to the recent Hubble images of the Voorwerpjes; (another hit my inbox this morning – watch this space) through to the Peas which are now attracting rather a lot of attention). On a personal note, on that July morning in 2007 I didn’t know most of the people who would lead this scientific return – Kevin, of course, was still recovering from classifying 50,000 galaxies himself, and Kate Land and Anze Slosar provided sterling support, but Steven Bamford and Karen Masters in particular had yet to step forward into their leading roles. Much of this science will be celebrated at a one day meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society next year on ‘Galaxy Morphology in the era of large surveys’ – mark your diaries for May 10th! The most exciting work to be presented at that meeting probably doesn’t exist yet – I suspect we’ll still be puzzling over exactly what bars do to galaxies (or vice versa), and arguing about exactly how black holes grow, but all we have at the moment is an ever-growing pile of questions. Which is, of course, exactly as it should be.

We also didn’t know what we didn’t know when it came to development. The original site worked brilliantly, thanks to the efforts of Phil Murray; and Dan Andreescu, but probably the biggest change over the last few years has been the arrival of Arfon Smith and his merry band of developers. That, of course, has spawned a whole new Zooniverse, which has sent us hunting for supernovae, planets, looking for bubbles and even listening to whales. In that manic expansion, Galaxy Zoo has occasionally been left behind, but I’m pleased to say that a new site is on the way. By the middle of August, a brand new site will be serving up images of new galaxies, both from the deep CANDELS survey and, returning to our roots, from the latest data release of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. We do need to have a few more clicks on the existing site, though, so anyone who classifies in the next two weeks on Galaxy Zoo will be rewarded with early access to the new site (whether or not you’re still reading at this point).

So much for the next few weeks. What of the next few years? I could tell you that as Galaxy Zoo has established citizen science as a standard way of doing astronomy, you’ll see many more projects from us exploring pretty much every aspect of the Universe. I could tell you that I suspect that live interaction with data fresh from the telescope; is going to be increasingly important as the amount of data available to astronomers reaches at least 120 terabytes by the end of the decade. I could spend hundreds or thousands of words convincing you that advanced tools are key, that we’re going to need many more people to follow the lead of the denziens of the forum and get deeply involved in the science that lies beyond clicking. And I could tell you of our determination to finally crack a means of getting Galaxy Zoo firmly into the classroom, but the truth is anything could happen. And that’s just the way we like it.


P.S. To anyone who has taken part in the last 5 years – thanks a million. Now go and get classifying.

Galaxy Zoo at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science

The Galaxy Zoo science team is well represented this week at the annual European Week of Astronomy and Space Science, hosted this year at the Pope’s University (or more properly Pontifica Universita Laternase) in Rome, Italy.

It is a beautiful location for a conference

with the most amazingly decorated lecture theatre I’ve ever been in


and just up the road from the Colluseum

A session on the first day on the Structure of Galactic Discs perhaps explains the interest of many of us on the Galaxy Zoo team. I spoke in that session on my recent results looking at bars and the atomic gas content of nearby galaxies.

Brooke Simmons (now settling in as a new postdoc at Oxford after finishing her PhD at Yale recently) had a poster on some work I’m sure you’ll hear about soon about some very interesting totally bulge free disc galaxies which still have actively growing supermassive black holes in their centres.

And Portsmouth PhD student, Tom Melvin (who is working with me) had a poster on his work using Galaxy Zoo: Hubble data to look at the redshift evolution of the bar fraction (more on that very soon too I hope).

Finally, talking in the session on interacting galaxies which runs tomorrow will be Kevin Casteels from Barcelona (who we all must congratulate on his very recent PhD) who has been working mostly with Steven Bamford on morphological signatures of closely interacting pairs of galaxies (arxiv link to paper, a blog post has been promised).

We all had a lovely (and typically late Italian) dinner together on Monday night – along with a Galaxy Zoo baby: Alia (Kevin’s daughter).



Greetings from Anchorage Alaska!

Hi all,

I’ve just arrived at the American Astronomical Society 220th meeting in Anchorage AK (#aas220 on Twitter, follow it). Quite a few people working on the Zoo are here too and it promises to be an exciting meeting.

But what I really wanted to share was this sign spotted by a cafe just outside the conference venue:


Update: the coffee store put up a new sign:



Also, thanks to the Zooite who came to chat to Steph at the Galaxy Zoo AGN inclination poster!