Citizen Scientists are Just as Good at Hunting Black Holes and Galaxies as Professional Astronomers

First Posted: Sep 08, 2015 10:00 AM EDT

It turns out that volunteers may be good as professionals when it comes to hunting down black holes. Scientists have found that volunteers are just as good at finding jets shooting from massive black holes and matching them to their host galaxies, which could be huge when it comes to crowd sourcing.

Scientists working on citizen science project, Radio Galaxy Zoo, have developed an online tutorial to teach volunteers how to spot black holes and other objects that emit large amounts of energy through radio waves.

Through the project, volunteers are given telescope images taken in both the radio and infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum and are asked to compare the pictures and match the "radio source" to the galaxy it lives in. The results reveal that, in fact, the volunteers are just as good as professionals.

"With this early study we've comfortably shown that anyone, once we've trained them through our tutorial, are as good as our expert panel," said Julie Banfield, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The volunteers have already 'eyeballed' more than 1.2 million radio images from the Very Large Array in New Mexico and CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array, and infrared images from NASA's Spitzer and WISE Space Telescopes."

In just one year, the citizen scientists managed to match 60,000 radio sources to their host galaxy-a feat that would have taken a single astronomer working 40 hours a week about 50 years in order to complete.

The new results show that in the case of identifying objects in space, crowd sourcing may be key. This allows scientists to comb through large amounts of data, using the help of volunteers in order to learn more about the objects in our universe.

The findings are published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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