Page last updated at 17:33 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Galaxy hunt draws massive traffic

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

Galaxy (University of Oxford)
Users can classify as many galaxies as they like

An online initiative which asks members of the public to classify galaxies recorded unprecedented traffic in its first 48 hours.

The venture is a follow-up to the Galaxy Zoo project launched in 2007.

Co-founder Dr Chris Lintott said the website had been getting 12 clicks per second in its first two days.

He said members of the public had answered some two million questions about galaxies in the database during that same period.

"To put that in perspective, we think it would have taken a PhD student working non-stop nearly eight months to match that," Dr Lintott, from the University of Oxford, told BBC News.

The more people take part the more accurate the results are
Dr Chris Lintott, University of Oxford

The site's founders say that, by working together, the public have proven to be just as good at galaxy-spotting as professional astronomers.

The original site asked web users to say whether a galaxy was spiral or elliptical, and which way it was rotating.

Galaxy Zoo 2 asks them to delve deeper into 250,000 of the brightest and best galaxies to describe any distinctive or unusual features about them. It was launched on 17 February.

Dr Stephen Bamford, an astronomer at the University of Nottingham, commented: "This project is a fantastic opportunity for people to experience the wonder of space and learn about astronomy and science in a fun and engaging way."

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Some of the galaxies that are being classified by Galaxy Zoo

Visitors to the site have come from more than 164 different countries.

Dr Lintott, who also co-presents the BBC's Sky At Night programme, said the number of people who had contributed to Galaxy Zoo and its successor Galaxy Zoo 2 was now larger than the population of Sunderland.

However, he said, those behind the site wanted to recruit even more people.

"There are 250,000 galaxies in our database, and the more people take part, the more accurate the results are," he said.

Professor Bob Nichol, from the University of Portsmouth, and a member of the original website team, said: "Personally, the most exciting aspect of projects like Galaxy Zoo is the immediate response they obtain.

"Scientists can ask questions in their office and then, within days, or even hours, have thousands of assistants working with them. It means we can ask bigger and bolder questions as we are empowered by 'people power'."

Technical lead Dr Arfon Smith of Oxford said he had battled to keep the website online due to the heavy traffic.

Galaxy Zoo 2 includes a feature that allows users to pit galaxies against each other, based on their relative properties. In addition, site members can compete against their friends to describe more objects as well as record their best finds.

Paul.Rincon-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk



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