Volunteers help pick out Green Pea galaxies

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Monday, July 27, 2009

Green Pea galaxiesIn a twist on the amateur-astronomer-helps-professionals storyline, Yale astronomers discovered a group of galaxies by enlisting citizen scientists’ help not with stargazing, but computer gazing.  

The galaxies, dubbed the “Green Peas” because of their small, green appearance, were discovered as part of an online project called Galaxy Zoo, where volunteers have helped classify galaxies in a huge online picture gallery since 2007. Apparently the volunteers’ help was essential, with only 250 Green Peas found out of one million galaxies in the bank. It’s the kind of job that one dedicated astronomer couldn’t do in decades, but multitudes of part-time astronomers could make short work of.  

The astronomers discovered that Green Peas, between 1.5 and 5 billion light-years away, form stars faster than usual, about 10 times faster than our own Milky Way. That’s all the more unusual given their relative tininess, about 10 times smaller than the Milky Way and 100 times less massive. Because these kinds of galaxies would have been more normal in the early universe, further research could help guide theories as to how early galaxies formed stars and evolved.  

Despite all this great science, I still can’t help thinking that “Green Pea Galaxy” sounds more like a stage in the recent Wii video game Super Mario Galaxy, home to such areas as the Good Egg Galaxy, Rolling Green Galaxy, and Beach Bowl Galaxy.  

The Green Pea moniker also seems to have brought out the playful side of the Galaxy Zoo volunteers, who call themselves the “Peas Corps” and originally titled their forum thread “Give peas a chance.”  

Were you a part of this finding, or do you know someone who was? And if so, what fun — PG-rated — peas-related name would you have come up with?

Related:

Photo credit: Courtesy Galaxy Zoo blog
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