EDIT: Thanks for all the questions everyone, this is awesome! Unfortunately we will have to stop answering in real-time at 5pm GMT (12pm EST) as we may or may not be going to the pub. We will try and get to all remaining questions at a later time, so please keep asking us anything you want!

We are the people behind https://www.zooniverse.org. We’re responsible for bringing real science research to the fingertips of anyone and everyone on all the internets via Galaxy Zoo, Planet Hunters, Seafloor Explorer and many, many more citizen science projects. For proof it’s us, check out this tweet or this picture.

We will begin answering questions just after 2pm GMT (9am EST)

Answering your questions today are:

  • Chris Lintott (@chrislintott) - Founder of the Zooniverse and well known (in the UK, maybe) as co-host of the BBC’s long-running astronomy programme ‘The Sky at Night’

  • Rob Simpson (@orbitingfrog) - Communications director for the Zooniverse, science lead for the Milky Way Project, and minor Twitter celebrity

  • Grant Miller (@mrniaboc) - Community coordinator and social media manager for the Zooniverse. No-one really knows what he's actually useful for

  • Brooke Simmons (@vrooje) - Galaxy Zoo researcher

  • Jim O'Donnell (@pekingspring) - Developer for history-based Zooniverse projects

  • Karen Masters (@KarenLMasters) - Galaxy Zoo researcher

  • Tom Melvin - Galaxy Zoo PhD student

  • Becky Smethurst (@becky1505) - Galaxy Zoo PhD student

We're all really excited (and a little bit nervous)!

Comments: 455 • Responses: 133  • Date: 

Kiriyama-BR203 karma

Is your name inspired by the first series of The Mighty Boosh?

the_zooniverse130 karma

Unfortunately not. It was a case convergent design. In fact, to his eternal shame, Chris has never seen an episode! He's never been to the crunch. [Grant]

xraindrop48 karma

That site is a great example of using game design elements in a non-game context! That's just awesome!

My question: what's the biggest discovery so far?

the_zooniverse65 karma

We're pretty proud of the planets that we've discovered through Planet Hunters - we just announced the first discovery of a transiting seven planet system - and of them Planet Hunters 1b is probably the most exciting. It's the first (and so far only) planet known in a four-star system; two pairs of stars orbiting each other, with a planet orbiting one of the pairs. Astronomers on such a planet are likely to be confused. (Actually, they'll be upset by the lack of a solid surface but they'll be confused as they sink to their inevitable doom) [Chris]

the_zooniverse44 karma

Of course there's also the discovery of "Hanny's Voorwerp" - a one in a million galaxy found in the first set of Galaxy Zoo images. It's exciting as it reveals we have caught a supermassive black hole just after its stopped gobbling up material in the centre of its galaxy. It was first noticed by a Dutch school teacher called Hanny, and has been looked at by the Hubble Space Telescope. [Karen]

the_zooniverse28 karma

I like the discovery from our most recent project Plankton Portal that shows the first known case of a type of jellyfish (liriope) eating an arrow-worm [Grant] http://daily.zooniverse.org/2013/10/19/plankton-portal-update/

the_zooniverse27 karma

I'm partial to the Green Peas -- a class of compact galaxies that are so busy forming so many stars that they turn bright green due to intense emission by oxygen atoms at one particular wavelength. They seem to be similar to what we think happened in galaxies in the very early universe, and they were discovered by citizen scientists.

That being said, I think the biggest discovery so far is Hanny's Voorwerp -- it's the discovery that launched all our other discoveries. [Brooke]

the_zooniverse16 karma

I always liked the fact that Solar Stormwatch discovered something about the distribution of dust grains in the inner Solar System: http://mnras.oxfordjournals.org/content/420/2/1355.full [Jim]

Phyginge33 karma

Nicey nicey zoo zoo for him and her and me and you..... NICEY NICEY ZOO ZOO FOR HIM AND HER AND ME AND YOU!

the_zooniverse14 karma

awesome [Grant]

CoffeeJedi8 karma

Came in looking for this reference.
And hopefully these guys all dress like this: http://i.imgur.com/LxDJS93.jpg

the_zooniverse9 karma

Today at Zooniverse HQ is all about the USS Sulaco: http://imgur.com/gDCLTCP [Jim]

aseriousamaquestion25 karma

Would you rather discover a one galaxy-sized planet, or one hundred planet-sized galaxies?

the_zooniverse24 karma

Either would get us a Nobel prize - so very happy with both. In which case I'll go for a hundred planet-sized galaxies since we're going to have to split the price between 900,000 volunteers :) [Rob]

the_zooniverse24 karma

Well planets are more interesting than galaxies, so... :P [Grant]

the_zooniverse23 karma

Now now let's keep it friendly. Each (normal) galaxy has billions of planets in it however, so.... ;P [Karen]

kingzombymandias17 karma

Is knowledge truly power? If so, are y'all the masters of the zooniverse?

the_zooniverse23 karma

Well I'm the "Masters" of the Zooniverse, and I once introduced Chris as the PI of the Universe.... (oops). [Karen].

kingzombymandias7 karma

That job sounds rather demanding.

the_zooniverse17 karma

Yeah, sorry for all the empty space. And dark matter. And dark energy. [Chris]

the_zooniverse14 karma

So it's your fault?! Bloody empty universe... [Rob]

Siiw17 karma

Has any new species been found through any of your nature projects? That is my biggest dream with every picture I go through.

the_zooniverse25 karma

We think that would be cool, but it's perhaps a long shot. The Seafloor Explorer crew found a stripy worm that they called the 'convict worm' because of its black and white stripes, but we're not sure yet whether it's truly new or not. [Chris]

TittyBoobowitz15 karma

Which of your many projects would you recommend for the laziest citizen scientists out there?

the_zooniverse19 karma

The quickest classifications of images can be done in: Galaxy Zoo, Space Warps, PLanet Hunters and Worm Watch Lab. WWL particularly can be done just with a single keyboard click! [Becky]

Zooniverse13 karma

Two questions:

What are your favourite animals?


Have you ever drank baileys from a shoe?

the_zooniverse20 karma

My favourite animal is the grey leg-faced man. [Grant}

the_zooniverse14 karma

My personal favourite animal is a penguin - specifically a yellow eye penguin like this galaxy: (http://galaxyzooblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/cover-oct-pj.jpg) [Karen]

aluminum_falcon11 karma

My favorite Zooniverse project is Snapshot Serengeti--when I was a kid, my family lived in the Serengeti for a couple of years because my dad was a wildlife biologist, and not only do the photographs let me relive my childhood, but one of the site mods was our neighbor at the time, so we got to reconnect after almost 40 years!

I have no questions, just wanted to say: good job!

the_zooniverse5 karma

Wow! Thanks, and thanks for sharing too. :) [Brooke]

the_zooniverse3 karma

That's amazing! Awesome [Rob]

the_zooniverse3 karma

Thanks! That's a lovely story, and it made all of us smile! [Grant]

btcprox11 karma

What collaborations would you like to see that you haven't done yet?

And are there any expansion plans that would take Zooniverse to the next level?

the_zooniverse16 karma

Well, we're hiring (http://blog.zooniverse.org/2013/11/04/want-to-work-with-the-zooniverse/)! More seriously, we have big plans. We've been expanding rapidly and would like to get to the point where we're not the limit on how many scientifically useful projects get built; that requires quite a lot of work from where we are now. We're also doing quite a lot of work to try and combine human and machine classifications, so that machines can take care of the parts that they're good at and reduce the workload on the rest of us. [Chris]

the_zooniverse13 karma

We can't say too much yet, however upcoming projects will involve feathered creatures, historical records and the top of the earth's atmosphere. You should totally sign up for the Zooniverse here https://www.zooniverse.org/ and keep an eye out for newsletters calling for beta testers! [Grant]

the_zooniverse11 karma

Just to let everyone know that Becky and Tom (the Galaxy Zoo PhD students) have just joined us. Do you have any questions for them?

zandperl9 karma

What are you actually studying as Galaxy Zoo PhD students?

the_zooniverse12 karma

I am currently using classifications from the Galaxy Zoo: Hubble project to explore how stellar bars and disc galaxies have evolved over the last eight billion years. [Tom]

DoneStupid5 karma

So to do that, are you looking further out in to space? Objects the size of a galaxy must barely change at all in our lifetimes but comparing galaxies of 65 and 66 million lightyears away is a million years of evolution?

the_zooniverse8 karma

So to do that we are looking deeper, which is looking further out in to space. It is true that galaxies evolve very slowly on our everyday time scales, so we piece together the evolution with a mix of images at different time periods - like I do with my work. We combine these observations with computational simulations (which I unfortunately know very little about) that can trace a galaxy's evolution over millions of years. With this, we are able to piece together the life and evolution of galaxies - but there is still plenty to be done!!! [Tom]

the_zooniverse8 karma

I'm using the data from the Galaxy Zoo 2 classifications to look at the properties of intermediate galaxies which don't belong with either of the two types of galaxies we know well; 'red' round elliptical galaxies or 'blue' disc galaxies. I'll be trying to fit this data with our current models of galaxies to see if the two match. I only just started working with the Zooniverse team but I already love it! [Becky]

Universu11 karma

Do you have a project about asteroids?

the_zooniverse12 karma

We are about to have an asteroid project. In the meantime you can search for asteroids in the Galaxy Zoo images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey - they look like blue, green, red blobs as the asteroid moves through the images. Take a look at some examples on our Galaxy Zoo: Talk pages (http://talk.galaxyzoo.org/#/search?tags[asteroid]=true) [Karen]

KRoNlC9 karma

Hello, I am a senior majoring in Astronomy at a large public University in the Washington DC area. With extremely reduced government funding, as well as the rapid increase in citizen science, I have become somewhat fearful of my prospective job opportunities after graduating (I do also plan on applying to graduate school, PhD candidate for astrophysics/planetary science). My question is, is there anything optimistic or promising that you could say to someone in my case. Someone taking the long, difficult route towards gaining a successful career in astronomy. Someone who has also acquired a heap of student loan debt during his college career, only to see citizen science projects skyrocket, and conventional private sector, government funded departments lose funding and employees. Also, I'm interested to see if there would be any employment positions that would accommodate someone with my skill set. With that being said, is there an email address I could send my resume to?

Yours, Worried Undergrad

the_zooniverse8 karma

I can't exactly say I remember the feeling of career uncertainty... because I'm many years beyond my undergrad stage and I'm still feeling it. I do have student loan debt too, and for a while I seriously considered leaving astronomy and applied to other jobs.

First: astrophysics is actually great preparation for a lot of industry jobs. And those jobs can be great for some people: I think it's a shame that so many senior professors (consciously or unconsciously) promote the idea that any career path that doesn't end in a professorship is a failure. That's complete BS, in my opinion. I'm working in astronomy research because I want to, but if I wasn't happy in my job I would have other options to turn to.

By the time you finish your degree you will probably have experience with programming, analyzing large datasets, applying statistical analysis, working in teams, and creating and executing self-directed projects. Plus, you are probably much better at math than most people applying for jobs in, say, consulting. The biggest obstacle you will have is that you may not realize all the ways in which you're qualified, and it takes some flexibility to learn to talk about the things you know in ways that industry can easily digest.

Second: I have no illusions about how difficult it will be to find a faculty job somewhere even if everything goes right. There are more qualified postdocs than there are permanent jobs -- by a lot, and that's just the way it is. But there are lots of jobs outside academia, and some of them are actually pretty awesome. I recommend making your choice based on what you love doing, and trying to accumulate lots of useful skills, and then just seeing how it goes.

Sorry this is so long; happy to answer further questions about this via e-mail if you like: (myfirstname) at zooniverse.com. [Brooke]

the_zooniverse2 karma

I was in the same position as yourself about a year and a half ago and actually went to work in the aeronautics industry for a year just to try out something new. As you can tell, I came back to astrophysics anyway because I just didn't have the same joy working in that field as I do with astronomy. If you love what you do, it's worth seeing it through even if it might seem difficult right now; you never know where it may lead you. [Becky]

fre0n8 karma


the_zooniverse8 karma

Yes we have a new mobile app in the works [Rob]

chocolate_dreamer8 karma

Are there any projects you've considered and/or tried that just won't work for citizen science?

the_zooniverse10 karma

There's two big things that could break a project in this regard: if the science cannot be done by crowdsourcing or if people will not do it for some other (more human) reason.

I used to joke that we'd never be able to do a 'Roadkill Zoo' but I'm beginning to think I was wrong since we launched a project about gross little nematode worms that helps cancer research (http://www.wormwatchlab.org). So long as we can explain the science behind each site - I think they stand a chance of working in that regard. The motivation seems to be that people want to help science.

As for tasks that cannot be done by citizen science: sure there are definitely some. Mainly if we've turned projects down it's because we think that they don't need citizen science to work. It might be that they can be done by computers, for example. Or if there is not enough data such that the project would only last a few hours once we released the community on it. We insist on only building projects that intend to publish scientific research using the results of the website. https://www.zooniverse.org/publications


Kolbylyn2 karma

With respect to a project's timeframe, is there a minimum number of man-hours/time needed to complete science goals before investing in a new project? I can't imagine there's a concrete minimum, but given the development it takes just to frame those (impressive!) sites, there must be a steep barrier to entry!

Are there any proposals in particular you wished you could have accepted, but ultimately weren't suited for Zooniverse?

the_zooniverse5 karma

It varies a great deal between projects. We recently posted about the total manpower going in and out of the Zooniverse (http://blog.zooniverse.org/2013/06/27/52-years-of-human-effort/) and it is interesting to think of our projects in these terms.

As for projects I wish we had taken on but didn't - I don't have any personal regrets. It's never good to say something isn't doable, but sometimes thats the way it works out.


Isupportanonymous7 karma

(If you don't mind), what is family life like? Does your job effect your relationships with anybody in anyway?

the_zooniverse10 karma

For context, we're all mostly researchers or web developers. I (Rob) am a bit of both. I have two kids and find that working at a University is very flexible for families on the whole: the hours are flexible and plenty of people here have family commitments. However there's a lot of travel involved in our work so sometimes it gets really tricky to balance things.

One thing that is definitely true about me - and many of us - is that I love my job. When you love your job it can be hard to put it down at the end of the day - combined with working with people in all sorts of timezones it can be a bit demanding at times. Mostly though: I love it.


the_zooniverse10 karma

I've just moved to Oxford, away from all family and friends up in Scotland, but the people that I work with here have taken me in like a whole new family. It's a great team to work for! [Grant]

the_zooniverse2 karma

Like Rob I do have children. My kids are six and three. It can be challenging balancing a full time and demanding career as a scientist with having young children, but I have a wonderful husband to share the load with, and I love my job so it's totally worth it. [Karen]

the_zooniverse2 karma

Being a scientist can be very demanding on my time, but then again the schedule can also be very flexible, so there are tradeoffs. I do get to talk to the public about black holes and galaxies and extrasolar planets, which means I meet awesome people all the time. I also travel a lot (and astronomers get to go to cool places... for science!), which is pretty awesome.

Honestly, though, it's probably easier for me because I don't have kids and I'm not married (anymore. That's a coincidence. Really). [Brooke]

dhorrible6 karma

What, in your opinion, are 1 or 2 crowd sourced science projects that currently have low participation but the greatest possible outcomes?

the_zooniverse9 karma

If you're talking about Zooniverse projects, Cell Slider is helping in the fight against Cancer. As for non-Zooniverse projects check out EyeWire: http://eyewire.org. "A Game to Map the Brain" - it's a game which gets you to map the nerves of the retina. But of course, ALL the citizen science projects can always do with more help/classifications and have useful outcomes. [Becky]

the_zooniverse6 karma

I think Old Weather could use some more help - it's an amazing project to release centuries old weather measurements and allow them to be included in computer models of climate change. [Karen]

bffoundmyaccount6 karma

Hi Zooniverse team! As a high school student, I think your website is great, and it has really gotten me into astrophysics. Do you do any projects involving teenagers? I'd love to somehow be a part of and contribute to your astronomy and biology public research programmes.

the_zooniverse11 karma

All of our projects are accessible to any age group - they don't require any specialist knowledge at all. Personally I signed up when I was 19 and got involved very quickly. As for opportunities to work at Zooniverse as a a young person, we've taken people through work experience in the UK and through the Nuffield scheme. If you're in the US you would need to contact us at the Adler Planetarium! [Becky]

bffoundmyaccount3 karma

Sounds great! I don't have any work experience, but have taken an intensive course in astrophysics at the Center for Talented youth. Are there any internship opportunities for high schoolers as well?

the_zooniverse5 karma

What's your favorite Zooniverse project? If there's something you're really interested in you could contact the science team and ask them directly. In Galaxy Zoo we've had high school students do projects with us, either directly or through a teacher via a school project. We had a high school student last year who discovered new galaxies within the Milky Way Project and we're writing a paper about it. Real discovery is possible within all our projects by people at all levels.

Go CTY! [Brooke]

the_zooniverse3 karma

There are in the UK (contact the University of Oxford), but if you're in the US then again you'll want to contact the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Good luck! [Becky]

Kineticillation6 karma

I just wanted to say that in college, after a really rough day, I used to just sit down and classify dozens of galaxies. It was really soothing, especially because I used to beat myself up constantly for not being good enough at math to easily 'get' physics. I thought I'd failed as a space exploration scientist. So first, thank you for that. Your site was pretty fun!

It also got me thinking about astronomy, and how when I was a kid that's what I originally wanted. I'm good at it, too. I would do anything to help with the program, with Mars, with new propulsion tech or ships, but I don't know what I can do.

So onto the question: What do you guys think an astronomer can do to further the space exploration program?

the_zooniverse7 karma

Also, I think a lot of what astronomers do to benefit the space program involves talking to other people who know less of the science behind it. So if you do launch something into space, or are planning to -- tell other people about it! Describe why & what you love about space. Answer questions. Point them to Zooniverse! If the public sees the value of space exploration then it's more likely to continue. [Brooke]

the_zooniverse4 karma

I'm glad it helped you at college but don't beat yourself up about not 'getting' physics - you just said you're good at astronomy so you must get it :)

As for the research side of furthering the space exploration program, people do alot of work in Solar System astrophysics looking at the formation of planets, moons and their atmospheres. There's alot of probes that get sent out to Solar System e.g. JUICE which is going to study the moons of Jupiter. So if you work in that field and discover something that might be interesting there's a good chance you'd drive forward the space exploration program because you'd have to commission a satellite that could go investigate! [Becky]

the_zooniverse3 karma

Glad that Galaxy Zoo helped you - remember that in doing the site you helped us too :)

As for space exploration, there is a growing movement toward DIY/hacker space stuff these days. Ever thought about building something yourself to launch into space - on a balloon or something. It's getting easier, and cheaper, to do it. [Rob]

Ecthelion_of_Gondor5 karma

I am a student from the US working on a citizen science based research project with a professor of mine. Almost 90% of my time is spent on classifying images which didnt reach the agreement threshold set by the experiment. How do you guys possibly work through that many images that arent agreed upon by all the citizen scientists that participate? Or do you have another way of settling disputed images?

the_zooniverse4 karma

Obviously I don't know the details of your project but why not just leave those images in the system for longer for further classification by volunteers? We do a great deal of user-weighting to determine who is good at certain tasks and this helps a lot with resolving these sorts of edge-cases. [Rob]

the_zooniverse3 karma

That depends on the project -- it's easier to resolve this in some cases than others. Sometimes an image (or audio clip or video, etc.) not reaching the classification threshold means you should ask for more classifications; sometimes it reveals unexpected information about the sample; other times it means that it's just very hard to tell what the right answer is. The Snapshot Serengeti blog has some really great information on what to do when the image is unclassifiable, and how they deal with those cases.

Good luck on your research project! [Brooke]

alekkk5 karma

Is there anyway amateurs can help out over the internet?

the_zooniverse7 karma

http://zooniverse.org ; if you're a dedicated amateur on a particular topic you can pick a project and jump right in to classification and discussion. If you're just interested in anything, try out the projects and see which ones you like best! [Brooke]

MarieGo5 karma

What subject would you really like to have a project about?

the_zooniverse10 karma

I'd like to have a project that surveys coral reefs. Current surveys are done by starting at a fixed point and recording the nature of the coral every 0.5m (for 25m) in each N, S, W and E direction. So the data we have is limited. If we could get some images of the reef and get you guys to help classify then we'd have a much better chance of figuring out what is causing coral reefs to die and help to conserve them! [Becky]

the_zooniverse6 karma

I really need help with classifications of cheese. ;) [Brooke]

the_zooniverse3 karma

I'd love to see a project that interface with Flickr to classify the world's photos. [Rob]

jeffholes5 karma

Do you currently, have you ever or do you plan to put on museum exhibits?

the_zooniverse13 karma

Most of the Zooniverse developers are at Adler Planetarium in Chicago, where they are an exhibit - you can go and stare through the glass at them. Visitors are also likely to encounter people looking for user testing, or hear about us in a planetarium show. We've also had kiosks in various places for people to work on Galaxy Zoo, Moon Zoo and Solar Stormwatch. It's definitely something we'd like to do more of. [Chris]

the_zooniverse4 karma

There also used to be a Solarstorm Watch exhibit at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. [Karen]

pyanes934 karma

what is zooniverse?

the_zooniverse4 karma

Zooniverse is an organisation that runs citizen science projects. You can check out the current projects here https://www.zooniverse.org/

WhiskeyAlphaNovGolf4 karma

Hi, I'm a PhD student working with MergerZoo data to create a supervised machine learning classification using the Citizen Science classifications! I've had some great results and my question is, is there efforts being made towards using these techniques on other Zoo projects and which ones?

the_zooniverse4 karma

Yes, we're using various machine-learning methods across several projects now. On the Milky Way Project we're training code to find bubbles, for example. We're also listening to Whale calls with computers too. In these and other cases, we're using the project results as training data. In the Whale Project we're directly comparing unsupervised code to the citizen scientists results too. [Rob]

BluesF4 karma

Do you have any intention to expand your projects into other fields? I personally would love to see some chemistry!

the_zooniverse6 karma

The Zooniverse is ever-expanding and we are always working on new projects. We have plenty in the pipeline at the moment. Unfortunately I can't give you the details of them yet, but are moving into new fields. Stay tuned!

the_zooniverse5 karma

I'd love a chemistry project. Ideas welcome. [Chris]

GraemeTaylor4 karma

For my high school astronomy class (12th grade) we have to classify 1,000 objects each using your program. If I mess up, is it hurting your data?

the_zooniverse7 karma

1000 objects each?! You guys are amazing! [Becky]

the_zooniverse6 karma

Don't worry, we ask multiple people to look at each image. A lot of times there's no actual wrong answer to a classification, because some galaxies are just really hard to classify. If you just give each answer your best guess, we'll combine that with the classifications of others, and how well everyone agrees tells us not just whether there is a right answer, but also how sure we can be about it.

One "mistake" isn't going to hurt anything -- and thank you for your classifications! [Brooke]

forgotpwdagain93 karma

Do you have an algorithm in place to evaluate "controversial" classifications? e.g. flag this image if the spread of user-submitted results is broader than two standard deviations (or whatever would be the appropriate measure in any given project)

Are conflicts then resolved manually (by you guys) or allowed to gather more user-submitted results or (some third option I haven't thought of)?

Is there a set number of times a given image is presented to users for evaluation, or do you just let them all run, so to speak, for as long as you can, before it's time to gather up and analyze results?

Thanks in advance!

the_zooniverse4 karma

The number of classifications it takes to retire an image depends on the project, and it sometimes depends on the object (for example, Snapshot Serengeti retires an image early if it's clear there's an early consensus and delays retirement by a bit if it's clear there's not).

Sometimes an uncertain classification can be resolved (e.g., that is a giraffe in an image, or it is not) -- but other times it can't (e.g., it's just too dark to see). We find that the spread of results is itself information, and by asking multiple classifiers to help us we access that additional level of understanding in a way that many other projects don't. Our volunteers are awesome. [Brooke]

the_zooniverse5 karma

No, you're safe because your answers are always compared to those of others. We use statistics to ensure the consistency of people's answers. In this way it seas to remove or ignore any malicious users.

Also remember though that getting it 'wrong' is relative. Sometimes there just isn't a perfectly strait forward answer and the range of different responses is valuable information.


DrMantisofPhilly3 karma

I had to research solar flares for one of my Astronomy classes at my community college, it was fun using your site to see actual data that is collected by actual satellites to help track solar flares! MY question is, is that info that visitors submit about images that need to be analyzed, is that actually being used and recorded somewhere? if so, that is AWESOME! talk about a great way to get more people interested in the subjects of astronomy while letting them get their hands on some of the actual data they would be seeing, while getting that data analyzed!

the_zooniverse3 karma

YES! All visitor's classifications are recorded and used to produce the science that comes out of each project. Some citizens are even mentioned by name in our scientific papers! Check out our list of publications here https://www.zooniverse.org/publications [Grant]

the_zooniverse3 karma

So as 5pm approaches: which pub are we going to? [Rob]

fernly3 karma

I spent many hours clicking away in galaxy zoo, less in recent years. I must say I miss the rich, multi-topic BBS style forum of the old galaxy zoo. The newer projects have "discuss this image" buttons but they don't encourage browsing or interaction or sharing with other users because they only lead to "this image" discussion. Any chance of something like the old forums returning?

the_zooniverse4 karma

The new 'Talk' system does include the old-style forum threads too e.g. http://talk.galaxyzoo.org/#/boards/BGZ0000002 [Rob]

the_zooniverse3 karma

Both the forum and our Talk discussion forum have their advantages and drawbacks. The forum is a great community, but the threads that go for 2,000 pages are pretty intimidating for new users. Talk lets people jump right in and ask questions, and you can amass and access collections and use tags more easily, but it does take an extra click or two to get to the broader discussions. We're still working on it but in the meantime the GZ forum is still going strong too! [Brooke]

Penismassage3 karma

What's the coolest project you've worked on?

the_zooniverse4 karma

The Andromeda Project that ended last week was really cool. It only took 8 days for a few thousand users to make almost one million classifications! They were mapping our closest major galaxy M31 (Andromeda) [Grant]

the_zooniverse3 karma

Learning about fundamental physics from images of galaxies billions of light years away: very cool

Discovering warps in space around massive galaxies and clusters, as predicted by Einstein: wicked cool

Watching the wildebeest roam the waving grasses of the Serengeti while helping scientists understand animal behavior: unbelievably cool

Helping explore whether whales have dialects, and training the computers to learn to do this better too: effing cool

(I'm a scientist on Galaxy Zoo, but I classify on all of the projects!) [Brooke]

remoo93 karma

You guys do an amazing work. I know the site for several years.

In order to reach the gamer's would you guys consider putting some sort of "Zooniverse game/application" on STEAM. I'm sure that the concept of gaming for the betterment of the human kind will have a grip in the young minds. In the end if the option, of choosing between a normal game and a game that will do good in the world and advance the science, will exist and be easily available, I'm sure that more people will chose to act and help :)

the_zooniverse4 karma

As a group we are apprehensive about gamifying our projects, as we are worried that people might give up on the quality of their classifications in favour of quantity, and that would harm the science. We are looking into it at the moment though as there are cases of other organisations doing it right, such as EyeWire https://eyewire.org/signup

dadoi3 karma

If I submit anything does it get double checked with the result of somebody else or am I gonna ruin science for everybody by tagging something horribly wrong? Because I would like to help but I'm scared to mess up...

the_zooniverse4 karma

Don't worry - we have lots of people look at each image, and we know that collectively people are good at this stuff. Just go with your best guess and science will be fine. [Chris]

PapasMoustache3 karma

I did hundreds and hundreds of pages of Andromeda project. It became somewhat of an obsession after a while. I just want to say thank you for letting me be part of something so amazing huge in scale.

the_zooniverse5 karma

You = awesome, my friend. [Brooke]

the_zooniverse4 karma

That's just great! Thanks for sharing :) [Rob]

the_zooniverse4 karma

Thank you! Seriously, we'd love to understand why the Andromeda Project was quite so interesting to people, so any thoughts would be very welcome. [Chris]

PapasMoustache3 karma

I always read new studies and finding about space and look up to the scientists that spent their whole life getting to a place that people trusted them to do a good job and give accurate information. As an "arm chair" scientist I never get to help, I just sit back an soak up other peoples new knowledge and information. It was just such a thrill knowing that in the future when I'm reading about andromeda and what we as humans know about it, I'll be able to know that I was a part of that collective knowledge and not just someone on the sidelines.

Edit: thank you so much for your responses! I feel more connected to the project than ever.

the_zooniverse3 karma

I'm so happy to hear that! That's exactly what I hope we can inspire in our volunteers :)


entrynotallowed3 karma

Hello there! Two questions:

What made you want to create the Zooniverse and its associated projects? Was there an initial idea which it came from?

And could you give any hints to any future projects?

Keep up the great work :)

the_zooniverse3 karma

It started with a PhD student called Kevin who was tasked with classifying ONE MILLION PICTURES of galaxies. He managed to do 50,000 of them in one (very long) week. He and Chris realised that this was not the best way forward. They realised that anyone could be quickly trained to classify galaxies. They built Galaxy Zoo (the first Zooniverse website) and it took off. Two days after launch the citizens were producing 50,000 classifications per hour!

Some of our future projects involve feathered creatures, historical documents and the Earth's upper atmosphere.

buysgirlscoutcookies3 karma

If you had to choose one area to focus on, what would it be, or do you think you could even do so?

the_zooniverse3 karma

We want to help get science done. All science! All of our projects focus on that goal. We try to promise that all the time you spend on the project will contribute to some useful research somewhere. So can I answer that we want to focus on science and to do so we're tackling one question at a time. [Rob]

the_zooniverse3 karma

The funny thing is that we try to focus on science but we end up doing awesome non-science things too. Ancient Lives is studying the lives of ancient Greeks, and even though Old Weather is a project to study climate change, the transcriptions also let each ship's journey unfold as an amazing narrative about what life was like on these ships in the old days. There are plenty of things to be learned from non-science crowdsourcing too -- long may it continue (not that that's a hint or anything...)! [Brooke]

ErrorlessQuaak3 karma

Hi, i am an avid Planet Hunter and I'm planning to major in astrophysics next year and this would be my dream job. How could I become more involved in the project?

the_zooniverse5 karma

Hi, I was also an avid Galaxy Zoo user during my undergraduate degree before I applied to do my PhD here with the Zooniverse team. There's various different levels of involvement, first there's the science forum on the Zooniverse which is a great platform for discussion. If you want to get involved at a higher level then look for university Astrophysics departments which collaborate with the Zooniverse and apply for either further study or to work with them; we're mainly based in the US and UK, but we do have some other more global Science teams. Good luck! [Becky]

ponscremator3 karma

How many people work in the organization? Are you looking for people to help/volunteer?

Do you receive any revenue from your work or have corporate it private sponsorship? Is what you offer sustainable being free ?

the_zooniverse3 karma

There are 15 full time people currently, almost all of whom are funded on grants that we've got from all sorts of places. That doesn't include the scientists who work with Zooniverse data. As a academic project we don't have revenue as such, although we have had some generous sponsors.

I think for the long term we'd like to get the platform to the point where it's being used by many research groups and so doesn't cost too much for each user to sustain it. I think that's doable from where we are now. Ultimately if the scientific community find citizen science a useful way of producing research then they will find a way to keep us going. [Chris]

sela_yar3 karma

I just had a look at your website and it's interesting stuff. I'm a science teacher (ages 11 - 18) and this year I've been making a real effort to include gaming and alternative IT work in my lessons. Are any of these projects particularly suitable for kids do you think?

the_zooniverse5 karma

We have the beginnings of a comprehensive set of resources for teachers at Zoo Teach and in Galaxy Zoo you can classify as a class and inspect each other's results. From experience, though, Snapshot Serengeti seems to go down well with kids of all ages. (Seriously, we lost half the Galaxy Zoo team to it for weeks when it started) [Chris]

the_zooniverse2 karma

My kids particularly love Snapshot Serengheti (shhh don't tell the Galaxy Zoo team I said that). [Karen]

RMackay883 karma

Has there been any publications on the Galaxy Zoo 2 data on the "number of spiral arms"?

I ask because me Physics with Theoretical Physics Masters project "The Connections of Spiral Arm Multiplicity with Late-Type Galaxy Colour and Environment." (2011) was on this data set (Supervisor: Steve Bamford) and I was wondering if anything ever came about from it, I am aware that theBamf has been busy with his family.

the_zooniverse2 karma

I think the paper has been about 90% done for a while now. The double-edged sword of citizen science is that it's so diverse that there are often too many projects and too little time! We were just chatting recently about finishing and submitting that paper, though. [Brooke]

Serenephoenix3 karma

I think that your Notes from Nature project is brilliant. We have spent thousands getting people to digitize our natural science collections. Never thought that a citizen science approach would actually be feasible. Are there restrictions to which collections can be added to the project?

the_zooniverse4 karma

Some, but it depends on the specifics -- feel free to contact us (team at zooniverse dot org) to chat further about it. [Brooke]

Divide_Impera3 karma

What impact have your projects had on the different fields of science? E.g. accelerated research projects, big discoveries, ...

Thank you for your awesome work!

the_zooniverse3 karma

We have a handy publications page showing the papers that have directly resulted from the Zooniverse sites: https://www.zooniverse.org/publications

It's funny that each area we move into shows up different cultural norms within different fields. We work with specific research groups and sometimes its hard for them to gain acceptance with the wider community until results are published and shown to be high quality.

There's sometimes a little scepticism about citizen science - luckily I think that is breaking down bit now as the idea is becoming more mainstream :)


frank_the_cat3 karma

You seem to do a whole lot of stuff with space, but I'm a biologist! I work with cells! How could this be applied to protein folding or drug development or evolution of individual cells into cancer? Maybe analyzing genes and looking for correlations between metastasis and "just" tumors? Any resources/information/ideas about applications there? OR Do you need a scientist to head that up ;)

Better question: How could this sort of computing be applied to something I'm interested in!

the_zooniverse3 karma

We do have some biology and medical projects:

Cell Slider: http://www.cellslider.net Worm Watch Lab: http://www.wormwatchlab.org Plankton Portal: http://www.planktonportal.org

There are more on the way :)


playblu3 karma

So, if I understand correctly, the Kepler satellite had 4 wheels with which to change its orientation and point at all the various stars it was observing, one at a time. Then one wheel failed, but it could still do its work.

Then another wheel failed, and it basically became useless for pointing exactly at particular stars on request.

So, if it only has 2 functioning wheels, doesn't that mean that instead of a 2-dimensional space that it can observe, it has a one-dimensional field of view? So, a line? And is it possible to do lots of math and computer searches and come up with a list of 1 or 8 or 63 stars that fall exactly (within whatever tolerance is necessary) on that line, even if they're outside of Kepler's original field of view?

So, when you guys had that submission of papers a little bit ago asking "what do we do with Kepler now?", did anyone suggest "observe the crap out of the 1 or 8 or 63 stars that fall right on the line that we can point Kepler at now, maybe we can learn cool stuff about them until another wheel locks up and we're stuck looking at only one point in the sky"?

the_zooniverse3 karma

We are (sadly) not the Kepler team - we just use their data, but we're still hoping that they can keep producing interesting science. It's not as simple as being able to point in only two directions, it's just that thanks to the loss of the third wheel the accuracy of pointing is down. There are lots of ideas for what could still be done (http://keplerscience.arc.nasa.gov/TwoWheelWhitePapers.shtml) and we should hear more soon. [Chris]

phendrix3 karma

As far as I know participants get no feedback on how they classify (for example) a galaxy. Isn't this a big problem? If 90% of the people detect a feature that I miss, shouldn't I receive a warning or something? In other words: how do you ensure that you're collecting valuable data, and not collecting a big pile of useless opinions?

I spent some time classifying galaxies and counting shells on the sea floor. It was great to (finally!) see a fish after dozens of pictures with nothing but shells and starfish. Eventually I got bored because there was only a very small fraction of interesting pictures. Are you guys going to make it more interesting or competitive?

the_zooniverse5 karma

It depends on the project - some, like Spacewarps do give feedback and we've found that's very helpful. However, for the most part we've found that giving feedback is as likely to encourage groupthink than improve classifications; remember, for the vast majority of things that you're classifying we have no idea what the right answer is either until people have looked at it.

For most of our newer projects, we're quite aggressive about getting rid of apparently boring projects. On [Snapshot Serengeti] for example, if several people say there is nothing there the image is retired much more quickly than if an animal appears to be present.

doctorheredoctor2 karma

What exactly happens when someone marks a suspected planetary transit on a Kepler light curve? Does the system only take notice if a huge amount of users all spot something? How is follow up done? I'm sure I've marked many a curve incorrectly (not intentionally!), how does the system cope with this bad analysis and false-positives?

Thanks for giving us all the chance to participate!

the_zooniverse3 karma

We look at everyone's classifications and try and derive a list of candidates which can then be checked by the team, and eventually maybe followed up with the Keck telescopes in Hawaii before making it into a paper. The system relies on several people looking at each light curve - in fact, if you mark a system as having a transit then it's much more likely to be shown to the next few people. [Chris]

WHAT_i_dont_Care2 karma

what's everyone's favourite cheese ?

the_zooniverse3 karma

This is the hardest question I've ever been asked. [Brooke]

the_zooniverse1 karma

Not as hard as my favourite cheese. [Rob]

the_zooniverse2 karma

Can't beat mozzarella! [Grant]

HandsomeJew2 karma

I think Zooniverse represents a massively important advance in crowdsourcing. You guys are super successful, and have brought on so many new projects, WELL DONE! I was first drawn to you guys thanks to Galaxy Zoo, and I've spent a little bit of time on other projects. Questions: * 1. How do other researchers get to collaborate with Zooniverse. Does it just take a great idea, or do they also have to pay, if so, how much? * 2. I see your guys' Github, do you guys have existing bugs that you need fixed? * 3. What programming related studies/experience would someone need to work for you guys? * 4. Who funds Zooniverse?

the_zooniverse3 karma

  1. Participation in Zooniverse is free. All you need is a good science project that requires the participation of citizen scientists. Researchers submit ideas to us, We review proposals and choose the projects that seem best suited to a citizen science approach.

  2. We're trying to open up more code on Github You can submit a pull request on any of our open repos if you fix a bug.

  3. My own background is a PhD in astronomy and several years working on web projects in various languages. I started out working in Perl and Java, nowadays I mostly do work in JavaScript.

  4. Zooniverse projects are usually funded by science grants at the various institutions involved. Recently, Snapshot Serengeti lost its NSF funding, so the latest data was crowd funded for a year by our volunteers http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-snapshot-serengeti [Jim]

pontifikatie2 karma

First, this is so awesome and I love your site! (Just found it from a friend on Twitter.)

My question: What's the number-one thing parents can do to get their kids interested in science? I want my kids to grow up to be as cool as all of you!

the_zooniverse4 karma

I don't know if there is a number one thing. Perhaps just showing enthusiasm for science in general. For me it was my dad showing me the night sky. I think your kids have a very good chance of becoming way cooler than us! [Grant]

the_zooniverse3 karma

I was so, so lucky to have the most patient parents in the world -- who always encouraged me to ask why. If they didn't know the answer, we'd look it up or test it out. And my Dad was even a good sport during all the late-night science project deadlines and the time I combined the wrong things in a test tube (home chemistry set) and he ended up with slightly less eyebrow than he used to have. (It grew back.)

There are really fun ways for parents to get involved with their kids exploring science. Rob has posted some awesome stuff on his blog, including how to make glowing jelly/jello and how to make towers of ice from super-cooled water. Both just use standard kitchen ingredients. [Brooke]

the_zooniverse3 karma

Show them great scientific stuff. Expose them to museums, TV, Radio, books and all the rest. Let them play on our sites and play in real life with messy science-at-home type experiments.

Just let them experience sit and if they're into it, they'll take it from there :) [Rob]

pontifikatie2 karma

Yay! Thank you! I feel like I'm doing it right. We're members of the Carnegie Museums here in Pittsburgh, and my kids (they are 5 and 7) love National Geographic specials. We also have a few science kits.

I can't wait to show them your site. Thank you for all the good work you do!

the_zooniverse4 karma

Great - have fun :) [Rob]

the_zooniverse2 karma

I just try to have fun with science with my kids. I have to make a shout out to making sure that girls are encouraged as much as boys (or maybe a bit more, given the societal pressure against them enjoying science). . :) [Karen]

pontifikatie2 karma

Sorry, just one more question!

I saw Europa Report a few weeks ago and loved it. Have you seen it?

If so, what's your take on the accuracy of the science and psychology depicted in the movie?

the_zooniverse2 karma

We're all based in the UK and it's not been released yet over here, sorry! [Becky]

WHAT_i_dont_Care2 karma

if u were a pokemon which would u be and why

the_zooniverse3 karma

We wouldn't be a pokemon. We would be Gary m********n' Oak! [Grant]

the_zooniverse3 karma

An un-evolved Level 50 Squirtle - all the cuteness of Squirtle with the bad-ass nature of a Blastoise. [Becky]

Fleurr2 karma

Hi! I'm a HS science teacher on hiatus. I teach/taught physics and astronomy (I'm back to grad school to get a "raise," but plan on returning next year).

I used Galaxy Zoo as extra credit when teaching astronomy, and it seemed to impress on the students both the tediousness of actual scientific research and the exhilaration of seeing a picture of something no one else has seen before. It was a fun project for me, they got extra credit, and you had some more eyeballs on the screen - win/win/win!

I wanted to say thanks, and ask if you've heard much of other teachers using your citizen science projects in the classroom? This seems like such a logical use of your site, but no other teachers I met had done so.

Thanks again, have a good one!

the_zooniverse2 karma

I completely agree this would be a great use of Zooniverse -- and via our ZooTeach project we're working on getting more of it into the classroom. We've got some new bits of software that are really promising for this, and there are now some lesson plans designed for using some of our projects in classes. Feel free to get in touch (firstname at zooniverse dot org) if you'd like to know more. [Brooke]

Elmonotheczar2 karma

This is the first AMA I think I have a chance in, so here's my question:

Where do you see yourselves making the greatest impact?


What is the most impactful thing you've done in association with this organization?

the_zooniverse2 karma

The most impactful thing I've done for the organisation is to help classify objects across all of the Zooniverse projects! The help from the volunteers is incredibly important, without it we wouldn't be able to do what we do! The Science that comes from the classifications is always very important and makes a huge impact in each field. [Becky]

Isupportanonymous2 karma

Do you plan on having a Tour or Lives show anytime soon?

the_zooniverse3 karma

We do have [semi] regular Google+ hangouts with both the Galaxy Zoo and Planethunters science teams, and I think, and there have been two Zoocons in Oxford.

Isupportanonymous2 karma

You guys should look into a livestream system or scheduled events. That would draw in the viewers like crazy :D

the_zooniverse3 karma

The next ZooCon will definitely be live-streamed, and we do try to advertise our Google+ hangouts. I usually schedule those, and sometimes they're a bit spontaneously done (they're archived on YouTube).

I'll make sure to tell Reddit about our next one! [Brooke]

the_zooniverse2 karma

We have appeared on the last two Stargazing Live events on the BBC, and we would highly recommend watching the upcoming shows in January ;) [Grant]

cr3ative2 karma

Wow, what a great project! I've noticed that when you hit a site, you're immediately thrown in with data gathering and being... actively useful! That's a great feeling.

What kind of user testing and monitoring happens to make sure people have enough information to get started, but aren't confused? Do you design up-front completely, or change things as you go along at random, or A/B test and optimise as you see usage patterns emerge?

Has Jim warped through any walls yet? He can do that. Keep an eye on him.

the_zooniverse3 karma

Thanks. It's important to our projects that you are doing something useful and actively collaborating in the science. That's why we call people 'citizen scientists.'

We definitely do A/B testing to try out features, and beta test new projects with volunteers from existing projects. One of our next projects will ask people to read and digitise British Army papers from the Western Front, 1914-18, and I'm looking forward to doing some user testing of our ideas for the tools, and interface, for that. [Jim]

Accujack2 karma

Sort of a comment/suggestion here. Disclaimer: The project may have changed software, it's been a while since I looked at it.

I worked with the Oxyrhynchus papyri for a bit, and I enjoyed the project a lot, but I was disappointed in the community features of the software. It's pretty groundbreaking stuff, but if you look at (for example) the new subreddit here that's looking at a mystery box found in florida with some strange pictures in it, people are more easily able to collaborate there than working on the papyri. They have an easy ability to reference outside information, reference images, upvote and downvote information according to quality, commend each other, etc.

I admit it's a bit apples to oranges comparison, but I suggest you work more on community and collaboration. The ability to arrange fragments as more than a list or count to compare them and link related ones would be neat, as would the ability to create "mind maps" of fragments that participants could display to others.

I guess what I'm suggesting here is that instead of using people as raw compute power, allow them to function as amateur scientists, maybe in collaboration with the people reading the translated documents. People would feel much more involved and would dedicate more effort to translation, would learn a lot more, and there would be a big benefit in labor to the project.

TL,DR; Suggest for the papyri project you allow/foster a community of amateur scientists rather than just using people as pattern recognition engines.

the_zooniverse2 karma

We don't disagree that community is very important - lots of our discoveries (including via [Ancient Lives](www.ancientlives.org), the papyri project you mention) have come from these discussions. We'd love to provide tools for sophisticated analysis for all of our projects (see http://tools.zooniverse.org for our latest attempts) but we're not there yet.

I think it's important to realise that both halves of a project are useful; we need both systematic classifications through the main interface and collaboration and discussion. [Chris]

Accujack2 karma

I'll take a look. Are the tools open source, and/or do you allow outside collaboration on coding?

the_zooniverse3 karma

Many of our tools and sites are open source and more will be soon. We can be found on GitHub https://github.com/zooniverse and welcome any comments or contributions. [Rob]

zandperl2 karma

How did y'all decide to branch out to more than just Hubble galaxy images? And is there one single characteristic that successful Zooniverse proposals all have in common?

the_zooniverse2 karma

We started with galaxy images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and expanding to include images of much more distant galaxies from the Hubble Space Telescope came later. Surveys of the early users of Galaxy Zoo showed that the majority were spending time on the site to contribute to research. This was the original inspiration for expanding to the Zooniverse and launching projects which had nothing to do with galaxies. [Karen]

the_zooniverse2 karma

I think the thing that makes a Zooniverse project likely to succeed is involvement from the science team. If volunteers know that scientists are interested that seems to help [Chris]

richardtheb2 karma

Given that your projects rely on the general public looking at and assessing images, do you have much of a problem with people submitting results that are just plain wrong, either by accident or maliciously? How do you filter the inevitable errors (again, either deliberate or accidental) out?

the_zooniverse2 karma

Firstly, we have lots of people looking at each image so accidents are evened out. That also makes it hard for people to coordinate any malicious attack, because they'd stand out compared to everyone else's behaviour. [Chris]

livingtech2 karma

I have some follow-up questions to this.

1) Realizing that it may be different for each project, what are the numbers? How many people usually look at each image, and how many before the data is assumed to be a "real" find?

2) I imagine that, in some cases, the most interesting data is actually in the outliers... is this ever true? I guess I'm thinking specifically of the astronomical projects, for example the lens one. Do the scientists typically go through and "verify" images that have been "flagged" by only one or two people? And if so, are those ever useful, or typically not?

3) And tangentially, how helpful are the "discussions" that get started for the images? What's the signal to noise ratio on the individual image comments?

Thanks for all that you do! I have dreams of using my game development skills for "real" science, but it's hard to know where to start.

the_zooniverse3 karma

1) Depending on the project and the image, some can be classified with 3 views while others have to be seen by 100 people before they are done.

2) Science teams do go through all the data that's produced from each projects. Pea galaxies might be a good example of something that was discovered by people noticing odd/unusual images in the Galaxy Zoo dataset: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pea_galaxy

3) the discussion forums for each project are really useful. I think http://talk.planethunters.org has discussions that have led to planets being discovered. On a historical note, discussion on the Old Weather project led to some discoveries about the Spanish Flu epidemic http://blog.oldweather.org/2011/01/12/hms-africa-in-action-against-orthomyxoviridae/ [Jim]

Astrodude872 karma

Do you think computers will ever be able to do the job that humans can do when it comes to citizen science?

the_zooniverse3 karma

Computers can already do many of the tasks that the sites do - but crucially they don't do them very well. When we're classifying galaxies, bubbles or cheetahs we need to be able to rely on the results and citizen science makes that much easier than computers in many cases.

Several of our projects are working with machine-learning code to train computers to do their job better. Also: we used to have a project that spotted supernovae but the results were successfully used to train a computer and so the site no longer needed to exist!


loopedfruit1 karma

Fruit Loops or looped fruit?

the_zooniverse1 karma

looped fruit is just as good [Brooke]