Posted on April 4th, 2017

Out of This World – The Zooniverse

Hello, citizen scientist and welcome to the Zooniverse! Here you will find a plethora of science and research opportunities at the tip of your fingers. With a simple click of button you can explore the depths of the Universe, identifying galaxies, hot stars and supernovae. Outer space not your thing? Don’t worry! You can suss out bats, sea lions, big cats or animal faces instead. Not impressed? How about transcribing handwritten documents by Shakespeare or Civil War era telegraphs? Classify orchids? Measure the rain forest? Tag Humpback Whales? I could go on, and on, and on, but I’ll you check it out for yourself here.

In the Milky Way Project, citizen scientist help identify and measure the size of bubble nebulae. (Credit: Sptizer, WISE, Cal Poly Pomona, Adler Planetarium, University of Oxford and NSF)

In the Zooniversee there is a project for everyone, and more than one at that. Scientists around the world need help trolling through a vast amount of data. While technology has come a long way, don’t let Hollywood films fool you, automated algorithms aren’t as readily available as you might think. The human eye is much better equipped to identify certain objects and bodies then a computer. Especially when the images aren’t perfectly clear and the subject is obscured, blurry or turned at an angle. For example, the Milky Way Project is looking for people to identify and measure objects like bubble nebulae and bow shocks along with anything else in the imagery that could be of interest to researchers. A computer can’t measure or identify objects that are ‘interesting.’

In other cases, an automated algorithm can be made, but there needs to be a large body of control data first. Once enough specimens have been identified and marked, then the computer can crunch the numbers and come up with a pattern to identify specific objects or species. The Understanding Animal Faces Project is one such example. By marking the placement of the eyes, nose and mouth of each animal, the computer can eventually tell the difference between an otter and a panda in a more automated fashion.

No sleeping on the job! Here you can see where someone has identified this big cat’s eyes, nose and mouth for the Understanding Animal Faces project. (Credit: Computer Vision Research Laboratory, University of Nottingham)

Another is Gravity Spy, here people are more adept then computers at identifying the differences between images. By noting the glitches in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), database researchers can come up with an automated system to remove the noise that obscures their data. With the public’s help they can better tune their instrument to identify gravitational waves, a recent and immensely groundbreaking confirmation of one of Einstein’s theories.

So saddle up and put your down time to good use here in the Zooniverse!

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163
katie@apollomapping.com

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