Categorizing The Universe



by Miguel Mendoza 

 Imagine having the job of studying space and all of its mysteries… mysteries that took billions upon billions of years in the making. What if your job was to study the history behind types of galaxies? Such a task sounds too big for even mankind to take on, so today’s astronomers are asking for all the help they can get. On the wonderful invention you are currently using, the internet, there are many ways to make a contribution to astronomy. Astronomers at the Galaxy Zoo zooniverse project have created a way for anyone to be able to help them in their search for answers to all of their galaxy-related questions.

While using the Galaxy Zoo website, you will be looking at an image of a galaxy and answering many different “yes” or “no” questions that will help the astronomers behind the Galaxy Zoo project categorize the galaxy that was in your image. The more pictures that you go through, the more information will be given to the astronomers to later be able to generalize the different kinds of galaxies and eventually could lead to a new category of galaxies.

m1A sample screen shot from the Galaxy Zoo Project

One of the many galaxies that you will see while going through the activity is the spiral galaxy. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, falls into this category. Spiral galaxies themselves are commonly categorized into four separate groups, the universal default categories being A,B,C, and D. Category A includes the different spiral galaxies whose “arms” are closely formed together and category D, on the opposite side of the spectrum includes all spiral galaxies whose “arms” are formed loosely and fan out. There are three main parts to a spiral galaxy; a nuclear bulge, a disk and a halo as shown below.


Components of a spiral galaxy

Along with spiral galaxies, there are also elliptical galaxies who are the more ordinary of the galaxies in terms of looks. These galaxies are often mistaken for stars with there being a source of light in the center of the galaxy and having an oval shape in images. Because elliptical galaxies tend to have older stars, there is less gas in the galaxy to create newer stars. Because of this, most astronomers believe that these are the most mature kind of galaxy and there is also the belief that there is a supermassive black hole at the center of every elliptical galaxy.


An example elliptical galaxy

Finally, there are the misfits of the galaxy classification field. These are the galaxies that are not completely visible through a telescope because there are different areas of the galaxy that have stars blocked out by dust and other debris. There are no set patterns or symmetry in the galaxy that humans are aware of so these galaxies receive their own category.


A “misfit” or irregular galaxy 

Through this program, the astronomers are asking for images of different types of galaxies to be analyzed by interested and curious people. The different types of galaxies are able to tell astronomers a lot more information varying from the rough time period the galaxy began to form to the different ways that certain galaxies take shape. With this information we could soon come to learn about our own galaxy and even perhaps lead to more theories on how the universe and all of space was created.



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