Astronomer unveils the mysteries of "Green Pea" galaxies at JENAM conference in a victory for citizen science

Lisbon, 10 September 2010: Today at the Joint European and National Astronomy Meeting (JENAM2010), Ricardo Amorin will present a talk explaining the nature of strange so-called Green Pea galaxies. First discovered in 2007 by amateur stargazers, it has now been shown that these extraordinary and extremely compact star cities have low amounts of complex elements after being diluted by streams of gas and strong supernova winds. This announcement will be celebrated by the amateurs who first discovered Green Pea galaxies.

Lead scientist Ricardo Amorin says, “This Green Pea discovery is a fabulous example of how normal citizens, ‘astronomy lovers’, can help scientists with their collective efforts. They discuss the science with professional astronomers, and have written an excellent Wikipedia entry about Green Pea galaxies which presents a lot of information to people of the world.”
Green Pea galaxies were first classified by hobby stargazers. The online project Galaxy Zoo and Galaxy Zoo 2 asked interested members of the public to help sort through a vast depository of night sky images produced by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Categorising galaxy types is both important to learn about the evolution of the Universe, and also difficult because of the ambiguous shape of many. Astronomers turned to the online community for help, and citizen scientists flocked to sift through the images and look for galaxy types. Within 24 hours of launch the site was receiving an astonishing 70,000 classifications an hour.
These citizen scientists discovered a strange type of galaxy that did not fit with previously known types. Small in size and green in colour, they were soon named "Green Pea" galaxies. They appear to be compact low-mass galaxies undergoing intense star formation, and being around 1.5 to 5 billion years distant indicates that this is a brief but extreme stage of their evolution. Green Pea galaxies are now known to be "metal-poor"; metals in this astronomical sense meaning any element other than hydrogen and helium. The study presented today suggests that gas gravitationally attracted from the outskirts of the Green Pea galaxies or beyond, combined with shockwaves from supernova explosions, are likely causes. Amorin explains, “Discovering Green Pea galaxies has opened a new window to investigate galaxy evolution and star formation in the early Universe.”
Green Pea galaxies aren’t the only citizen science successes to come from Galaxy Zoo. In 2007, Dutch school teacher Hanny van Arkel was categorising galaxies for the project when she came across a very strange object. This was soon named Hanny’s Voorwerp, from the Dutch for “Hanny’s Object”. This strange phenomona baffled scientists, and it was only in June 2010 that a possible explanation – a supermassive blackhole in a nearby galaxy emitting radiation and making a cloud of gas glow – was provided. The community of amateur astronomers have cooperated to make an educational webcomic about this adventure, called “Hanny and the Mystery of the Voorwerp”.
Amorin concludes, “The Galaxy Zoo volunteers have put science very close to the citizens. This is an active and powerful way to spread science.” The latest incarnation of Galaxy Zoo uses data provided by the famous Hubble Space Telescope, to peer deeper into the Universe than before. Perhaps even more citizen science discoveries are just around the corner.

Notes for the editors:
JENAM is organised each year in one of the European countries jointly by the European Astronomical Society (EAS) and one of the national astronomical societies. JENAM 2010 is the 18th Annual Meeting of the European Astronomical Society and the 20th Annual Portuguese Meeting of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The European Astronomical Society (EAS) was founded in 1990 and its purpose is to contribute to and promote the advancement of astronomy, in its broadest sense, in Europe, by providing an independent forum for the discussion of subjects of common interest and by providing means whereby action can be taken on those matters which appear desirable to be handled at the European level. EAS brings together 24 European Astronomical Societies and more than 700 professional astronomers. Image captions and credits:
This image shows a selection of Green Pea galaxies discovered by the Galaxy Zoo team. Credit: Richard Nowell.
The work of citizen scientists was invaluable in documenting Green Pea galaxies. Amateurs worked alongside professional astronomers to gather and analyse data. Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Richard Nowell.
Ricardo Amorin is presenting this research today at the JENAM conference in Lisbon. Credit: Lee Pullen (Science Office).

Galaxy Zoo website:
Hanny and the Mystery of the Voorwerp:
Green Pea Wikipedia page:
JENAM2010 website:
Mariana Barrosa
JENAM2010 Press Officer
Science Office
Cell phone: +351 919213437 / +49 17680230930
Ricardo Amorin
Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia – CSIC, Granada, Spain.
Cell phone: +34-958230634