Like first person shooters? Spent too many nights playing Halo, lining up another player between the cross-hairs for a headshot while sniping from the safety of a building across the map? That same, precious skill set can be used to help researchers when you join the Hunt for Supernovae.
The Palomar Transient Factory is a fully automated observation network making use of the Samuel Oschin Telescope operated by Caltech along with others across the country. The Palomar Transient Factory scans the same region of the sky approximately every five days looking for exploding stars. Supernovae are often observed near a host galaxy, and as the signal from the exploding star and the galaxy often blend together, and that's where your help is needed.
Put an Exploded Star within your Cross-Hairs
In the classification section, you are presented with three images – a new image, a reference image, and a reference subtracted image. The "new" image is the most recent image taken by the Palomar Transient Factory , with a crosshair presented in the general area of where a supernova is suspected. The second image, a "reference" image is the average of images taken of the same area several weeks of months. The web based program then subtracts the new image from the reference, in hopes of observing a difference between the two. If a supernova is present, it should appear as a white, circular object in the cross-hairs – your job is to verify the existence of such a signal.
After a while, you can look at the "new" image and see distortions that might be a supernova, but if you have a bit of difficulty, an excellent tutorial is also available. The Palomar Transient Factory should be up and running until the end of 2012 at the minimum and thousands of new images are uploaded each week. The images sorted by individuals working on the project are then picked for follow-up by researchers working with the Palomar Transient Factory. Citizen scientist aided discoveries are also posted online.
Images courtesy of Caltech and the Palomar Transient Factory.