Almost 10 years to the day since it started, The Zooniverse, the world’s largest and most popular people-powered research platform will launch its 100th project; Galaxy Nurseries.
The online platform runs on support from volunteers, of which there are now hundreds of thousands worldwide. These volunteers act as armchair scientists, helping the team with their online research from the comfort of their own homes.
The latest project, ‘Galaxy Nurseries’, invites these volunteers to support the team with the classification of galaxy spectra - emerging, baby galaxies that are giving birth to new stars.
Researchers from the Department of Astrophysics at Oxford University originally launched the Zooniverse with a project called ‘Galaxy Zoo’ in 2007. The project asked the public to help the team to classify images of fully formed galaxies, based on their shape. A direct contrast to the web platform’s roots in old stars, ‘Galaxy Nurseries’ focus on young, bright stars highlights how much the Zooniverse has evolved in ten years.
The general public’s involvement in ‘Galaxy Zoo’ enabled the team to process data much faster than anticipated, and proved to be so useful that people-power became a vital ingredient for a number of research streams.
Although it began as an astronomy platform, the Zooniverse now features a number of international projects, covering fields ranging from the humanities and biology, to the hugely popular ecology initiative, Penguin Watch.
Professor Chris Lintott, Founder of Zooniverse and Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University, said: ‘When Galaxy Zoo launched, no-one involved could have dreamt it would last a decade or lead to this. I find it astounding and inspiring that hundreds of thousands of people, from all over the world, are willing to give us a little of their time to help understand the world and the universe. I’m looking forward to the next 100 projects – and I bet it won’t take another ten years.’
Led by Claudia Scarlata at the University of Minnesota, ‘Galaxy Nurseries’ aims 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.
As well as supporting academic research streams, the Zooniverse citizen science approach to research helps the general public and young children, to better engage with and understand the role that science plays in society. This gives those who may have always wanted to become a scientist, but not taken that path, a chance to contribute to the field.
Dr Grant Miller, Zooniverse communications lead, said: ‘When I started work at the Zooniverse there were only twenty projects. To see the platform grow from that point to supporting one hundred projects in under four years has been truly amazing! Being able to help all of those researchers, and work with so many dedicated volunteers, is an absolute privilege.
'It is somewhat fitting that our 100th project is looking for baby galaxies, considering that the Zooniverse has grown out of one small galaxy project ten years ago, to now supporting hundreds of researchers worldwide.’