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Andromeda Wants You! Astronomers Ask Public to Find Star Clusters in Hubble Images

Note: Anil Seth will discuss the Andromeda Project during the university College of Science’s Science Night Live, 5:30 p.m. MST Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, at Keys on Main, 242 S. Main St., Salt Lake City.


The Andromeda galaxy, shown here, is the closest spiral galaxy to our own spiral, the Milky Way. Astronomers at the University of Utah and elsewhere have launched the Andromeda Project so thousands of volunteers can help them find star clusters in detailed images of Andromeda made by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Robert Gendler

Astronomers at the University of Utah and elsewhere are seeking volunteers to explore the galaxy next door, Andromeda. The newly launched Andromeda Project will use people power to examine thousands of Hubble Space Telescope images of the galaxy to identify star clusters that hold clues to the evolution of galaxies.

Anyone can take part by going to www.andromedaproject.org.

“We want to get people excited about participating. We’re hoping for thousands of volunteers,” says Anil Seth, an organizer of the Andromeda Project and an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Utah.


University of Utah astronomer Anil Seth is helping launch the Andromeda Project at www.andromedaproject.org so that citizen volunteers can help scientists look for star clusters in Hubble Space Telescope images of Andromeda, the nearest large spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, which also is a spiral galaxy. Star clusters provide clues to the evolution of galaxies. Photo Credit: Lee J. Siegel, University of Utah

“I love looking through these amazing Hubble Space Telescope images of Andromeda, the closest big spiral galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy,” he adds. “The Andromeda Project will give lots of people the opportunity to share in that amazement.”

“Star clusters are groups of hundreds to millions of stars that formed from gas at the same time so all the stars have the same age,” Seth says. A goal of the Andromeda Project “is to study the history of the galaxy, and these clusters play an important role.”

Finding star clusters is difficult work. Eight scientists spent more than a month each searching through 20 percent of the available Hubble images just to find 600 star clusters. This is less than a quarter of the 2,500 star clusters they believe exist in the full set of Hubble images of Andromeda, also known as galaxy M31.

It would take too long for the astronomers to continue looking for star clusters on their own, and pattern-recognition software isn’t good at picking out star clusters.

To obtain faster results, Seth and colleagues want to “crowdsource” the problem and enlist volunteers from all walks of life to identify the star clusters. Registration isn’t required and a simple online tutorial helps volunteers quickly learn how to recognize and mark star clusters on www.andromedaproject.org.

“You don’t need to know anything about astronomy to participate, and it’s actually pretty fun, like playing an online game,” says Cliff Johnson, a University of Washington graduate student working on the project.

The Andromeda Project is a collaboration that includes scientists and website developers at the University of Utah, University of Washington, Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Oxford University, University of Minnesota, University of Alabama and the European Space Agency.

About 400 volunteers participated in a recent test of the new website.

 Full press release.

Salt Lake Tribune Article

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