Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand

Amateur astronomers needed:

help classify stars with Gaia’s data

ESA's Gaia mission has been collecting data on millions of space objects like stars and asteroids to build an extensive cosmic record. Now, to take it up a notch, it needs your eyes.

So far, Gaia has measured 1.8 billion stars with unprecedented precision, the richest star catalogue to date. Gaia's third major data release, published in 2022, includes 10.5 million variable sources over the entire sky, identified using machine learning methods in a supervised classification scheme. Though Gaia's telescopes are incredibly powerful, researchers within the mission still need the help of the oldest visual tool on the planet: your eyes.

In its almost 10 years since launch, Gaia has contributed massively to our understanding of the cosmos, and now you can take part in furthering the discoveries.

Within Gaia Vari, an ESA-funded citizen science project, you can help classify Gaia's variable stars — stars that change in brightness over time. These observations are key to better understand these celestial bodies better.

As analysing individual sources is beyond the scope of the Gaia consortium, you, as a citizen scientist will look over images and graphs to classify stars' brightness changes, colours, and other variables overtime. You may also identify incorrect classifications made by the automated algorithms. This will help scientists organise and categorise what we know of the millions of stars Gaia has observed, toward the next Gaia data release in 2025. You may actually discover the most interesting stars!

To participate in the Gaia Vari project, go to Zooniverse, a platform with projects where people power the research. There's no need for you to sign in or create an account. After entering the platform, you can learn how to look at the graphs and data and classify each variable.

Read more here.

Gaia is an ambitious mission to chart a three-dimensional map of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, in the process revealing the composition, formation and evolution of the Galaxy. Gaia will provide unprecedented positional and radial velocity measurements with the accuracies needed to produce a stereoscopic and kinematic census of about one billion stars in our Galaxy and throughout the Local Group. This amounts to about 1 per cent of the Galactic stellar population.

The Zooniverse enables everyone to take part in real cutting edge research in many fields across the sciences, humanities, and more. The Zooniverse creates opportunities for you to unlock answers and contribute to real discoveries.