Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM News

Rise of the Robot Astronomer

View as: Print Mobile App Share:
Hubble Space Telescope picture of the Abell Cluster

NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage (STScI / AURA)

When thousands of Internet users helped astronomers classify types of galaxies through a project called Galaxy Zoo, some of them may not have realized that they were training a machine to do their job.

British astronomers say they used data from the project to develop a software algorithm for galaxy classification that matched the human-generated results 90 percent of the time. Such robot astronomers may well do the bulk of the work in future all-sky galactic surveys. But the research team's leader says we need not fear the rise of the machines: The point of the exercise is to liberate us humans to do the more interesting tasks.

The University of Cambridge's Manda Banerji explained that celestial surveys to come will have to analyze hundreds of millions of galaxies. Banerji herself is involved in one of those surveys, the Dark Energy Survey, which will look at 300 million galaxies over five years, starting in 2011. Another project known as the VISTA Hemisphere Survey will take pictures of galaxies over the entire southern celestial hemisphere.

"We're getting to that age where we can't viably do these things using the human eye," Banerji told me today.

View Full Article


No entries found

Sign In for Full Access
» Forgot Password? » Create an ACM Web Account