Sunday, March 11, 2012

Just like the chocolate bar, the Milky Way galaxy is 'full of bubbles' -
public help Nasa pinpoint strange spheres in our galactic home


Just like the fluffy nougat in the chocolate bar, the Milky Way galaxy is full of bubbles, a new survey by 'citizen scientists' has found.
More than 35,000 astronomy fans sifted through data from the Spitzer space telescope, and found bubbles in space - blown out by young, hot stars into the gas and dust around them.
A huge team of volunteers from the general public has poured over observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope
Volunteers for the project are shown a small section of Spitzer's huge infrared Milky Way image (left), which they then scan for cosmic bubbles. Using a sophisticated drawing tool, the volunteers trace the shape and thickness of the bubbles. All the user drawings can be overlaid on top of one another to form a so-called 'heat map' (middle). Features that have been identified repeatedly by many different users jump out, revealing the overall pattern of bubbles in this part of the galaxy

Upwards of 35,000 ‘citizen scientists’ sifted through the Spitzer infrared data as part of the online Milky Way Project to find these telltale bubbles. The volunteers have turned up 10 times as many bubbles as previous surveys so far.   
‘These findings make us suspect that the Milky Way is a much more active star-forming galaxy than previously thought,’ said Eli Bressert, an astrophysics doctoral student at the European Southern Observatory, based in Germany, co-author of a paper submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 
‘The Milky Way's disk is like champagne with bubbles all over the place,’ he said.
Computer programs struggle at identifying the cosmic bubbles. But human eyes and minds do an excellent job of noticing the wispy arcs of partially broken rings and the circles-within-circles of overlapping bubbles. The Milky Way Project taps into the ‘wisdom of crowds’ by requiring that at least five users flag a potential bubble before its inclusion in the new catalog. Volunteers mark any candidate bubbles in the infrared Spitzer images with a sophisticated drawing tool before proceeding to scour another image. 

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