Astronomers have called for help in finding ‘space warps’, rare system that bend light around them, acting as giant lenses.
More commonly known as ‘gravitational lenses,’ they create beautiful mirages, and help give clues to how dark matter helped form the universe.
Astronomers have now set up a special site where amateurs can scour images of the sky looking for the strange occurrences.
Anyone can participate in Space Warps project at the http://www.spacewarps.org site.
‘Not only do space warps act like lenses, magnifying the distant galaxies behind them, but also the light they distort can be used to weigh them, helping us to figure out how much dark matter they contain and how it’s distributed,’ said Dr. Phil Marshall, co-leader of the project at the University of Oxford.
The first set of sky images to be inspected in the project is from the CFHT (Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope) legacy survey.
‘We have scanned the images with computer algorithms, but there are likely to be many more space warps that the algorithms have missed.
‘Realistically simulated space warps are dropped into some images to train volunteers to spot them and reassure people that they are on the right track,’ said Dr. Anupreeta More, co-leader of the project at the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the universe (Kavli IPMU), the University of Tokyo.
Previous studies have shown that the human brain is much better at identifying lenses than current computer algorithms, and members of the public are as good at spotting astronomical objects as experts.
‘Even if individual visitors only spend a few minutes glancing over 40 or so images each, that’s really helpful to our research — we only need a handful of people to spot something in an image for us to say that it’s worth investigating,’ said Dr. Aprajita Verma, another co-leader from the University of Oxford.
Following the CFHT legacy survey, other surveys will also be using Space Warps as a means to find lens systems in their data.
For example, the Dark Energy Survey led by the United States and the Hyper Suprime-Cam survey led by Japan are interested in collaborating with Space Warps, too.