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Now You Can Raise Zombie Astrophotos

Originally published at AAS Nova

Looking for something fun and rewarding to do in your spare time? A new citizen-science project has been added to the Zooniverse platform (home of the well-known Galaxy Zoo project and others): Astronomy Rewind.

This photo of the Orion Nebula (left) appeared in an article in a 1905 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. Thanks to the efforts of a new program to revive old astronomy data, photos like this one can be placed into context of modern observations of the sky (shown with WorldWide Telescope in the image on the right) and used for research.
This photo of the Orion Nebula (left) appeared in an article in a 1905 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. Thanks to the efforts of a new program to revive old astronomy data, photos like this one can be placed into context of modern observations of the sky (shown with WorldWide Telescope in the image on the right) and used for research. [American Astronomical Society, NASA/SAO Astrophysics Data System & WorldWide Telescope; see the live tour here]

What is Astronomy Rewind?

The Astronomy Rewind project is a collaboration between the American Astronomical Society, the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System, Astronomy Image Explorer, WorldWide Telescope, and the ADS All Sky Survey.

An image from the Astronomy Rewind that shows an example of a sky figure with axes labeled.

“A new citizen-science project will rescue tens of thousands of potentially valuable cosmic images that are mostly dead to science and bring them fully back to life. Called Astronomy Rewind, the effort, which launches today (22 March 2017), will take photographs, radio maps, and other telescopic images that have been scanned from the pages of dusty old journals and place them in context in digital sky atlases and catalogs. Anyone will then be able to find them online and compare them with modern electronic data from ground- and space-based telescopes, making possible new studies of short- and long-term changes in the heavens.”

Why Was This Project Developed?

A lot of astronomy data exist in formats that can’t be easily searched for, retrieved, or placed into the context of more recent observations — limiting their current use to scientists. But these data are still incredibly valuable; a significant amount of astronomical research relies on being able to compare recent observations to historical ones! Astronomy Rewind will help scientists to be able to access this rich archive of data and use it to make new discoveries.

What’s Involved in Raising Zombie Astrophotos?

After a brief training exercise, users of Astronomy Rewind will examine pages that have been scanned from old issues of AAS journals dating from the 19th century to the mid-1990s, when the Society began publishing electronically.

An image from the Astronomy Rewind that shows an example of a sky figure without axes labeled.

Next, they’ll determine whether there’s information in the labels and captions that might identify images’ scale, orientation, or sky position. If there aren’t useful labels but the image contains recognizable stars, galaxies, or other celestial objects, then the image can be sent to Astrometry.net, an online service that compares astrophotos to star catalogs to determine what areas of the sky they show.

The images that have been “solved” — i.e., they have been located on the sky and the appropriate coordinate metadata has been added to them — are then sent back to the Astrophysics Data System (ADS) and Astronomy Image Explorer (AIE), where they can be easily searched for and retrieved by astronomers and the general public alike. AIE will have the added bonus of a button that allows users to “view in context”, using the newly established metadata to place the image in its context in the night sky using WorldWideTelescope.

Where Can You Learn More?

You can read the press release on Astronomy Rewind here.

If you’re ready to get started raising zombie astrophotos, go to the Astronomy Rewind page here.

 

This infographic illustrates how the Astronomy Rewind project enables the recovery of data — and where that data ultimately goes.

This infographic illustrates how the Astronomy Rewind project enables the recovery of data — and where that data ultimately goes.