By Robert Hurt | December 7th, 2010
Astronomy has had a long tradition, almost unique among all the sciences, of real contributions coming from "amateur" researchers. It doesn't take a Ph.D. if someone has the enthusiasm, patience, and interest in pushing the frontiers of our knowledge.
Today the Milky Way Project website has gone live, giving everyone a chance to become galaxy explorers from the comfort of their own laptop. As part of the Zooniverse of "citizen science" investigations, the Milky Way Project allows you to explore the infrared Milky Way and help scientists catalog the many strange bubbles, blobs, clusters, and galaxies found out there.
Even in our digital age, computers just aren't as good as the human eye for finding subtle patterns and interesting structures that don't necessarily fit an obvious pattern. That's where the Zooniverse comes in. It's easy for anyone to create an account, read a brief tutorial, and start reviewing image after image to find things nobody has noticed before. There are over 350,000 registered citizen scientists in the Zooniverse who have already helped catalog galaxies and discover strange features on the Moon.
Now GLIMPSE and MIPSGAL survey images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have been added to the mix.
WARNING: It's totally addictive. Even having worked a whole lot with this data myself, and having helped put together the giant mural at the Adler Planetarium, I found myself utterly absorbed tracing out rings and blobs, and looking for really subtle features I've never noticed before.