Now you can write your name in stars

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Volunteers in the Galaxy Zoo project have been helping to classify galaxies seen in hundreds of thousands of telescope images as spiral or elliptical - and have, along the way, found 26 which resemble the letters of the alphabet.

Ther team's expanded the site to include more than 250,000 new images of galaxies, and found that some look rather familiar. Dr Steven Bamford of the University of Nottingham has now created a website at www.mygalaxies.co.uk to show them off.

More than 250,000 people have taken part in the Galaxy Zoo project since its launch in 2007, sorting through over a million images. But the work's by no means finished.

"We'd like to thank all those that have taken part in Galaxy Zoo in the past five years. Humans are better than computers at pattern recognition tasks like this, and we couldn't have got so far without everyone's help," says Galaxy Zoo principal investigator Dr Chris Lintott from the University of Oxford.

"Now we've got a new challenge and we'd like to encourage volunteers old and new to get involved. You don't have to be an expert – in fact we've found not being an expert tends to make you better at this task. There are too many images for us to inspect ourselves, but by asking hundreds of thousands of people to help us we can find out what's lurking in the data."

The new images on the Galaxy Zoo site come from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a ground-based telescope in New Mexico, and from large surveys with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

"The two sources of data work together perfectly: the new images from Sloan give us our most detailed view of the local universe, while the Candels survey from the Hubble telescope allows us to look deeper into the universe's past than ever before," says Kevin Schawinski from ETH Zurich.

The team are hoping that volunteers on the new site will allow data from the two telescopes to be compared, offering insights into how nearby galaxies as we see them today may have arisen from how the universe looked in the past.

But they've got another project in mind, too: after finding a 'convincing' penguin-shaped galaxy, they're hoping to start a menagerie.