The Milky Way Project: Help Scientists Uncover our Home Galaxy
Cal Poly Pomona's College of Science Leads the Milky Way Project
To most of us, our home Galaxy, the Milky Way, seems like mind-boggling, never-ending space. What does the Milky Way actually look like? How quickly is the Milky Way giving birth to new stars? In their efforts to answer these complex questions, scientists are figuring out new ways to break down the vast amounts of data they collect.
Over the last twelve years, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and WISE satellite observatory have captured sweeping new views of our Milky Way Galaxy. However, scientists need our help to make sense of this deluge of data. Cal Poly Pomona Astronomer and Milky Way Project (MWP) Lead Scientist Matthew Povich leads an international team of scientists and manages the website that gathers data for this highly successful “citizen science” project, currently funded by the National Science Foundation.
The Milky Way Project, with over 2 million classification drawings made by 20,000 citizen scientists since 2012, is relaunching the website after upgrading the classification interface. “We need an additional 2 million classifications to achieve our current science goals,” says Povich. “If every one of the 20,000 students at Cal Poly Pomona logged onto our site and made 100 classifications each, we’d be done in no time!”
“The relaunching of the Milky Way Project website will help us acquire a more robust and comprehensive catalog of stellar nurseries and massive runaway stars,” adds Cal Poly Pomona physics major Tharindu Jayasinghe, who is analyzing the citizen science data for his senior thesis. “Having everyone joining us in the hunt for amazing astrophysical data makes this project more meaningful.”
How does it work? Citizen scientists go to the website https://www.milkywayproject.org. After creating a free Zooniverse user account and following a simple set of instructions, citizen scientists will view infrared images showing different parts of our galaxy and assist professional scientists by making drawings on the images to classify interesting astrophysical phenomena, including interstellar “bubbles” and stellar-wind “bow shocks.” These classifications help discover some of the most massive stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.
WHAT IS THE ZOONIVERSE?
The Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. This research is made possible by volunteers—hundreds of thousands of people around the world who come together to assist professional researchers. Our goal is to enable research that would not be possible, or practical, otherwise. Zooniverse research results in new discoveries, datasets useful to the wider research community, and many publications.