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Blog

Sociology of the Galaxy Zoo

galaxy zoo.jpg
Stampede Galaxy Zoo has recruited 200 000 citizen scientists in its two year history

By James Dacey

Since its launch in 2007, the project known as Galaxy Zoo can only really be described as a roaring success. Its basic premise is that any “citizen scientist” with an internet connection can help professional scientists by classifying images of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

As of April 2009, more than 200,000 volunteers had made more than 100 million galaxy classifications.

In practice the would-be “Zooites” are asked to follow a quick tutorial which describes the basic structures of spirals, ellipticals etc, before they are tested with some extra pictures. Get enough correct answers and they can join.

So what is it that attracts non-specialists to pass their spare time by sitting at a computer and classifying galaxies? This is a question explored by a group of public outreach specialists from the UK and the US, in a new paper on the arXiv preprint server.

22 Zooites volunteered themselves for an interview in which they were asked a series of questions including their impressions of the Galaxy Zoo website, their motivations for participating, and their experiences with and definition of science.

Following a series of analysis and discussions, the research team arrived at 12 motivational categories:

Contribute
Learning
Discovery
Community
Teaching
Beauty
Fun
Vastness
Helping
Zoo
Astronomy
Science

For elaboration on each category, check out the paper — it’s very “social-sciency”, but well worth a look if you’re into this kind of thing.

For more info on the purpose of the Galaxy Zoo, check out this feature written by two of the project’s founders.

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