You don’t have to be a professional astronomer to discover unusual objects in the universe, such as this galaxy cluster discovered by two citizen scientists.
The Matorny-Terentev Cluster RGZ-CL J0823.2+0333, which bears the names of the two discoverers, is a cluster of galaxies composed of 23 objects. One of them is responsible for the visibility in radio waves: RGZ J082312.9+033301 is a galaxy whose large C-shaped radio emission stretches for over 3.59 million light-years.
The discovery was achieved thanks to Radio Galaxy Zoo, a web-based citizen science project with over 10,000 volunteers currently busy classifying over 1.6 million images, which combined the infrared detections from NASA’s WISE telescope and radio observations from the Very Large Array in New Mexico.
"The dataset is just too big for any individual or small team to plough through – but we have already reached almost 60% completeness," said Dr Banfield, lead author of the research, in a statement.
A paper describing the results and including the two volunteers as co-authors was published in the Monthly Notices Of The Royal Astronomical Society.
The radio signal comes from highly energetic plasma jets emitted by the supermassive black hole at the center of this galaxy after becoming suddenly active, due to some interaction with intergalactic materials or other objects.
"This radio galaxy might have had two distinct episodes of activity during its lifetime, with quiet times of approximately 10 million years in between," said Galaxy Zoo science team member and co-author Dr Anna Kapinska.
The curious shape of the radio signal depends on the dynamic of the system. The galaxy is moving through space at a speed of 1,100 kilometers per second (2.46 million miles per hour), so the plasma jets stretch backward like waves from a boat.
Curiously shaped radio signals can help find more clusters, where the intense gravity forces galaxies to move quite quickly. These weird signals can’t really be modeled by computers, so we need human eyes to spot them.
"Although radio astronomy is not as pretty as optical images from the Hubble space telescope, people can find cool things, like black holes, quasars, spiral galaxies or clusters of galaxies." said Dr Banfield.
You never know, the next big astronomy discovery could be named after you.