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INFOGRAPHIC: Space Is Really, Really Big - So Why Not Crowdsource The Research?
March 29, 2012
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Space research has long been the domain of distinguished experts - highly qualified astronauts, scientists and engineers searching the vast cosmos for insights into the nature of the universe.

But the European Space Agency (ESA) has decided that the best way to scour the stars for information isn't to hire more researchers, but to turn to crowdsourcing, instead.

The space agency is running two contests in which members of the public can access the vast archive of images taken by the Hubble space telescope, ESA's eye in the sky, which has been responsible for some of the most detailed images of deep space and for producing a number of scientific breakthroughs in its 22 years in orbit.


With the Hubble's Hidden Treasures 2012 Contest, the ESA is inviting amateur astronomers to pore over the Hubble image bank, possibly to see if they can come up with observations that the pros might have missed. The best image will win the submitter... an iPod. Not a great payday for doing the work of a team of qualified scientists.

In case your astronomy skills are really on the amateur side of things, one thing you should know before joining this contest is that exploring the universe is no walk in the park - space is really, really, really big.

To help bring the concept home, here's an impressively enormous picture of our Milky Way Galaxy, built from thousands of individual images taken from two UK-developed telescopes in Hawaii and in Chile. There are over a billion stars in the full image, more than have appeared in any other image produced from surveys. Unfortunately it's also a really, really long strip, so we can't show you the whole thing, but here's a sample image:


And for even more perspective on the enormity of it all BBC has published a helpful infographic showing the relative size of just our home solar system - our immediate neighbourhood in the massive world that is the known universe.

As you might expect from a graphic meant to overwhelm you with sheer size, there is LOTS of scrolling involved:


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