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Galaxy Zoo: Research = Outreach = Education September 26, 2008

Posted by Sarah in science.
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I already talked quite a bit about .Astronomy in Cardiff this week, and some of the great ways that scientists have come up with to use the web to facilitate research, our communicate with the public. But Chris Lintott‘s talk on Galaxy Zoo showed us how we can take this one step further still: in the web-based Galaxy Zoo project, the research equals outreach and education.

The basic principle of the study is that the human brain is very good at pattern recognition; much better in fact than a computer can be programmed for the task. On the Galaxy Zoo website, members of the public are invited to sign up, to help identify basic shapes of galaxies (e.g. spiral or elliptical) on deep images of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The Galaxy Zoo team have essentially recruited a whole army of astronomy enthusiasts (80,000 of them!) who help with important research tasks by looking at pretty galaxy pictures and spotting shapes.  Clever eh?

But the best part about this is that using this approach the Galaxy Zoo team have completely erased the lines between science research, outreach and education. By taking part in the project, the thousands of users are learning about galaxies, and the research process, in a really fun way – and the astronomers have just gained an enormous number of free collaborators. Now we just need to think about other projects that can be run like this!

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