Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that astronomers have invented a game to help uncover the basis of galactic collisions, showing players images of colliding galaxies and asking them to match those to simulations. These galactic mergers could be the key to why the Universe contains a mixture of different galaxies — some with trailing spiral arms, others more like compact balls of stars. Astronomers say that humans are 'much better than computers' at spotting the patterns and similarities. 'The strength of the game is that it takes results from many people,' says Dr Chris Lintott from Oxford University, one of the members of the Galaxy Zoo team. The developers describe the game as a 'cosmic fruit machine' (i.e., slot machine). The game shows players one real galaxy image and, on command, eight randomly selected simulations pop into the 'slot'" surrounding that image. The aim is for players to choose the simulations that look most similar to the real galaxy and take those through to the next round to examine them further. The simulated images show the different aspects of galaxy formation, so as people play, they will generate data that will help astronomers understand these collisions. 'These collisions take millions of years to unfold,' says Anthony Holincheck, a graduate student at George Mason University and another member of the team. 'All we get from the Universe is a single snapshot of each one. [With] simulations, we will be able to watch each cosmic car crash unfold in the computer.'"
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