Earllier this month, astronomers at the University of Utah teamed up with Zooniverse to crowd source the exploration of the Andromeda galaxy, searching through the data to find new star clusters in our nearest neighbour.
Crowd sourcing is normally used when scientific researchers have a large amount of data to sort through but not enough time to do it. One of the limitations (even with modern technology) is that computers arent quite as good at pattern recognition as humans are – in these cases, the data is released so that the public can sort through the data instead of computers.
Astronomers at the University of Utah took this route when trying to identify star clusters in the Andromeda galaxy – the clusters themselves arent distinct enough from the rest of the galaxy for a computer to sort through it, so they set up a project at Andromeda Project for the public to help.
Users will sort through hundreds of images from the Hubble telescope of the Andromeda galaxy (also known as M31) collected as part of the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury survey. Star clusters are important to understanding the history of Andromeda, as new star formation is found within them. Andromeda is also the closest galaxy comparable with our own, so by learning about Andromeda we will also learn something about the processes involved in our own Milky Way.
You can find the Andromeda Project at http://www.andromedaproject.org or you can find other crowdsourcing Astromony projects on Zoooniverse at http://www.Zooniverse.org/projects .