NASA this week has launched a "game" that allows anyone to identify galactic clouds in a series of photos. The game, called Clouds, is part of the Milky Way Project, which helps astronomers crowd source data sorting. It can be played here on Zooniverse, where many different crowd-sourced science projects are hosted.
The simple game asks players to state whether they believe a targeted portion of each photo is a cloud, an "empty" region of space, or something in-between. The photos were taken using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory. With enough Clouds participation, astronomers believe they could begin to discover more about the architecture of our Milky Way galaxy early in 2013.
"We're really excited to launch Clouds and see results back from our giant volunteer team of amateur scientists," said Robert Simpson, principal investigator of the Milky Way Project and a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy at Oxford University. "We think the community can blast through all these data fairly quickly. We may even be done by the spring and that would be an amazing result for citizen science."
The goal of the project is to identify dense, cold cores of gas and dust known as infrared dark clouds, which collapse under their own gravity before giving birth to new stars. The "empty" regions of space can appear the same as these dark clouds, making it difficult for computers to sort out.
"Automated routines have tried to decide which of these objects are holes and which are true infrared dark clouds, but the task is often tricky and it takes a human eye to decide," said Simpson.
"Citizen science through Zooniverse has been a real boon to research in fields ranging from astronomy to biology to history. We feel very fortunate to be able to send science work out to computer, tablet and smartphone screens and for people to collaborate with us in a quest to better understand our universe."