VIDEO: Citizen Scientists Catch Clues about Star Formation

By Lizz Giordano

Citizen scientists are leading astronomers to new clues about star formation.

Citizen scientist volunteers discovered the more than 900 mysterious bright yellow objects that became the subject of recent paper in the Astrophysical Journal.

According to Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase,  these yellow balls are missing links between the cold, dusty clouds that give birth to stars and the extremely hot bubbles that form as massive young stars sculpt their environments. Citizen scientists made nearly 1.5 million classifications for the Milky Way Project, helping astronomers study and map star formation within the galaxy.

Zooniverse researcher and developer Stuart Lynn notes the collaboration between citizen scientists and scientists is not new.

“[Frederick William] Hershel, who was a very famous astronomer, use to collaborate with this massive network of amateur astronomers and professional astronomers to take readings of the heavens,” Lynn said. “This mass collaboration of science is actually quite old idea.”

Today the Internet makes participating even easier.

Chicago Wildlife Watch supports the collaboration of citizens and scientists, in an effort to study the animal species that make Chicago home. As cameras collect pictures, citizen scientists create an inventory of the squirrels, birds and whatever mysterious creatures they might find. (Lizz Giordano/Medill)

“Before you would have gone out with binoculars to count birds or gone out to look at the heavens with a telescope,” Lynn said. “Today citizen scientist can take part simply by logging onto a website and contributing some of their time to analyze data that has already been collected by scientists.”

Citizen scientists have played a role since they aided Charles Darwin when tracked birds in the Galapagos. Zooniverse is a website that connect volunteers with citizen scientist projects. Citizen scientist Janet Bein transcribes weather logs from 19-century ships assisting scientist to create better weather predictions. (Lizz Giordano/Medill)

The Milky Way Project is just one of many citizen science projects found on the website Zooniverse. Zooniverse is a collaboration led by the Adler Planetarium and University of Oxford and has engaged more than 1.2 million volunteers.

Photo at top: Chicago Wildlife Watch is based at the Lincoln Park Zoo (Lizz Giordano/Medill)