Warp Speed!

Click on image for more examples

Click on image for more examples

   The Zooniverse web site is the home for a wide ranging variety of Citizen Science projects of which the most recent for Astronomy is called Spacewarps. As a participant in the project you will be using a technique known as gravitational lensing as you help Astronomers locate possible locations where gravitational lensing is happening. Gravitational Lensing is caused by massive galaxies bending the light from objects in the background as that background object’s light passes by the massive galaxy. In effect if there is a massive galaxy more or less blocking our view of a more distant galaxy then the light from that more distant galaxy is bent, refracted, such that it is magnified.

gr   Okay – so how can light be bent? Is light affected by gravity somehow?? Yes and no, with all of the blame for this on Einstein and the Theory of General Relativity. According to that Theory the effect we feel as weight from gravity is no different than the weight effect we feel from acceleration. What we are experiencing, what we know as weight and gravitational effects, is actually the effect caused by the bending of spacetime. So rather than a galaxy’s massive gravitational attraction causing the passing light to curve its path it is the curvature or bending of spacetime that causes light to curve from its straight path as it passes by an object such as a massive galaxy.

   Training, as is the case for these projects, requires that you register or sign in if a previous participant. Once signed in there is a tutorial that will guide you through the process of using a series of images and what to look for as well as how to mark any possible gravitational lensing situations on the images. Once the brief tutorial is completed you start examining images for what looks like a gravitational lens situation. That area is marked and submitted for further analysis and possible confirmation.

Click here to go to the Spacewarps web site.

Click here to go to the main Zooninverse web site.

Click here to read an interesting press release about the Hubble Space Telescope and a “Cartoon of a Space Invader”

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Explore Planet Four

fans and blotches   Planet Four is a new Citizen Science project from the folks at Zooniverse that invites participants to help locate features on the surface of Mars. Features unlike anything we have on Earth. Participants will search through images of the southern hemisphere (South Pole region) of Mars taken by the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, looking for features described as “fans and blotches”. The plan calls for examining these features over a several year period watching for changes as seasons progress on Mars in the hopes of better understanding the Martian climate.

   Click here to go to the Citizen Science web site – Zooniverse

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Citizen Scientists

   Yesterday morning I once again took part in the annual Meet the Science Mentor event hosted by Science Pioneers on the UMKC campus. This is a gathering of scientists from many areas of expertise meeting and talking with students in grades 4 to 12 who are working on or planning a Science Fair project. Usually I ‘work’ alone but yesterday I had a partner, an Aerospace Engineering major from the University of Kansas in Lawrence KS.
   Among the discussions we had, especially for the youngest students doing Science Fair for the first time, were to suggest that they look into doing a Citizen Science project as their introduction to doing a Science Fair project. Basically a Citizen Science project is one in which the participants do something with the data from the project they are helping. For example there are projects where the participants catalog lunar craters by shape, or one in which the spectra of stars are studied. Some projects, like the SETI@Home project, install a small program on a home computer. The program works in the background as it downloads packets of data, analyzes the data, and returns its analysis all while your computer is on.

   To get involved with Citizen Projects go to the SciStarter web site. This is probably the best web site collection of the many types of Citizen Science projects out there. So get involved!

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.