Looking at my twitter feed I came across a tweet from the National Geographic society:
This is just really weird sounding, so I had to check it out. Definitely a good tactic to get people to pay attention. Take a look at the article here.
The discovery of the ‘blob’ started with Galaxy zoo, an online database for identifying and classifying galaxies from photos. Anybody can sign up and start classifying. I tried it out myself while I was researching this post and before long I had classified 25 galaxies. It’s quite addicting.
According to the National Geographic article, a Dutch school teacher came across the green blob of gas in one of the photos on Galaxy zoo. This made scientists aware of the cloud’s existence and further investigation was possible. The photo above is the clearest one to date and from it scientists can tell that new stars are being born from this gas cloud.
I think this story is a great example of how publicly available databases can help scientists. It can be impossible for a handful of scientists to catalogue such large data sets. These types of databases exist in many areas of science; there are many apps, websites and hot lines for reporting rare wildlife sightings, as one example. Hopefully we’ll see more media coverage of these databases in the future so more people can make their contribution to science.