What makes up the Universe? Particle Physics!

by Jalen Crump

Hello curious viewer! I was skimming around Zooniverse (which is a web-based citizen science organization) one day and came across a project containing particle physics. I’ve always been interested in physics, so exploring this project was a simple yes for me. It’s run by Higgs Hunters, a group of scientists and organizations who research particle physics. We’ll get more into Higgs Hunters in further posts. But for now, what is particle physics?

 Particle physics is the study of the basic elements of matter and the forces acting on them. It also aims to determine the laws that control what makes up the universe and matter, such as gravity and energy.

 The research of particle physics utilizes various pieces of technology. The technology utilized is called a particle accelerator. The most famous of the accelerators is called the LHC (Large Hadron Collider). A question now arises: How do these accelerators work? The most basic process is that these accelerators accelerate beams of charged particles into areas of the accelerator called particle detectors. Often two beams are set up to collide with each other or sometimes with stationary objects. This collision produces light. One of the detector’s jobs is to locate any new particles found within the light or  from remnants of the collision. The collision is driven by what is called electromagnets. These magnets steer and focus the particles to their collision point. When particles are first accelerated, they tend to move in all directions. A quick physics lesson on why the particles stay compressed in the accelerator is that magnets have opposite ends ( North & South) that provide forces on the particles that keep them compressed. Below is a diagram of how the magnets in the collider work.

The lines in the diagram represent the lines of particle’s motion.The poles are producing a squeezing force, balancing the beam of particles to be the middle.



 Now that we know how colliders work, let’s quickly overview a famous detector called ATLAS. Atlas is one of four detectors in the LHC and is responsible for studying the precise details of new particles left over from a collision. Atlas looks into the light from a previous collision to start its research. Recently, a new particle has been found called the Higgs Boson. This is what ATLAS is currently studying.

     Fun Fact: Smashing particles excessively can recreate the conditions that were present in less than one billionth of a second after the Big Bang.

In conclusion, particle physics is a very complex subject and produces masses of data. With that said, you can be involved. How? Well, look out for the next post to find out!

Exploring Galaxy Zoo

by Muhammad Alfian Rasyidin

Do you like to see amazing pictures? Have fun while learning about space? Galaxy Zoo, Zooniverse’s first project, is the best site for you! It is absolutely incredible. You’ll see millions of beautiful pictures of galaxies that we can’t see with our naked eyes. While learning about space, you’ll also help astronomers find the answer to one of biggest questions in astronomy: “How do galaxies form?”

Galaxy Zoo started in 2007, and since then, astronomers have posted millions of images taken by Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Visitors look at images of galaxies and give simple responses about the shape of those galaxies. Don’t worry if you don’t have any ideas about the shapes of galaxies. This site offers you a tutorial so that you can easily follow along with the questions that are being asked. In the past, the task was slightly simpler than it is today, but now they can capture images with higher resolution, which means the images on the site have more details.

Some of you might ask why astronomers need your help. Just simply, people are much better than computers at interpreting images. Also, another reason they need help because a single astronomer would take years to classify those images. Let’s do a simple math problem to find how many years that would probably take. Suppose that we have 10 millions images and we hire a person to work on 1,000 images to be classified daily:

Total Time    = numbers of images / numbers classifications daily

                       = 10,000,000 / 1,000 = 10,000 days

                       = 10,000 days / 365 days per year = Approx. 27.4 Years

Surprisingly, Galaxy Zoo does a lot better than the 1000 images one person could do daily. In fact, the site got 70,000 classifications within 24 hours after this site launched. Let’s take a look to site’s statistics.


In the bar graph above, it shows daily total classifications in the fourth week of March 2015. We can see that on March 24th and 25th, there were more than 30,000 classifications done daily, but as the week goes on the number decrease to just 10,000 classifications, so on average approximately 20,000 classifications done by users daily. Peak classifications, like those on March 24th and 25th, are usually because a new blog post has just been posted, which is usually published in the beginning of the week.

So from the graph above, it proves that a lot of people can do this work much faster than only a single person. Let’s find how much time do they need if you, the citizen scientist, can help them on classifying those images. Let’s take ~20,000 classifications done daily:

Total Time    = numbers of images / average daily classifications

                       = 10,000,000 / 20,000 = 500 days

                       = 500 days / 365 days per year = Approx. 1.4 Years

You can see that it is about 20 times faster! That is why, astronomers need YOU! Those facts already prove to you that being involved in citizen science is fantastic. As this project isn’t only popular, but also educational.

So what are you waiting for? Click this link to get started and explore Galaxy Zoo!


Why Study Exoplanets?

By Caroline Binley

92,955,807 miles above Earth, the Kepler Space Telescope orbits our planet and observes light from close to 150,000 stars. Astronomers turn data from Kepler into graphs of light given off by celestial bodies over time. These graphs are called light curves.

transcb1For a better understanding of light curves, give the NASA graph (left) a glance. Position one shows a planet before it passes the star it orbits. In this position, Kepler observes the star’s normal brightness. In position two, the planet stars to pass between Kepler and the star. As a result, Kepler perceives less of the star’s light. In position three, the planet blocks as much of the star’s light as it can, and the lightcurve dips even further. Scientists work backwards from the low points they see on these graphs in order to identify exoplanets.

Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system. They either orbit other stars or travel the universe without a host star. So far, we’ve only confirmed 1,827 exoplanets, but astronomers have thousands more candidates to consider.

Zooniverse — a portal to citizen science projects ranging from physics to humanities — hosts Planet Hunters, which allows users to help find exoplanets through lightcurve analysis. But why do we care about finding these planets?

If nothing else, it’s cool. From dreaming up constellations to watching “Star Trek,” humanity has demonstrated its stargazing curiosity countless ways. Now we’re finally able to explore — at least from a distance — the worlds we’ve so long dreamed of. That’s my first, unabashedly geeky answer.

But of course, not everyone is so easily fascinated by these planets. Beyond wow factor, exoplanets are key to our understanding of how our Earth and solar system function. The eight planets that orbit the Sun make up a small datapool. As a result, there’s knowledge we have to look beyond our solar system to gather.

Exoplanets are often at different stages in their life cycles than Earth, and the solar systems they make up have different characteristics than our own. This diversity has taught us how our solar system could have looked. Some stars host larger planets, some have their planets distributed differently, and yet others have planets with more distinctly elliptical orbits. This diversity also teaches us about solar system formation. For example, solar systems with Jupiter-sized (big) exoplanets near host stars confirmed the theory that planets move during formation.

And, of course, exoplanets propel us towards answering what many consider the ultimate question: are we alone in the universe? We don’t yet have the technology to search for exoplanetary life, but that that doesn’t mean that life isn’t out there. As we start to measure which planets are habitable (since we don’t have a better way to define “habitable,” I just mean Earth-like) our search will narrow, and we might even be able to answer that ever-looming question.












A Connection Made By the Drive to Reach The Same Goal

by Terry Melo

Differences are all around us. Within those obvious differences are even greater differences that highlight the distinction. For example, an urban setting, like our very own Chicago, is a place filled with variety. A city is filled with students, families, and workers. Although different from one another in shape and sizes, they each hold the same goal: to be able to strive in a big city by discovering beneficial opportunities. Each of them reaches this goal in different ways. A high school student dedicates him or herself to four years of continuous hard work to one day get a scholarship, while a worker dedicates him or herself to years of efficiency to one day gain a higher job position. Like the urban setting example, Zooniverse projects are different from one another in name and subject, but I discovered some projects are related to the same goal: unraveling the origins of our solar system.

When researching for my recent Asteroid Zoo blog posts, I noticed similarities between two zooniverse projects called Asteroid Zoo and Disk Detective. In Asteroid Zoo, we looked for asteroids in the night sky from pictures taken by the Catalina Sky Survey. In Disk Detective, we looked for the origins of our solar system by searching for one of two disk types: young stellar objects (YSO) or debris disks. Debris disks are disks of remains from the planet formation process. Asteroids are also remnants of early forming planets. Therefore, debris disks are very similar to asteroid belts but only around other stars. In Asteroid Zoo, users search for individual asteroids, while in DIsk Detective, users search for a collection of asteroids. These disks are important because they indicate that solar systems have formed and the leftover debris is now forming a surrounding disk. Asteroids reveal the components of the early forming solar system. Disk Detective and Asteroid Zoo, although searching for different objects in pictures, want to contribute their own answers to finding the origins of our solar system. What other Zooniverse projects have the same or related goals?


Note: On the left is a figure of the asteroid belt in our solar system. On the right is a picture of an identified debris disk from Disk Detective called Fomalhaut taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Both the asteroid belt and debris disk take on the same circular shape. The two pictures also detail the similar distribution of material inside of them: asteroids grouped together but still leaving space in between them.

From research to personal interviews, I also discovered the role that Zooniverse projects Planet Hunters and The Milky Way Project play in finding the origin of solar systems. Like the city residents mentioned before, these two projects move toward this goal in different ways. Planet Hunters searches for planets based on the change in light received from a star. Planet Hunters contributes the discovery of the most popular parts of a solar system: planets. Other planet systems help us understand our own because they can offer information about the formation and aging process about their own systems, which can possibly be translated to our solar system.

One of the The Milky Way Project’s goals, as said by Dr. Grace Wolf-Chase, one of the scientists on the project team who I got a chance to speak with, is to find “bubbles”. Bubbles are made from young, hot stars. They indicate a space where stars, like our sun, can still be forming. So each classification in The Milky Way Project helps the science team map out an area of star formation. As stars form so do planetary systems. Because star formation happens at the same time as solar system formation, The Milky Way Project also relates to finding the origins of solar systems.

A deeper look into Asteroid Zoo, Disk Detective, Planet Hunters, and The Milky Way Project reveals a connection to the significant goal of finding the origins of our solar system. Within these few Zooniverse projects exist unknown objects and observations ready to sprout. The Zooniverse team helps these ideas come alive by connecting what we already know to what we don’t know. Science communication and education and even research moves forward by using what we already know and building off of it. Each project has its own, unique goal, but the goal for all Zooniverse projects is to help scientists sort their data based on the observations made by users. Come be apart of Zooniverse so you can join in on the fun!


The Zooniverse logo and goal .




Be a Exoplanet Hunter!

by Alyssa Hui 

Did you know there are planets that exist outside of our solar system? Believe it, because they are called exoplanets and there are more planets than just Jupiter, Mars or Venus. Citizen Scientists as well as many other organizations have been studying planets that have a lack of information. Scientists want to understand how and where exoplanets form and what they are like. Studying exoplanets are important, because it is a great way to search for life beyond our Earth. Today, I will review the transit method and the Citizen science project called Planet Hunters.

Citizen Scientists receive most of their data from NASA when they sent the Kepler spacecraft to space. NASA Kepler mission was launched in 2009 and uses the transit technique to detect exoplanets. The transit method helps detect planets that pass in front of  the stars they orbit: planets block out starlight which causes the star to dim for a few hours. Every thirty minutes, the Kepler spacecraft gazes at a northern constellation called the “Cygnus” and records the brightness of certain stars that come to view. The measurements of a star’s brightness over time is a light curve. The Kepler spacecraft records data for more than 150,000 stars which is sent to Earth at regular intervals. The data is then downloaded and added to the rest of the data that is collected about light curves. Below is an image of the Kepler spacecraft field of view.


Citation: Hunters Team, Planet. The Kepler Public Data. Digital image. Planet Hunters. Zooniverse, n.d. Web. 25 July 2014. <http://www.planethunters.org/science>.

How do we analyze the light curves that are sent from space? Well the Kepler team has developed computer algorithms (calculations and problem solving made by a computer), to examine light curve data. The computer programs try to inspect every light curve, but the algorithms do make mistakes. The human brain is very good at detecting patterns and when you put human brains together, scientists can understand the data way better. Being a Planet Hunter is an online experiment that allows humans to find patterns in the light curves shown on the website. Citizen participants as well as the Planet Hunters science team, analyzes the data and helps understand types of light curves and also identify oddities.

To help classify the data and find exoplanets, we should look for sharp dips in brightness in the light curve. A dip or transit ( when planets pass in front of their stars ) can occur in a “quiet” or a “variable” light curve. Quiet curves appear more scattered while variable curves appear more wave like. The size of the planet is also reflected in the depth of the transit points.  For an example, if a planet is larger, than the dip in the graph would be lower and if the planet is smaller than the dip in the graph will be higher. Below are graphs to help clarify what was stated, showing dips from planets in both variable and quiet curves.


Note: This graph shows a quiet light curve without any variability  with a transit. Citation: Hunters Team, Planet. Citizen Science. Light Curve graph. Digital image. Exoplanets Yale Astronomy. Yale, n.d. Web. 25 July 2014. <http://exoplanets.astro.yale.edu/science/citizenscience.php>.


Note: This graph shows a variable light curve with a wave-like variability with a transit. Citation: Hunters Team, Planet. Citizen Science. Light Curve graph. Digital image. Exoplanets Yale Astronomy. Yale, n.d. Web. 25 July 2014. <http://exoplanets.astro.yale.edu/science/citizenscience.php>.

When scientists are detecting planets, finding one transit it is usually not enough, Citizen scientists have to look for repeating transits. The time it takes a planet to complete one orbit is called the orbital period. It can simply mean, counting the number of days from one transit to the next. Planets that are in longer orbital periods, will be more challenging to detect for both humans and computers, because a transit may not appear in every 30-day set of light curve data. The easiest planets to find are large planets that have short orbital periods. Smaller planets with long orbital periods will be more challenging and take longer to detect. It will definitely take time for scientists to detect these planets that orbit stars outside of our solar system. That is why scientists need our help, because the more people that help them the easier they can understand and observe the data.

I have been exploring exoplanets myself, because I feel that exoplanets is a very difficult topic and project to understand and study. I also think they are cool and interesting. I have also been showing images of exoplanets in the Space Visualization Lab (SVL) at the Adler to our amazing guests. If you want to learn and view more about exoplanets stay tuned for my next blog post. I hope you all enjoyed exploring teen blog posts about the astronomy and science that is interesting to them. To learn more about exoplanets you can visit all of the web pages and sites I have used while researching. Thank you once again!

Websites used:

A Deeper Look into Asteroid Zoo

by Terry Melo

Asteroids are the key to finding the origins of our solar system. Inside of asteroids are minerals that can enable us to know what our solar system is made of. Hopefully, asteroids will give us greater clues so we can make greater conclusions. Asteroid Zoo gives citizen scientists the opportunity to catch asteroids in pictures taken from the Catalina Sky Survey that scientists might have missed.

Asteroid Zoo presents the pictures in different frames numbered from 1-4. The Catalina Sky Survey took pictures of the same part of the sky but at different times. The pictures are taken about 10 minutes apart from one another to ensure the capture of an asteroid, since asteroids move while stars do not (stars are the brighter lights in the images). But why do scientists need your help? They need an extra pair of eyes to make sure they did not miss any potentially harmful asteroids in the pictures. Once you get on the website and start hunting, a tutorial is waiting for you below the “Help” tab. Unless you are an experienced Asteroid-Zoo hunter, a tutorial is a great first step for your experience so you can know exactly what you will be looking for.


               The welcome screen from Asteroid Zoo, showing a background image from the Catalina Sky Survey. 

The three classifications in Asteroid Zoo listed for the items in the picture are Asteroids, Artifacts, or Nothing. When you begin asteroid hunting, along with the transition of the frames, there is also a transitioning question: “Not visible?” This is valid when the asteroid you were tracking is no longer visible in the next frame. A possible asteroid might disappear in some frames because it might trail off the field of view. When an asteroid is not found but unusual objects in the picture are, they can be identified as Artifacts. Artifacts consist of a “star bleed”, “hot pixel/cosmic ray”, or “other.” Satellites can be confusing and ultimately classified as “other” because they have the same movement as asteroids in the sky. If there is nothing visible in the picture, then “Nothing” would be the classification for that picture. Asteroid Zoo and its many classifications should not be a challenge for you now. Below is an example of what an asteroid from Asteroid Zoo looks like in all four frames from!

asteroidexampleNote: The figure shows four different pictures from Asteroid Zoo that capture the movement of an asteroid. Looking from figure one through four, the asteroid moves towards the right. The red circle in the first frame outlines the moving asteroid. The yellow line stays in the same position so it can help you keep track of the moving asteroid.

Citizen scientists vary from the curious visitor in a museum to the lawyer interested in the night sky. In order to connect with Zooniverse projects, citizen scientists simply need connection to the website. Then, they can explore the many projects available. There are citizen science projects ranging from astronomy to climate. By helping to solve problems and find answers, Zooniverse has expanded from a single mind getting excited about solutions to an organization promoting individual thinkers to come together and collaborate in hope of discovering a greater idea.

Exploring Sunspots 2.0

by Alyssa Hui

In my previous blog post, I have discussed the basics of what sunspots are, what they look like, how they are formed, etc. For Exploring Sunspots 2.0, I will be discussing a Citizen Science Project conducted by the Sunspotter team.

Have you ever wondered why scientists study sunspots? And do sunspots affect the way we live on Earth? Scientists have been studying the Sun and sunspots for quite some time. With the research and understanding about the Sun, scientists can predict how it would affect our life on Earth, especially our weather patterns. Even though the Sun is 93 million miles away from the Earth, scientists have discovered that sunspots can erupt which causes high-energy particles that put astronauts and space stations in danger. This can interrupt GPS signals and expose aircrafts to radiation. Once we understand sunspots, we are better prepared to deal with the changes that could occur in our environment because of them.

One thing scientists do know about sunspots is that they occur in cycles. The amount of sunspots seen on the surface (photosphere) of the sun change from year to year. By tracking sunspots activity overtime we know that the cycle is about eleven years. Here is a graph showing the 11 year cycle and how many Sunspots have been discovered on the Sun per year. In 2009, we can see that the sunspots appearing on the Sun have decreased dramatically, but as of this year (2014) the amount of sunspots detected has reached its peak for the cycle.


Citation: NOAA. ISES Solar Cycle Sunspot Number Progression. Digital image. Solar Cycle Progression. Space Weather Prediction Center, 8 May 2009. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SolarCycle/>.


In Sunspotters, scientists are using this data from the “Michelson Doppler Imager” (MDI) instrument, which is on the “Solar and Heliospheric Observatory” (SOHO) to study sunspots over a full solar cycle. SOHO orbits the Sun between the Sun and the Earth so it is without any interrupted views of the Sun from the Earth or moon. The MDI took data for 16 years and about 60,000 images were transferred from SOHO to Earth, unfortunately the MDI was shut down in 2011 .

In Sunspotters, users are determining how complex sunspots appear to be, and the complexity deals with polarity. Magnetics have a north and south pole. Sunspots have north and south poles too, but instead they are called north and south polarities. In images of sunspots, that are on the Sunspotters website, the north polarity is shown as a white color and the south polarity is a black color.


Citation of First image: Image of Sunspot. Digital image. Number of Sunspots Effect Earth’s Temperature? N.p., 24 Mar. 2010. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://peakfood.co.uk/2010/03/number-of-sunspots-effect-earths-temperature/>.Citation of Second image: Russell, Randy. Digital image. Sunspots and Magnetic Fields. Windows to the Universe, 19 Jan. 2010. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://www.windows2universe.org/sun/atmosphere/sunspot_magnetism.html>.


Sunspot groups can range broadly in complexity/polarity. Images of these sunspot groups are classified from Alpha to Gamma by experts at observatories around the world. To clarify, alpha sunspots are single spots with just one polarity (North/South). Beta sunspots are a pair of spots of opposite polarity. Gamma sunspots are complex groups with uneven distribution of polarities; where they can not be classified as a bipolar sunspot group. Scientists use the Sunspotters experiment to come up with a theory of how sunspots change over time. In addition, Scientists use this experiment to quantify sunspot group complexities.



This image is showing polarity from alpha to gamma sunspots and their complexities. There is also a representation of the black and white coloring of sunspots to show polarity.Citation: Sunspotter Team. Complexity. Digital image. What Is Sunspot Complexity?Zooniverse, n.d. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://www.sunspotter.org/?utm_source=Zooniverse%20Home&utm_medium=Web&utm_campaign=Homepage%20Catalogue#/science/complexity>.

It is extremely important to help scientists develop stronger knowledge about sunspot complexities. This will help scientists answer a few of the difficult questions that are still unanswered till this day. For an example, are sunspots born complex or do they evolve to become complex? And, do sunspot groups that are more/less complex produce more eruptions? With this experiment, Citizen Scientists are attempting to improve the accuracy of making predictions of solar eruptions. Being more knowledgeable of the sun and sunspots will help us protect humans and the Earth. You can help Citizen Scientists with their experiment by visiting the Sunspotters page. All you have to do is choose which image appears more complex!


 Citation: Sunspotter Team. Classify Sunspots. Digital image. Which Is More Complex? Zooniverse, n.d. Web. 11 July 2014.


I hope you all enjoyed exploring teen blog posts about astronomy and science that is interesting to them. I will continue to blog on the Astro-Journalist web page so please come back and visit soon. To learn more about sunspots you can visit all of the web pages and sites I have used while exploring sunspots. Thank you once again.



(Works cited)