September 4, 2009
Thanks to the work of two Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIEU) students, visitors to a popular web site can choreograph their own tours of the universe. Software written by Jarod Luebbert and Mark Sands gives almost 250,000 users of Galaxy Zoo the chance to fly through Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope (WWT) from galaxy to galaxy. The release marks the inclusion of data provided by Galaxy Zoo in the new version of WorldWide Telescope released September 2.Galaxy Zoo
invites anyone with an Internet connection to help astronomers explore the universe. Visitors to the site are asked to classify galaxies drawn from the robotic Sloan Digital Sky Survey, dividing those with beautiful spiral arms from the rest. With more than 100 million classifications received to date, many users have built up stunning collections of their personal favorites.
Microsoft Research's WorldWide Telescope is an interactive virtual observatory that allows users to browse the results from some of the world's best telescopes, including the 1 million galaxies of the Sloan survey. The team behind WWT needed to know which of their galaxies to mark as elliptical and which as spiral — and for that they turned to Galaxy Zoo. "We were able to take their data, along with the Sloan color data and create a whole bunch of different templates of which we had the sizes of the galaxy correct, the shape of the galaxy correct, the color of the galaxy correct, and its position in the sky correct," said Jonathan Fay of Microsoft Research.
Having helped provide a more accurate vision of the sky for all WWT users, the SIUE team wanted to provide something special for the Galaxy Zoo users who have made it all possible.
"We put a lot of hard work into this," Luebbert said. "We hope you enjoy it and learn something new."
With a click of the mouse, people viewing WWT-Galaxy Zoo tours can learn more about the objects being viewed through hotlinks to astronomy research sites and through easily displayed layers of extra information.
"One of the greatest parts of working with Galaxy Zoo is stumbling across a gem of a galaxy — a system so beautiful that the hope of finding another keeps a person clicking all night," said Luebbert and Sand's academic advisor, Pamela L. Gay. "Now it is possible to share these jewels with people who can't see my screen. I'm extremely proud of Jarod and Mark. Working with Microsoft Research, they've made it possible for all of us to inflict our favorite galaxies on everyone in our lives."