Astronomy project: Studying Jellyfish Galaxies

Astronomers are urging people to use their pattern matching skills to spot jellyfish galaxies in images from a universe simulation.

Zooniverse is an amazing citizen science project, with researchers from around the world and across multiple disciplines making use of the unique human ability to find patterns in images.

The latest project looks for ‘cosmological jellyfish‘ – that is a type of galaxy that looks like a jellyfish – and astronomers want to know more about how they form.

“They are thought to form through a specific physical process that we’re particularly interested in understanding, known as ram-pressure stripping,” according to the Zooniverse team.

“When galaxies encounter hot dense gas (such as that found in massive galaxy clusters) and move through it at high velocities, the interaction between the galaxy and this surrounding gas can cause the galaxy’s own gas reservoir to be stripped away, forming magnificent tails of gaseous material.”

Many such galaxies have now been observed by several astronomers. However, we are yet to understand key details about these galaxies such as whether they only form in the most massive clusters.

The team also want to find out where and how quickly their tails form and how long they last. They’re also keen to know what happens to the gas within these tails.

Using supercomputers, the researchers behind the project, from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), created state-of-the-art simulations of large volumes of the Universe.

They are endeavouring to use the results of some of these simulations to study how Jellyfish galaxies form and evolve, so that they may answer some of the questions posed above.

However, before they can study them, they have to find them, and that is where the human mind and its magical pattern spotting ability comes in.

They have images of thousands of galaxies at different times across the age of the Universe to classify, and volunteers will say whether it looks like a jellyfish or not.

“Once you’ve identified the Jellyfish galaxies, they will be used in a number of studies aimed at understanding the different aspects of their formation and evolution,” said Zooniverse.

Learn more, and get involved at the Zooniverse project page.

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