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Zombie Zooniverse

Astronomy rewind: bringing M42 images into play again

Image Credit: American Astronomical Society, NASA/SAO Astrophysics Data System & WorldWide Telescope

Citizen scientists wanted, to hunt zombies. Zombie astrophotographs, that is! This new Zooniverse project asks for volunteers to find old astronomical images in scanned journals and restore them to research life.

The American Astronomical Society is bringing new life to old images by asking citizen scientists to page throug hold journal issues – on-line – and pick out images of scientific value. These "zombie astrophotographs" might be starfields, or images of planetary surfaces, and the volunteers will note useful surrounding information sich as celestial or planetary coordinates, date and time taken, and so on. As part of the Astronomy Rewind project, the selected figures and images, perhaps from 100 years ago, will then be added to on-line astronomy data resources held by NASA and to the Astronomy Image Explorer, a service of the AAS and its journal-publishing partner, the Institute of Physics Publishing as part of the WorldWide Telescope, a powerful data-visualization tool and digital sky atlas originally developed by Microsoft Research and now managed by the AAS. The information about the image or even figure will then become part of the image's metadata, making it findable in on-line searches, and available for research.

Images without useful identifying information are still useful; the AAS team will run them through a website, Astrometry.net, an automated online service that compares astrophotos to star catalogues to determine what areas of sky they show. If identifed, they too can become part of the modern research landscape. 

In the image shown here there is on the left a photograph of the Orion Nebula from page 396 of the June 1905 Astrophysical Journal – without coordinate labels to fix its celestial position and orientation. Astrometry.net was able to recognize the star pattern, after which the image was rotated more than 180° to put north up and placed in context on the sky in WorldWide Telescope

This project is running on the AAS journals, the Astronomical JournalAstrophysical JournalApJ Letters, and the ApJ Supplement Series using on-line versions provided by the Astrophysics Data System (ADS), the NASA-funded bibliographic service and archive at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. The Zooniverse software platform, based at the University of Oxford, trains volunteers and manages the crowdsourcing of the information. 

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