Calling all citizen scientists: The Australian National University wants you to join the search for supernovae.
Brad Tucker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics says it’s not possible for one team of researchers to check for exploding stars all the time, but if thousands of people are keeping watch, scientists are sure to get quicker and timelier data.
“With the power of the people, we can check these images in minutes and get another telescope to follow up,” Tucker said in a news release.
Time is of the essence when it comes to hunting for supernovae.
University of Washington astrophysicist Melissa Graham, who studies Type Ia supernovae, says that a star can become more than a billion times brighter when it explodes. But that light fades fast.
“After two weeks, they are only 30 percent as bright as they were at peak,” she said.
Graham says some telescopes may not be as sensitive as others, and may only detect distant and faint supernovae for about a week after the explosion.
To join ANU’s quest, visit Zooniverse.org and head to SkyMapper Sighting. The project has more than 450 volunteers so far.
Volunteers can compare images taken over time by SkyMapper, an Australian 1.3-meter telescope surveying the southern sky, and report any changes. As a reward, the first person to correctly discover a supernova will get public recognition as a co-discoverer.
Like a similar project called Supernova Hunters, SkyMapper Sighting relies on humans to identify supernovae because our eyes and brains are better at recognizing the proper patterns than computer programs are.
Tucker and his colleagues hope to measure the acceleration of the universe’s growth by using the exploding stars as markers. He compares supernovae to light bulbs: If you have light bulbs lined up down a road, the one closest to you will look brighter than the one farthest away.
“If you know how bright your bulb is, and how bright your bulb should be, you can calculate that difference, and that difference is a distance,” Tucker explained in a video.