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Galaxy Zoo wants YOU for its supernova hunt!


(Read caption) This image shows the spiral galaxy NGC 2770 taken Jan. 18, 2008, by the Swift satellite. Two bright supernovae, SN2007uy and the more recent SN2008D first detected through X-ray observations (labeled as XRF080109) plus the location of a third, originally spotted in 1999 but now faded from view, are indicated in this image of the edge-on spiral. For a look at a new Galaxy Zoo supernova, move to the next image.

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The good folks over at Galaxy Zoo are looking for volunteers. But maybe they need to give their new project its own name: Supernova Zoo.

In any case, astronomers are looking for volunteers to pore over images that might contain supernovae.  These are stars that end their lives in violent explosions. All that's left is either a neutron star or a black hole.

Either way, the result is exotic.

A neutron star has about the sun's mass. But it's squeezed into an object only about 12 kilometers (nearly 7.5 miles) across.  And a black hole, well, you know that one already -- an object whose gravity is so powerful that not even light, traveling at 186,000 miles a second, can escape. At least on a neutron star, the escape velocity is marginally more reasonable: roughly a third of the speed of light.

And the need for help is immense.

The GZ team has two telescopes at work. One to hunt for candidates, the other to conduct follow-up studies once supernovae are identified.

Step 1: Have the Palomar Transient Factory on California's Mt. Palomar supply images that they are taking for supernova-hunting purposes, as well as to spot other cosmic events that happen in a flash. The factory picks the best supernovae candidates for posting on the GZ's website.

Step 2: Get volunteers to sign up and hunt through the images on the website for evidence of the stellar explosions.

Step 3: The GZ astronomers then tap the 4-meter William Herschel Telescope in Chile to conduct follow-up studies, according to project director Chris Lintott, an Oxford University astrophysicist.


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