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Scientists need you to organize galaxies

1m star clusters form consternation in night sky

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A group of scientists are looking for internet volunteers to take part in what they claim will be the largest galactic census ever compiled.

The act of classifying a galaxy isn't difficult. The trouble is there's a lot of them. Scientifically speaking, the universe is ginormous, and computer programs can't hold a standard candle to the human eye for reliable star system classification.

That's why a group of scientists developed GalaxyZoo. The website seeks would-be astronomers to help sort through a collection of one million photographs of galaxies snapped by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico.

Volunteers are prompted to help classify galaxies as either elliptical or spiral — and when applicable — whether they are spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. The task should help astronomers further understand the structure of the universe.

"It is great that digital archives we have built for science are now being used by the public to look at the universe," Professor Bob Nichols from the University of Portsmouth said. "It will be great to have all the galaxies classified; it's as fundamental as knowing if a human is male or female."

After signing on, users are given a brief tutorial on how to classify galaxies followed by a quiz to test their star system spotting mettle. Once the volunteer has graduated galaxy analysis 101, they can pick through the organization's galactic scrapbook and begin the task of organizing the universe. The galaxies are categorized by several people to help prevent errors and potential astronomy-hating ne're-do-wells.

GalaxyZoo said they were inspired by projects such as Stardust@home, in which NASA invited the public to sort through dust grains obtained by a mission to Comet Wild-2.

"What the Stardust team achieved was incredible," said Chris Lintott, Oxford researcher and GalaxyZoo team member. "but our galaxies are much more interesting to look at than their dust grains."

You can begin sorting through space here. ®

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