Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Andromeda Project

Thanks to the efforts of Bill Keel, I get to participate in the Andromeda Project, the latest in a series of astronomy citizen science efforts in which we-as-a-species find and classify objects on the sky.
It all started with the Galaxy ZOO project (currently in its 4th incarnation) which helped me and Bill find occulting galaxy pairs (more on that here).
This initial success hammered home for me the power of crowd source science, especially for astronomy.

And now we have

a new effort to find and size star clusters in our nearest neighbour galaxy, M31 aka Andromeda.
Thanks to the PHAT survey, there will be HST images for about 1/3 of that galaxy but to find
all the little clumps of stars, we will need a lot of eyeballs-on-data.

What can I contribute? Well back in the Pleistocene (ahem halcyon days of my PhD) I studied the number of background galaxies through foreground disks. I used that number to estimate the
dust content of the foreground spiral galaxy. But in this project. misclassification of a background object may well be the greatest contaminant to a clean cluster catalog. So the volunteers will be looking for these as well. Bill and me will be using these little galaxies to study the dust in M31.
I may have a go at using their number but the most interesting use will be to take a background galaxy (preferably an elliptical) and see if a dust structure from M31 is visible highlighted against the backdrop of the background galaxy.

During my PhD, I never thought there would be ever enough data on M31 to do any of this and then Julianne Dalcanton got the PHAT program approved. Super-excited to see several interests combine here: Hubble, citizen science, background galaxies, star clusters and dust.

So sign up! Help classify star clusters! Or keep playing Angry Birds...I know what I will do...

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