Exploring a Galaxy Zoo Result

by Muhammad Alfian Rasyidin

Welcome back citizen scientists! Have you visited Galaxy Zoo Site and classified any new pictures today? Your help is really significant, especially for astronomers. Let me tell you how astronomers use the information that you collected through Galaxy Zoo. Astronomers have used some of those classifications to analyze whether there are some specific types of galaxies found in more dense environments or less dense environments. Amazingly, they found impressive results, that no astronomers had ever realized before. Elliptical galaxies tend to be found in the more dense environments, and spiral galaxies are found in less dense environments.

Let’s take a deeper look at an article I read by Dr. Ramin Skibba and the Galaxy Zoo Team. This research mainly compares how clustered galaxies are; based on their morphology, which simply means the shape of the galaxy itself. Astronomers have already known that the galaxies are more clustered than just random clustering. What scientists mean by clustering is how many galaxies are within certain distances of each other. Clustering also relates to how dense an environment looks. For instance, a dense environment has more clustered galaxies at small distances, which also means that there is a larger number of galaxies within a given area.


Let’s take a look at the graph on the top, which is from the article I read. In the upper panel, with the black squares, y-axis indicates how likely galaxies are to be clustered at certain distances between galaxies as shown by the x-axis. So as you see for the black squares when x-value is smaller the y-value is greater, meaning that galaxies are more likely associated with other galaxies if they are near each other. As galaxies get farther apart, they look a bit more random. In the bottom panel, red squares represent elliptical galaxies and blue squares represent spiral galaxies. This information, about the shape of the galaxy, is taken from Galaxy Zoo Data where citizen scientists classified how a galaxy looked. The y-axis is set so values >1 mean they are more likely to be clustered, also values <1 mean they are less likely to be clustered. While x-axis is still representing the distance within between galaxies. Based on the graph, it shows us that elliptical galaxies are more likely to be found within small distances of each other, meaning they live in the more dense environment than spiral galaxies.

Well, this article highlights only one of hundreds of results that astronomers have discovered by using Galaxy Zoo data. Astronomers need these large data sets to make their findings more reliable. For instance, pretend that you are collecting the survey about how a galaxy image looks. Here, you can’t just rely on one person to determine whether a specific galaxy image is elliptical or spiral. There is more chance for that person to make a mistake. But, if you have thousands of people vote, and more than ninety percents of them say the same answer, do you think you will have more confidence to make a conclusion whether it is elliptical or spiral? Which method is more reliable and accurate? For those reasons, a citizen scientist’s help matters!



Star Wars and the Science of Multi-Star Systems

by Caroline Binley

Come December 18, “Star Wars” will be back. Some of us will cosplay. Some will cringe. A good few might even cry, though I can’t predict whether those tears will be of joy or disgust. And all of us will look with newfound hope at Luke’s home planet, Tatooine.

Its iconic double-sunset was once seen as leaning on the fiction part of science fiction. There was no proof that it couldn’t happen, but history.nasa.gov explains that many questioned whether multi-star systems were stable enough to produce planets.

However, views on the likelihood of Tatooine-esque scenarios have changed in recent years. In 2012, the Zooniverse project Planet Hunters discovered a situation even more complex than Tatooine’s, the first planet in a quadruple-star system (PH1/Kepler-64B), with the help of the light curve pictured below.


Light curves are graphs that measure the amount of light a telescope receives from stars over time. For more info on light curves, head over to my last post.

This specific light curve, used by scientists Kian Jek and Robert Gagliano, shows a few things.

First, you have your good old planetary transit. This is the dip created when the planet passes in front of one of the stars.

Second, you have your eclipses. The primary eclipse occurs when the dimmer star passes in front of the brighter one, blocking its light. You can see this is when the light curve dips the most, displaying only a fraction of the stars’ normal light. The secondary eclipse is the opposite, occurring when the brighter star blocks light from the dimmer one. The dips here aren’t much different than the planetary transit, so scientists didn’t originally think the binary system contained any planets.

So if you’ve been paying attention, this might raise a question: I’ve only talked about two stars, but I did say this is a quadruple-star system, right? PH1 orbits a set of binary stars (two nearby stars orbiting their common center of mass) while another binary set orbits in the distance. Scientists noticed this second set of stars when they started to gather pictures of the whole system, Kepler-64, pictured left.

According to astronomy.com, finding planets in multi-star systems isn’t surprising. Those systems outnumber single-star systems like our own. Most of them are gas giants like PH1, and they aren’t suitable for life as we know it, but new mathematical models are showing that Earth-like planets can form in these systems.

As said by the authors of Planet Formation Around Binary Stars: Tatooine Made Easy, “The circumbinary environment is friendly to planet formation, and we expect that many Earth-like ‘Tatooines’ will join the growing census of circumbinary planets.”

All this science serves to back up one point — the most important point that could possibly be made: Tatooine-esque planets are a real possibility in this universe. Which means, of course, “Star Wars” is not sci-fi as much as a very well concealed documentary on the wonders of alien life .

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: