We’re very pleased to tell you that we’ve been awarded developer time from the Citizen Science Alliance to build a new, exciting Zooniverse project to discover gravitational lenses.
What’s a gravitational lens, you might ask? When a massive galaxy or cluster of galaxies lies right in front of a more distant galaxy, the light from the background source gets deflected and focused towards us. These space-bending massive galaxies allow us to peer into the distant Universe at around 10x magnification, and to make accurate measurements of the total (dark and luminous) mass of galaxies.
As many of you know, there has been a long-running and enthusiastic search for lenses in the “weird and wonderful” part of the forum; although lens-finding was never a goal of the Galaxy Zoo project, this forum has turned up some interesting systems which we are still following up. Up until now, the GZ lens search has been quite informal: it has not been easy keeping track of all the candidates that have been suggested! Nevertheless, the Lens Hunters have done an amazing job, collecting and filtering the suggestions as they come in, and teaching themselves and each other about the astrophysics of lensing.
Impressive stuff: enough to persuade a group of professional astronomers that a specially-designed Zoo for identifying lenses could be a powerful way of analyzing the new wide-field imaging surveys that are coming online. In this Lens Zoo we will be able to provide you with new tools – designed, we hope, with you – to find new lenses more effectively. We have teamed up with astronomers from several big surveys who are eager to harness your citizen science power, and will be providing a lot of new, high quality data to be inspected. Over the next 6-10 months we’ll be working hard with the Zooniverse developers to build the Lens Zoo, and we hope you will join us for the ride: Lens Zoo needs you!
Phil, Aprajita, Anupreeta & the Lens Zoo team.