NASAÂ this week has launched a â€œgameâ€ that allows anyone to identify galactic clouds in a series of photos. The game, calledÂ Clouds, is part of the Milky Way Project, which helpsÂ astronomerscrowd source data sorting. It can beÂ played hereÂ on Zooniverse, where many different crowd-sourced science projects are hosted.
The simple game asks players to state whether they believe a targeted portion of each photo is a cloud, an â€œemptyâ€ region of space, or something in-between. The photos were taken using NASAâ€™sÂ SpitzerÂ Space Telescope and theÂ HerschelÂ Space Observatory. With enoughÂ Cloudsparticipation, astronomers believe they could begin to discover more about the architecture of our Milky Way galaxy early in 2013.
â€œWeâ€™re really excited to launchÂ CloudsÂ and see results back from our giant volunteer team of amateur scientists,â€ said Robert Simpson, principal investigator of the Milky Way Project and a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy at Oxford University. â€œWe think the community can blast through all these data fairly quickly. We may even be done by the spring and that would be an amazing result for citizen science.â€
The goal of the project is to identify dense, cold cores of gas and dust known as infrared dark clouds, which collapse under their own gravity before giving birth to new stars. The â€œemptyâ€ regions of space can appear the same as these dark clouds, making it difficult for computers to sort out.
â€œAutomated routines have tried to decide which of these objects are holes and which are true infrared dark clouds, but the task is often tricky and it takes a human eye to decide,â€ said Simpson.
â€œCitizen science through Zooniverse has been a real boon to research in fields ranging from astronomy to biology to history. We feel very fortunate to be able to send science work out to computer, tablet and smartphone screens and for people to collaborate with us in a quest to better understand our universe.â€