This week in Long Beach, CA at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), I presented first results from the Andromeda Project. Thanks to the help of ~5100 registered participants and thousands of others who classified images, the science team was able to create an initial catalog a little more than one month after the launch of the site. This turn-around time amazed me, the science team, and nearly every astronomer I spoke to at the conference.
The full poster can be downloaded in PDF format at this link, but here is a summary of the main points from our presentation:
1) We have a great sample of clusters (and galaxies)!
Thanks to the resolving power of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Andromeda Project participants identified ~2900 star clusters and ~1700 background galaxies. The new cluster catalog is ~10 times larger than previous ground-based catalogs. Not only does the size of the sample dwarf previous catalogs in terms of number of objects, but it also includes clusters that are ~40 times fainter than previously identified objects.
2) Awesome Citizen Science Participation
As I said before, the response to the site was quite amazing: over the course of 16 days, participants submitted more than 1 million image classifications and collectively spent more than a year of time on the site. Also, many of the astronomers I talked to were quite surprised to see just how international our participation was: about one-third of our registered participants are from Europe.
3) Synthetic Cluster Tests Reveal Important Information
The synthetic clusters inserted in the Andromeda Project search images have already produced some important insights into the accuracy and completeness of the resulting cluster catalog. In the past, astronomers assumed that the detection of a cluster depended solely on the luminosity of the cluster: objects brighter than some luminosity limit could be detected, while objects fainter than that limit were not likely to be identified. Using the results from the synthetic cluster tests, we can already see that such simple assumptions do not hold for our data. Due to our ability to identify faint clusters where most of the light from the cluster could come from only one or two individual stars, we must take a different approach to properly model cluster detection for the Andromeda Project.
4) Work In Progress
The science team continues to improve our catalog construction techniques in an effort to make the most accurate catalog possible. For instance, when we were able to incorporate all of the image classification data, we increased the number of cataloged clusters from the ~2,600 total that we announced in this previous blog entry to ~2,900. We expect this number to fluctuate at the ~10% level while we continue to refine the construction techniques and identification thresholds we use to build the cluster catalog. That’s part of the scientific process: we continue to improve our analysis to achieve the most accurate possible answers on our way towards finalizing and publishing our results.
5) Next Steps
Now that we have our sample of clusters, we can start to analyze these objects in detail: determining the age, mass, and structural parameters (size and concentration) for each cluster. Using these characteristics, we will start to piece together the formation and destruction history of clusters within the disk of Andromeda. In addition, we are already in the planning stages for Round 2 of the project, with a goal of re-launching at the end of the summer once we have completed all data collection from Hubble.
Stay tuned: the science team will provide occasional updates here on the blog as we uncover interesting new aspects of the data.