Crowd Sourced Science: The Milky Way Project

Eagle Nebula Credit: JPL

Eagle Nebula
Credit: JPL

NASA / JPL recently released Clouds, a new on-line “game”  which is a part of the Milky Way Project ,  a science initiative which seeks to refine some of the vast quantity of observations made by the Spitzer Space telescope and ESA’s Hershel Space Observatory.  One of the common emerging themes in space science is that the capacity to gather data is sometimes significantly greater than the ability it analyze it. The Clouds project takes advantage of the fact that the human eye has evolved the ability to instantly recognize certain patterns,  presumably an evolutionary trait geared to  buy precious extra seconds to escape faster, stronger predators, or as happens more often today, to “freeze” behavior when the eye / brain connection detects an image in the yard which shouts ‘snake!” As often as not, it is that piece of garden hose you ran over with the lawn mower last year.

As it turns out, that same ability to quickly detect patterns can also be of help to scientists trying to understand how stars are formed, by characterising images of dust patterns in our own Milky Way galaxy  gathered by Spitzer and Herschel into either clouds, ‘holes” or in-between. The specific goal is to develop a catalogue of Infrared Dark Clouds (IRDC’s) which are believed to act as stellar nurseries for a massive young stars. The anticiapted net result t of public participation is hoped to be a rapid transition through the data, and a refined list of specific areas for further study, as well as the always enticing possibility of a new discovery along the way.  It’s also probably a nice transition from non stop gaming during the holiday breaks.

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