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Bumper Christmas for galaxy hunters

Press Release From: University of Oxford
Posted: Monday, January 7, 2008

Armchair astronomers using the galaxyzoo.org website have identified over 500 overlapping galaxies in the local Universe when astronomers had previously only known of 20 such systems.

"This is the best Christmas present our users could hope for!" said Dr Chris Lintott of Oxford University's Department of Physics, a member of the galaxyzoo.org team. "Overlapping galaxies are useful because they enable us to study the dust in each system. Dust grains play a crucial role in the evolution of galaxies and how we see them -- the presence of such dust is critical for star formation."

Visitors to www.galaxyzoo.org get to see stunning images of galaxies. By classifying some of these images visitors are helping astronomers to understand the structure of the universe. The new digital images were taken using the robotic Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope in New Mexico. Each of the 500+ overlapping galaxies was discovered by a member of the public signed up to the galaxyzoo.org forum where armchair astronomers can compare notes on the images of galaxies they have seen and classified using the website. The search for overlapping galaxies was led by Bill Keel of the University of Alabama who wrote on the forum asking people to look out for suitable systems.

Astronomers have been awarded five night's use of the WIYN telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take a closer look at the overlapping galaxies identified by the Galaxy Zoo volunteers. The WIYN telescope is one of the largest in the Northern hemisphere and one of the most advanced in the world. This work will begin on 25 April 2008.

"We are expecting to get some spectacular images from our Arizona nights but, with the first set of science papers on Galaxy Zoo coming out very soon, we still need more volunteers to visit galaxyzoo.org," said Dr Chris Lintott. "Even if you've visited the site before, please come back and classify some more galaxies as we need your help to confirm our results, results which could have a profound impact on our models of the universe."

Further information:

* Galaxy Zoo http://www.galaxyzoo.org/

* WIYN Telescope http://www.noao.edu/wiyn

* Sloan Digital Sky Survey http://www.sdss.org/

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