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U astronomers want help finding 'baby' galaxies

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Astronomers at the University of Minnesota are asking the public for help finding "baby" galaxies.

They're leading a new project called "Galaxy Nurseries," which is part of the world's largest citizen science research platform called Zooniverse.

The U's project marks the 100th for the site since its creation 10 years ago. In the program, participants are presented with an image and are tasked with determining whether a feature is a "baby" galaxy, or if it's something else like an emission from a nearby source or star. 

Claudia Scarlata, lead researcher and associate professor at the U's school of Physics and Astronomy, said the public has already completed over 100,000 investigations. 

Without the help from citizen scientists, she said, it would take her team a year to complete the project.

"It's incredible. The computers are on fire," she said. "We already have volunteers that are so good, they've done so many galaxies already, that they took over. They are explaining to other volunteers how things work."

But what if you incorrectly identify a galaxy? Scarlata said not to worry.

"Each galaxy is seen by at least 15 people before it's retired, meaning before it's taken out from the computer. So it doesn't quite matter if one person or two people make a mistake," she said. "Even researchers make mistakes."

The results from "Galaxy Nurseries" will go toward development of an analysis tool that will be used in two upcoming space missions.

Scarlata said Zooniverse is a unique way for people to help researchers with real-life issues, and the site has over 1.5 million registered users across the world. 

"I think it emphasizes how the citizen can get involved [in] science. And particularly, these days, it's really important that everybody understands the importance of science and feels that they can participate [in] it," Scarlata said.