(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers on a massive galaxy mapping mission have recruited more than 10,000 amateur scientists in 85 countries to search.
Now they hope to significantly increase the number of volunteers for a unique project that could reveal the nature of dark energy for the first time.
The HETDEX (Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment) research project launched at the McDonald Observatory in Austin.
It is implemented with the help of volunteers who participate in the Dark Energy Researchers program.
Using a smartphone or computer, volunteers help professional astronomers find distant galaxies. Since the launch of the Dark Energy Explorers program in February 2021, they have identified approximately 240,000 galaxies.
That’s almost a tenth of the number of galaxies scientists expect to find when surveying an area of the sky about 2,000 full moons in size.
“Dark Energy Explorers” use the Zooniverse platform. After a brief briefing, volunteers look at astronomical images and decide if the objects they see are galaxies or random noise.
The goal of the program is to create the largest 3D map of the cosmos, fully focused on galaxies in the early universe, to aid in the study of dark energy.
With this study, scientists want to find out whether dark energy changes over time or is constant. It is believed that at least two-thirds of the universe consists of dark energy.
Understanding how dark energy behaves is an important first step towards finding out exactly what it is, but astronomers need a huge sample of distant galaxies to study in order to observe dark energy in action.
HETDEX is a large-scale survey of over a million distant galaxies using one of the largest optical telescopes in the world, the 11-meter Hobby-Eberle Telescope at McDonald Observatory in West Texas.
Volunteers study images with HETDEX, helping astronomers reduce the time spent on this task by 90%. Thus, professionals can concentrate on the most complex classifications.
It took volunteers 3.75 million clicks to identify 247,000 galaxies so far. Each candidate galaxy is tested by about 15 people to improve accuracy.
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