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Public to help researchers capture largest ever movie of the changing night sky

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are looking for UK citizens to help contribute to world-leading research on capturing the largest ever movie of the changing night sky.

The Queen’s experts have received funding from the government via UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for the project.

They will work with researchers from the Zooniverse team at the University of Oxford to explore how they can combine citizen science and automated machines to search for an astronomical needle in a haystack. This includes solar system bodies, supernovae and other astrophysical explosions - in preparation for the Rubin Observatory’s ‘Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST)’.

Starting in 2022, the Rubin Observatory will identify ten million sources in the sky that changed compared to the last time the telescope viewed them, identifying new supernove explosions lighting up for the first time or a comet suddenly fading.

Using surveys which are now active, the researchers will explore how to pair machines and people power to efficiently sift through the data to identify interesting sources worthy of rapid follow-up with other ground-based and space-based telescopes.

Dr Meg Schwamb is leading the project at Queen’s. She comments: “We are delighted to be developing new pathways for how citizen science can contribute to exploring the changing night sky.”

She adds: ““We’re examining how we can engage with the public so that they can go online and make assessments and complete tasks relating to the LSST data in real time.

“The exciting part is that this research has the potential to engage with people who would not normally be involved with research and innovation so they can shape research that is relevant to their lives and their local areas. We are also aiming to inspire a new generation of children and young people about the wonder and potential of this research.

The project is one of 53 across the UK, which have been funded a total of £1.4m by UKRI.

UK Research and Innovation’s Head of Public Engagement, Tom Saunders, said: “As part of UKRI’s new vision for public engagement we launched two new funding calls last year, one aimed at encouraging researchers to explore citizen methods, and another aimed at supporting researchers and universities to engage with communities and places and communities who have fewer opportunities to participate in research and innovation. 

“In 2020 and beyond, we will build on the lessons we learn through funding these pilot projects to help us achieve our ambition of making research and innovation responsive to the knowledge, priorities and values of society and open to participation by people from all backgrounds.”

Dr Meg Schwamb
Dr Meg Schwamb - School of Mathematics and Physics

Media inquiries to Emma Gallagher at Queen’s University Communications Office T; +44 (0)28 9097 3087 E;