People around the world are being invited to help solve one of the universe's enduring mysteries.
Scientists have launched a public competition to help them learn more about dark matter -- which accounts for 95 percent of the mass of the universe, but cannot be seen and is little understood.
Astronomers from the University of Edinburgh have joined forces with crowdsourcing data science website Kaggle and Winton Capital Management to find people who are interested in taking up the challenge.
The scientists behind the contest hope that it will inspire thousands of people to tackle the problem, using a variety of techniques.
Researchers expect the competition to attract people who solve numerical problems for a living, such as scientists, statisticians and data engineers. They hope that a solution may be found by adapting an existing problem-solving tool from a field of expertise outside astronomy.
Prizes of US$12,000, US$5,000 and US$3,000 are being provided by Winton, which uses similar data science techniques to build automated trading systems for financial markets.
Dark matter is known to cause galaxies to form clusters in space. Scientists want to develop ways to analyze images of these galaxy clusters, taken by the Hubble telescope. This will enable them to better understand how the clusters have been formed, and create a map of dark matter, giving insight into its make-up.
The competition, Observing Dark Worlds, can be found at http://www.kaggle.com and entrants have until 16 December to submit their ideas.
David Harvey, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, said: "By encouraging thousands of people to focus on a problem, we have a good chance of making progress quickly. This competition could make a real difference in solving an enigma that has puzzled astronomers for decades."
Ben Hamner, a data scientist with Kaggle, said: "Competitions bring together an array of the brightest individuals around the globe, and focus them on challenging problems. We're excited to leverage this capability to attack some of the most fundamental questions in astronomy."
David Harding, Winton's founder, Chairman and Head of Research, said: "Winton is delighted to support this competition because understanding dark matter is one of the great scientific challenges of the 21st century. At its heart Winton is a scientific research center that uses empirical methods to analyze data. Financial markets may be our chosen laboratory, but ultimately we are driven by research."
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