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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Euclid: Challenge the Machines

There is a new Astronomy project by Zooniverse available that anyone with an internet connection can get involved with...

Have you ever wondered what shape the Universe is? What about dark matter and dark energy? Would you like to know what they are and how they behave? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then you aren’t alone. The quest to understand these mysterious and fundamental phenomena occupies many professional astronomers and cosmologists on a daily basis.

This artist's concept shows ESA's Euclid Space Telescope, to which NASA is contributing. Image credit: ESA/C. Carreau.
This artist's concept shows ESA's Euclid Space Telescope, to which NASA is contributing. Image credit: ESA/C. Carreau.

To gather the observational data that they need in order to test our theories, scientists and engineers from around the world designed the Euclid Space Telescope. Euclid will survey a huge area of the sky in unprecedented detail, providing exquisite images of millions of galaxies spanning the history of the Universe from just 4 billion years after the Big Bang, right up until the present day. For a tiny fraction of the galaxies that Euclid will observe, the light that they emit will be distorted by a phenomenon called "gravitational lensing". Gravitational lensing happens when the light from one distant galaxy passes close to another foreground galaxy on its journey to Earth. The gravity of the foreground galaxy bends the light around it, acting like a lens and distorting the distant galaxy’s image distinctive ways. If we can find enough gravitational lenses and study their properties, we’ll be many steps closer to understanding the most fundamental constituents and properties of our Universe.

Examples of lensed galaxies, blue arcs around a central object.
Examples of lensed galaxies, blue arcs around a central object.

To learn how to do this Zooniverse needs your help! They have millions of galaxies to search for gravitational lensing signatures and it turns out that doing this automatically is really difficult. Simple computer algorithms just aren’t up to the task and modern AI techniques need gigantic sets of pre-labelled training data to be effective. On the other hand, volunteers like you only need to see a few examples to become very adept lens spotters. Euclid: Challenge the Machines is a brand new Zooniverse project that asks you to identify simulated gravitational lenses that the automated searches might miss so that we can learn how to do better. They hope that your classifications can be used to teach the machines what to look for so that they can do the really heavy lifting and find every single lens that those millions of galaxy images contain.

Get involved at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/hughdickinson/euclid-challenge-the-machines/classify

As well as the browser version of this project, this project is available to complete using the app version of Zooniverse. The app version allows you to swipe yes or swipe no for each image, speeding up classifying the galaxies (and it is more fun). The Zooniverse app is available for both Android and iOS and can be downloaded for free from the Google Play Store and the App store for Android and iOS respectively.

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