RIT researchers looking for public’s help to study galaxies

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology want the public’s help to study galaxies far, far away.

It may seem like something out of Star Wars, but the goal is to use measurements of light distribution, called spectra, from galaxies to study their characteristics.

Volunteers can look at spectra to study how galaxies and their surrounding gases are related to the universe’s structure, how supermassive black holes contribute to their galaxy’s evolution, and how dark energy drives the expansion of the universe.

RIT collaborated with NASA to start a website asking for volunteers for the project, called Redshift Wrangler. NASA has previously collaborated with citizen scientists to help make thousands of critical scientific discoveries.

Sadie Coffin, a Ph.D. student in RIT’s astrophysical sciences and technology program, said recruiting citizen scientists is a great way to analyze a massive amount of data quickly and encourage the public to learn about the research process.

“Citizen science can often succeed where traditional science can’t,” Coffin said.

By looking at a spectrum of a galaxy, scientists can make conclusions based on the different characteristics of the wavelengths. Different elements have peaks and dips that always occur at the same places, like a fingerprint. Scientists can determine which elements are present and make other conclusions about what the galaxy is like.

“The spectra of galaxies allow us to look into the past,” said Jeyhan Kartaltepe, a professor at RIT’s School of Physics and Astronomy and the principal investigator on the project. “If we’re going to understand better our early universe and how galaxies have changed over cosmic time, we need to study these far away systems. This will give us critical information about the history of our galaxy and how we fit in.”

Kartaltepe said studying a spectrum is time-consuming, which is why the public’s help is critical. You can learn how to sign up to volunteer here.