If you love stars, you are in for another treat from Zooniverse—Supernova Sighting. This new citizen science project encourages viewers to identify exploding stars using images from the Skymapper Telescope in Australia. A user is given three images where the first two compare the location over time; the last image subtracts to show what is different. The object is to examine the photos for a white object in the crosshairs of the first and third image, which could indicate a candidate. Apparently a supernova can outshine other stars during its event; check out the bright blue dot shown in this galaxy pic.
Besides bringing a light show, supernovae have a special use for scientists studying cosmology.
In particular, we are interested in type Ia supernovae which tend to all behave in a similar way, shining very brightly to a known luminosity and then fading away. They are known as ‘standard candles’ because we know how intrinsically bright they should be, allowing us to calculate their distance based on how bright they appear to us here on Earth.
The real excitement comes from the discovery of transients, which leads to bragging rights. Those that marked the image of the supernova correctly have their user name included with the official name given by the Transient Name Server—like AT 2017dxh. Needless to say, people are excited and the project is getting plenty of viewers. In fact, the images are getting classified so quickly that people have to wait for more telescope images to be uploaded. The images are processed daily, but if there are a few nights with cloudy weather, best to watch a rerun of Star Trek. What I like about this project is that it is so easy to go through a bunch of images on a break. It’s also appropriate for STEM education and I expect students will be thrilled since they can get involved so quickly. Score another point for Zooniverse! If you would like to surround yourself with stars, check out our Pinhole Planetarium Kit. Designed by Gakken, this little beauty will have you dreaming of space travel with pinpoints of light representing the Northern Hemisphere. Make science a bigger part of your life.