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Crowd Sourcing Comes to Astronomy

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Dustin Lang

Dustin Lang

Credit: Princeton University

Astronomers have reconstructed the orbit of the Holmes comet, which flew by Earth in 2007, using photos from the Internet.

Princeton University postdoctoral research associate Dustin Lang and New York University's David Hogg initially performed a Yahoo! search for photos of the comet, which returned more than 2,400 images, including the comet and pictures of completely different things such as cats. The researchers used the online computer program to filter through the images and narrow the results to 1,299 usable images. They then used the photos, which were taken in different locations, with different cameras and different exposures, to reconstruct the comet's orbit in three dimensions. The researchers came very close to the orbit determined by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"I think it's the beginning of something really, really important," says Harvard University's Alyssa Goodman. "The biggest deal is the availability of all this data that isn't being collected for the purpose it was used."

From Science News 
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