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Crowdsourcing is Changing the Universe
By: Victoria Hoey
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Have you ever wanted to make a huge scientific discovery without all that pesky schooling and hard work? Now you can.

Last week, Zooniverse launched its latest “Citizen Scientist” project, Disk Detective. This is just one of their many crowdsourcing programs where volunteers collaborate with professional scientists to help manually decipher data that is too nuanced for computers to accurately categorize.
 
The goal of this project is to help search for stars with hidden disks of dust around them. These disks are made of gigantic gas clouds and chunks of rock, which have been pulled into shape by the massive gravity of a star. Different types of stars will have different types of disks. This interstellar tug-of-war is the perfect place to look for new and forming planets and to give insight into how and where galaxies are created.

Disk Detective is the first NASA-led and -funded Zooniverse project. Crowdsourcing is not new to NASA, however; before the wonderful age of the Internet, volunteers would collect data on their own and mail it to research facilities, then wait for months before receiving any response. With Disk Detective, members simply log in and can instantly track how many classifications they have made and share their findings in real time, producing real publishable scientific results.[1] This login is the same for any of the Zooniverse projects. Each contribution is counted and credited and is a great place to spur Geek rivalries.
 
The way it works is that users look at a star in a flipbook of images taken with different telescopes. Each of the different telescopes has its own strengths and weakness and some have produced data from the same portion of the sky that conflicts with other findings. Users need to match up the data they see in the pictures to specific categories like “Not round in DSS2” or “Moves off the crosshairs.” Don’t worry; there are examples of each of the categories to compare the pictures to. Then users simply click the corresponding boxes and submit the findings.
 
Since the launch of the site, people have already cracked 200k classifications! And after a few minutes of flipping and clicking, you will be hooked on the hunt for new planets too. Looking for an interesting and FREE gift for someone special this Valentine's Day? You can donate some of your time on Disk Detective in their honor and both of you will be mentioned for any findings.


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About the Author
Victoria Hoey is a recent graduate with degrees in copywriting and advertising.
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