Sometimes, scientists need a hand. There’s a lot of data to sift through, and now more than ever, the public can be part of that sifting. Take this fun new project: a crowdsourced hunt for star clusters in the Andromeda Galaxy.
An online program from the University of Washington, the University of Utah, and other partners lets any amateur astronomers take a look at images from the Hubble Space Telescope and search for star clusters in the galaxy. There’s a lot of those clusters–as many as 2,500 in the images–but researchers have only found about 600, even after searching for months. (One big roadblock: Pattern-recognition software tends to skip over star clusters.)
That’s where everyone else comes in. Volunteers can mark the images when they spot a cluster or galaxy in the background, and the researchers will pick up on it. There’s even a fun bit of gallows humor in it: “We’re on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy,” the opening screen says. “Help researchers understand the awesomeness of the Andromeda galaxy, because one day we’ll be in it…”