SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Astronomers are looking for thousands of volunteers to scan computerized images of a neighboring galaxy in a survey that could help explain how stars are continually being formed across the universe.
The survey is exploring the Milky Way's nearest big neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, about 2.5 million light-years away.
Anyone can participate at www.andromedaproject.org. The interactive website offers about 12,000 images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and organizers want each image to be viewed as many as 20 times.
Astronomers say it would take them too long to spotlight the star clusters on their own, and that pattern-recognition software isn't good at picking out star clusters. They're turning to Internet "crowdsourcing" to speed things up.
"We thought this would be a good opportunity to engage the public, and it's been very exciting," said Anil Seth, assistant University of Utah professor of physics and astronomy. "We've had more than 7,000 participants from around the world looking at 150,000 images already."
Participants are asked to look for star clusters, which can be dated by professionals based on the light intensity of the largest — and therefore youngest — stars inside a cluster. Experts say massive stars are like rock stars: They live fast and die young.
The online project kicked off Wednesday and will continue until summer, when a final set of Hubble photographs will bring the total number of Andromeda images to about 15,000, which will cover just a third of the spiral galaxy.
The Andromeda Project includes other scientists at the University of Washington, Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Oxford University, University of Minnesota, University of Alabama and the European Space Agency.
"You don't need to know anything about astronomy to participate, and it's actually pretty fun, like playing an online game," said Cliff Johnson, a University of Washington graduate student working on the project.