Citizen-science project Vanishing stars opens skies to public
Stars don’t have to disappear. However, many bright objects once visible in the sky in 1950s do not anymore.
Scientists have turned to citizen science to help solve this mystery. This field allows anyone of any age to participate in scientific research projects that answer real scientific questions about the world, Earth, or space. The Vanishing & Appearing Sources During a Century of Observations citizen science project (VASCO), was launched in 2017. It dives into archives to find out how the stars are evolving.
“In the citizen science program, we compare images from the 1950s with modern photos of the sky,” Beatriz Villeroel (principal investigator of VASCO project and astrophysicist at Sweden’s Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics) told Space.com via email. The ultimate goal is to find an object that is visible clearly in multiple images but is not visible today.
Volunteers are now examining 150,000 candidate “vanishing star” candidates that were taken from a 2020 study to determine if objects found in 1950s images can be found today. The project has analyzed 15,593 candidate image pairs from the data, which is approximately 10% of all candidates. They have also identified 798 objects that they consider “vanished.”
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These “vanished stars” could be anything, from a flaring star to a supernova or the afterglow of a gamma radiation burst.
Jamal Mimouni (an astrophysicist from the University of Constantine 1, Algeria) said that the research contributes to the search to find extraterrestrial intelligence. He also noted that SETI was traditionally led by radio astronomy-focused scientists. VASCO considers “vanishing stars” to be a sign of advanced civilizations.
Space.com’s spokesman said that it could be considered another twist on SETI in an email. He said that the search is closer to home as well. We are also interested in searching for ET artifacts orbiting around the Earth by searching for fast solar reflections (glints), from satellites, and space debris in pre-Sputnik photos.
The VASCO project is not just for adults. VASCO-Kids is an offshoot of the VASCO project that allows young astronomy enthusiasts to participate in scientific studies.
“The goal VASCO-Kids was to promote the global VASCO project worldwide targeting children and young people, and it also aims at using this project as an effective support for kids’ educations in astronomy,” Echeima amine-Khodja, an experienced amateur astronomer, said in an email to Space.com. She has been working with VASCO and VASCO–Kids for two-years.
VASCO is now open to the public via the web interface
It is user-friendly and allows anyone with any scientific background to view images of “vanishing stars”. VASCO-Kids provides a way for young people to engage with the project via the internet.
Already, the VASCO citizen science program has received some praise from the scientific community. Villarroel was awarded the L’Oreal UNESCO For Women in Science prize in Sweden in 2020 for her contribution to the VASCO project. In 2022, Villarroel was also awarded the L’Oreal UNESCO For Women in Science Prize in Europe “International Rising Talents’ ‘ in 2022.
She is the first Swede ever to be given this prize. Numerous studies that were based on VASCO search results have been published or submitted to several journals, including The Astronomical Journal, Acta Astronautica, and Scientific Reports.
VASCO is continuing to grow and improve its methods. This includes strengthening its artificial intelligence and gathering infrared images and optical images from some of the most interesting candidates.
“Being a part of the VASCO citizen scientist project helps the person learn more, develop new skills, and practice scientific research as a real scientist,” Hichem Guiergouri, an astrophysicist from the CERIST research center in Algeria, said in an email to Space.com. The citizen science project may lead to amazing new discoveries that anyone would love to be part of.