A new Milky Way Project paper was published to the arXiv last week. The paper presents Brut, an algorithm trained to identify bubbles in infrared images of the Galaxy.

bubble_gallery_sorted_v2

Brut uses the catalogue of bubbles identified by more 35,000 citizen scientists from the original Milky Way Project. These bubbles are used as a training set to allow Brut to discover the characteristics of bubbles in images from the Spitzer Space Telescope. This training data gives Brut the ability to identify bubbles just as well as expert astronomers!

The paper then shows how Brut can be used to re-assess the bubbles in the Milky Way Project catalog itself, and it finds that more than 10% of the objects in this catalog are really non-bubble interlopers. Furthermore, Brut is able to discover bubbles missed by previous searches too, usually ones that were hard to see because they are near bright sources.

At first it might seem that Brut removes the need for the Milky Way Project –  but the ruth is exactly the opposite. This new paper demonstrates a wonderful synergy that can exist between citizen scientists, professional scientists, and machine learning. The example outlined with the Milky Way Project is that citizens can identify patterns that machines cannot detect without training, machine learning algorithms can use citizen science projects as input training sets, creating amazing new opportunities to speed-up the pace of discovery. A hybrid model of machine learning combined with crowdsourced training data from citizen scientists can not only classify large quantities of data, but also address the weakness of each approach if deployed alone.

We’re really happy with this paper, and extremely grateful to Chris Beaumont (the study’s lead author) for his insights into machine learning and the way it can be successfully applied to the Milky Way Project. We will be using a version of Brut for our upcoming analysis of the new Milky Way Project classifications. It may also have implications for other Zooniverse projects.

If you’d like to read the full paper, it is freely available online at at the arXiv – and Brut can found on GitHub.

[Cross-posted on the Milky Way Project blog]

New Zooniverse project goes live today and I warn you: it is highly addictive!

Zooniverse

avatar_sunspotter

A few months ago we quietly placed a new project online. Called Sunspotter, it was essentially a game of hot-or-not for sunspot data – and since there were not many images available at the time, we thought it best to just let it be used by the people who noticed it, or who had tried it during the beta test. The results have since been validated, and the site works! In fact there are even preliminary results, which is all very exciting. Loads of new images have now been prepared, so today Sunspotter gets its proper debut. Try it at www.sunspotter.org.

On the site you are shown two images of sunspot groups and asked which is more complex. That might sound odd at first, but really it’s quite easy. The…

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Orbiting Links

May 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

Screenshot 2014-05-06 22.04.29

I’ve added a new section to Orbiting Frog today: Orbiting Links (http://links.orbitingfrog.com). This new page displays an automated set of URLs currently being shared by the astronomers of Twitter. This is a work in progress, but it seems to be producing good results so far.

Orbiting Links is created by taking a small set of my favourite astro-Tweeters, and following their tweets, and the tweets of the people they follow too. As links are shared, I store them and keep track of how often they are retweeted or posted elsewhere. Those that rise to the top in any 24-hour period are displayed on the page. Each URL that makes it to this page has some details attached to it, including the original tweet that the system spotted it in.

I’m tracking a bunch of my favourite go-to astronomers on Twitter. The accounts they follow are also monitored, up to about 5,000 accounts. It isn’t necessarily those people that will rise to the top here though – but more likely the sources of the links they share. I will continuously modify the list of source accounts, to maximise the usefulness of this page.

Why Do This?

To find interesting stuff! The topics will vary day-to-day, and sources of interesting links should rise to the top organically. I see this as an alternative news source, delivering material aligned with the interests of my peers on Twitter. It’s an experiment too – and a coding project I’ve been wanting to build for a while now. The source code is on GitHub, forked from the original OpenFuego repo.

Resources Used

This site has built on top of several other projects, many of which I have slightly modified. The back-end is written in PHP and the front-end is HTML+JavaScript.

  • OpenFuego: Created by Andrew Phelps of the Nieman Journalism Lab, OpenFuego is the open-source version of Fuego, a Twitter bot created to track the future-of-journalism crowd and the links they’re sharing.
  • Type & Grids: You can find many amazing website templates on Type & Grids. All of them are responsive and well-commented, and many of them are free.
  • Twitter: Microblogging site Twitter is still one of my favourite things about the web, even after all these years!

Future Development

The current to-do list for this project includes an RSS feed and a Twitter account, which will provide other ways to access the same set of links. If you have ideas for how this projects should evolve, please get in touch.

TED 2014 has just ended here in Vancouver and I have finally now experienced an event I’ve heard a lot about for many years. I’ve watched TED talks online for as long as I’ve watched anything online and the real deal did not disappoint. Attending TED for the first time has been intense, wonderful, and dizzying and it was great to be here for it’s special, 30th anniversary year. Highlights from my experience are difficult to streamline into a blog post. So this is my best shot.

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Each day at TED has presented numerous inspirational speakers and amazing ideas, curated into themes by the organisers such as ‘Liftoff!’, ‘Reshape’, ‘Hacked’, and ‘Onward’. These sessions took place in the event’s central venue; a custom-designed, wooden amphitheatre – built over only a few days before the event opened. These talks were usually 12 or 18 minutes long and sometimes formatted as interviews where relevant. The changing topics and formats were paced in a way that meant I rarely felt tired or restless – which is amazing since I’ve had about 5 hours sleep each night! You can already see some talks from these sessions including Colonel Chris Hadfield on conquering fear, and Edward Snowden on privacy – a talk delivered via a roving telepresence robot!

A secondary, slightly smaller venue housed the ‘All-Star’ sessions. These were totally packed-out as they consisted of many notable TED speakers from the past 30 years, each giving 4 minute talks to update or reflect on their work and ideas. Speakers here included a wide range of awesome folks such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Imogen Heap, Dan Gilbert, Jimmy Wales, Sir Martin Rees, and even General Stanley McChrystal. All of them had just 4 minutes, which kept the energy high, and the pace steady.

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I was very happy to see that some of the best talks of the week were about science. Ed Yong (Nat. Geo. blogger) told us about parasites, Sara Lewis (Tufts) about fireflies and Andy Connolly (U. Washington) about the future of astronomy. All extremely well-crafted and well-delivered talks about often complex topics. Hugh Herr’s (MIT Media Lab) outline of the future of bionics and prosthetic limbs was not just a tale of amazing science, but also included a live performance by a ballroom dancer who lost her leg in the Boston Marathon bombings and can now dance again thanks to the help of his MIT lab. A perfectly ‘TED’ moment and a moving thing to witness.

There is also a special place in my heart for some of the technology speakers, including Margaret Gould Stewart, who talked about designing and changing Facebook and its impact on user behaviour; and Del Harvey who won everyone over with her sardonic delivery of a talk about managing the stranger side of Twitter. Keren Elazari delivered a moving lesson in why hackers may keep us all safe and keep governments honest – a talk that will be timely if posted quickly to TED.com, and which proves how refreshing and important it is to have women talk about tech. Something that is all too rare.

Supermodel Geena Rocero came out as transgender live on the TED stage; Mellody Hobson gave a challenging and optimistic talk on race; and Mark Ronson gave a talk/performance about remixing and reclaiming music – partly involving a live remixing of other TED talks within his own. It was pretty genius – though it may have been lost on a large chunk of the audience.

The average age of TED attendees is predictably quite high – and I think that must be part of the thinking behind the TED Fellows program – the whole reason I’m here with about 20 other folks from around the world. By supporting its growing Fellows community, TED is creating new connections and networks, but also injecting a chunk of people into the conference that otherwise would not be able to attend. As part of our participation, all the fellows give their own short talk at the opening of the event.

The prospect of giving my own 4 minute talk on Monday was a big part of my life leading up to the conference. 4 minutes is not a long time, and that fact seemed only to amplify the preparation required, and the intensity of my nerves. I felt shaky and sick as I walked into the lights on Monday morning, but once there, a strange calm fell upon me and I simply delivered my talk. My intense preparation suddenly seemed like a wise investment, and although I can’t say I relaxed, I definitely enjoyed it. Those 4 minutes flew by in the end.

I used my talk to highlight the wonderful work we do at the Zooniverse, and framed what we do in the context of ‘big data’ in science, and in discoveries that are waiting to be made if we allow the public access to our data. I think it went well, and I’ve certainly had many attendees and journalists ask me about in the days since. Not all the Fellows talks go online – but we’ll each get to see our own eventually. They edit them and send them out in the weeks and months to come.

The TED Fellows programme also provides coaching, mentorship, training and a bunch of other amazing experience and advice too. I can’t recommend it highly enough. A huge thank you goes to Tom Reilly, Shoham Arad, Sam Kelly, Corey Mohr, Patrick D’Arcy and the whole TED Fellows team. I’m so excited about the collaborations and ideas being generated between the group and what we can do in the future.

Giving the talk was unforgettable, and attending TED as been a dream come true. I am feeling motivated and inspired, but most importantly I’ve made lots of new connections and contacts for projects to work on in the near future. For now though we have one more engagement: a farewell dinner with the rest of the TED Fellows. Then it will be time to go back to Oxford and resume regularly scheduled programming. After .Astronomy I always get the .Astro blues and I can tell it will be the same for TED, but it is time to head home and see how I can take all these ideas and actually do something with them.

This was recorded at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit in London in February – it’s me summarising the Zooniverse for anyone out there that might like to try out our own brand of Citizen Science.

I was lucky enough to visit Norway last week. I lead a group chasing the aurora (as best you can in cloud!) over the top of Norway from Tromsø to the Russian border – and back again. We were on a boat. Being that my favourite photographer was with me, we got some great shots of icy Norway. We were also lucky enough to have Inger Carter with us, our local Norwegian guide, who is a bit of an aurora-photography expert too. Here are some photos of our trip.

 

This video is a time-lapse of images taken from a geostationary satellite. It shows a whole year of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun from 2010 to 2011. You can see the difference in illumination between the seasons created by the Earth’s tilt; the angle of the line between light and dark changes as we go around the Sun. This effect is caused by our axis of daily rotation being tilted by 23.5 degrees.

We are usually taught an approximate version of the truth when we learn about the Earth’s orbit. Most people are told that the Earth orbits the Sun like this:

Not Earth's Orbit

…however the orbit is not really circular, but slightly elliptical. It looks more like this:

Better Earth's Orbit

Not only is it slightly oval in shape, but it is also slightly off-centre. Our closest approach to the Sun each year is Perihelion (on the right of this image) and our farthest approach is Aphelion (on the left). Crucially though, the Earth is tilted in its own daily rotation by 23.5 degrees. This means that the North and South poles don’t line-up with the top-down view of thus image. So, sideways-on it looks like this:

Earth's Orbit Sideways

At around Perihelion (our closest approach to the Sun) the North Pole is pointing away from the Sun – actually it happens a couple of weeks before Perihelion. It is this effect that gives us our seasonal changes in temperature. When the North pole is pointed away from the Sun, as shown here, it means the Northern half of the Earth is receiving less energy from the Sun and so cools down and experiences more darkness. Six months later the Earth has moved around and now the North pole points more toward the Sun and thus it is the Southern Hemisphere that is darker and cools down.

Seasons in Earth's Orbit

It is not our distance from the Sun that determines the seasons, but our changing exposure to the Sun’s heat and light caused by our axial tilt. Our seasons are the result of the misalignment of our daily, North-South rotation compared with our yearly, Solar rotation. The darkest day is the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere – usually around December 21st – at the same time the Southern Hemisphere has its longest day. Perihelion occurs in early January (it was Jan 4th in 2014) which means we are closest to the Sun when it is coldest in the Northern Hemisphere and we are farthest from the Sun when it is hottest in the Southern Hemisphere.

The change in our tilt drastically changes how much of the Sun’s energy we receive, as is shown in the following photos of the Earth from Space. You can see that in Europe, for example, our share of daylight changes a great deal over the year. For the same reason, if you go far enough North or South there are places where it is continuously day or night for weeks or months at a time.

The above, amazing images of the seasons come from the same source as the video at the top of this post. They were taken by a EUMETSAT Earth observation satellite. This is a geostationary satellite, meaning that it looks at the same part of the world all the time. It stares at Africa and here you can see the sequence of Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn in images taken at different times of the year:

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I’ve started a page with some links, facts and ideas for teachers, educators and anyone else that wants them. Quite often when I’m visiting schools, I throw lots of URLs around and talk about websites, books, etc that kids and teachers might like. Then I often forget to give them these URLs and tips. So now I’m putting them on a single page instead. Check it out here: https://orbitingfrog.com/astronomy-links-for-teachers/

Feel free to suggest additions to this page by contacting me online on via Twitter @orbitingfrog.

This was just too awesome!

Space Warps

Since we were featured on the BBC’s Stargazing Live programme on Tuesday evening the project has been manic. We’ve now had almost 6 million classifications of images from tens of thousands of people. The team have been furiously working to extract your candidates from the data to be able to share them – live on the BBC – tonight.

As part of these efforts we have convinced several telescopes around the world to try and point at one particularly lovely candidate lens to see what we can learn in time for tonight’s show. Last night, Chris Lintott and Robert Simpson (who are at Jodrell for the show) went outside to capture the moment that the gigantic Lovell dish turned to look at your lens candidate.

Animation of Lovell moving to look at a Space Warps source.

Eventually the telescope did move and here is an animated GIF of it slewing toward a Space Warps source. We will report with more detail when we have…

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This week is the BBC’s Stargazing Live show: three now-annual nights of live stargazing and astronomy chatter, live from Jodrell Bank. CBeebies are also getting in on the act this year, which I’m excited about. The Zooniverse are part of the show for the third year running and this time I have the pleasure of being here on set for the show. In 2012 the Zooniverse asked the Stargazing Live viewers to help us discover a planet with Planet Hunters, in 2013 we explored the surface of Mars with Planet Four. This year we are inviting everybody to use our Space Warps project to discover some of most beautiful and rare objects in the universe: gravitational lenses.

Space Warps asks everyone to help search through astronomical data that hasn’t been looked at by eye before, and try to find gravitational lenses deep in the universe. We launched the site in 2014 and for Stargazing Live we’re adding a whole new dataset of infrared images. Your odds of finding something amazing are pretty good, actually!

Gravitational lenses occur when a massive galaxy – or cluster of galaxies – pass in front of more distant objects. The enormous mass of the (relatively) closer object literally bends light around it and distorts the image of the distant source. Imagine holding up a magnifying glass and waving it around the night sky so that starlight is bent and warped by the lens. You can see more about this here on the ESO website.

We’ve been getting things ready all day and now I’m sitting here in the Green Room at Jodrell Bank  waiting for the show to begin. Stargazing Live is an exciting place to be and everyone is buzzing about the show! That Chris Lintott bloke from the telly is here, as is K9 is from Doctor Who – they both look excited.