A light source depicted in the left image has disappeared in the right, more recent, image.
A light source depicted in the left image has disappeared in the right, more recent, image.


“We hope that as many people as possible will want to take part of the VASCO’s citizen science project. There is plenty of opportunity to help out in so many ways”, says project leader Beatriz Villarroel, Stockholm University and IAC, Tenerife.

In December 2019, the VASCO team published results from searches by cross-matching 600 million of objects. Through visual inspection they presented what they believe are roughly a hundred of very red, star-like sources that have appeared and vanished in a short period of time, most likely natural astrophysical sources. The process of looking at and comparing all the available images is immense and time consuming. That is why the research team is now turning to the public for assistance in a citizen science project. 

“Citizen science projects have been used in the past by a number of research projects in order to help researchers to classify images and spectra that require human evaluation. Fascinating projects in the past have been Galaxy Zoo project, the newly shut-down SETI@home and most recently the Planet Hunters’s project that discovered the famous Tabby’s star, a star with an unusual dimming”, says Beatriz Villaroel.

The ultimate goal of the project is to use vanished light sources as a method to find unusual or exotic astrophysical phenomena. That includes failed supernovae and even signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, making VASCO the only ongoing citizen science project with a direct connection to SETI. 

Participation from the general public as well as schools

The IT researchers attached to the project have constructed a webpage that gathers information through image classification, and hosts an artificial intelligence currently under development. The long-term goal is to aid the visual classification with the artificial intelligence that gets trained when thousands of images have been visually examined.

“The current web interface has been developed to provide a fluent user experience while helping us with the science. Remember that game of 'spot-the-10-differences-in-the-pair'? Let's do that in astronomy on a really large scale, and with a proper scientific vision behind it. The result is ML-blink. Get good in this game, and you will be helping us reach our goals with the project”, explains Kristiaan Pelckmans Uppsala University, who has supervised the technical development.

Beyond the general public, the research team is also looking for collaborations with schools, in an effort to validate the methods and assess the quality of the gathered information from a smaller data set.

“Given the current situation with covid-19, we think that school classes, supervised by their teachers, can make a contribution as this is an excellent example of a science project that can be done online. Teachers that would like to try letting their pupils participate are welcome to contact us” says Lars Mattsson, Stockholm University.

You can find more information and try out the classification tool on the project website, which you can find by clicking here.

Read more about the project and results published by the research team in December 2019 by clicking here.