Stars aren’t supposed to just disappear, but countless bright objects that appeared in the sky in the 1950s no longer do.
In an attempt to solve the mystery, scientists have turned to a burgeoning field known as citizen science, in which ordinary people of all ages around the world can take part in research projects aimed at answering new questions. real scientific questions about our environment, whether on Earth or in space. The citizen science project Disappearance and Appearance of Sources Over a Century of Observations (VASCO), which began in 2017, delves into the archives to see how the stars change.
“In the citizen science project, we are comparing images from the 1950s with modern images of the sky,” said Beatriz Villarroel, principal investigator of the VASCO project, an astrophysicist at the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics in Sweden and lead author of a new document outlining the project, Space.com said in an email. “The ultimate goal is to identify an object that is clearly visible in several old images, but which is no longer visible today.”
Thus, the volunteers of the project examine 150,000 “trailing stars” candidates who come from a study 2020 (opens in a new tab) to see if objects from 1950s images can be found in modern images. The project looked at 15,593 candidate image pairs in the data, or about 10% of all candidates, and identified 798 objects that they classify as “missing.”
The “disappearing” stars could turn out to be anything from a blazing star to a supernova to the afterglow of a gamma-ray burst.
The research also contributes to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, as well as, according to Jamal Mimouni, an astrophysicist at the University of Constantine 1 in Algeria and co-author of the paper, who noted that traditionally SETI has been driven by scientists who focus on radio astronomy. VASCO takes a different approach, seeing “vanishing stars” as a potential sign of advanced civilizations.
“You could say this is another twist on SETI,” he told Space.com in an email. The search is also getting closer to home, he said. “We are also interested in finding ET artifacts orbiting Earth, looking for fast solar reflections (reflections) from satellites and space debris in pre-Sputnik pictures.”
And the VASCO project is not just for adults. A spin-off project, VASCO-Kids, allows young astronomy fans to also participate in scientific studies.
“The goal of VASCO-Kids is to popularize the VASCO Global Project worldwide targeting students and young children in general, and it also aims to use this project as a powerful medium for children’s education in astronomy” , Echeima Amine-Khodja, a veteran amateur astronomer who recently completed her master’s degree in astrophysics from Constantine 1 University and worked with VASCO and VASCO-Kids for two years, told Space.com in an email.
Since VASCO is publicly available, the Web interface (opens in a new tab) is designed to be user-friendly to allow people from all scientific backgrounds to examine images for “disappearing” stars. VASCO-Kids is an example of public engagement for younger audiences who can use the web interface to participate in the project.
The VASCO citizen science project has already been praised by the scientific community. Villarroel received the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science award in Sweden in 2021 for his work on the VASCO project, then the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science “International Rising Talents” award in 2022, making her the first Swede to receive the award. Several studies based on VASCO research have also been submitted or published in several journals, including The Astronomical Journal, Acta Astronautics and Scientific reports (opens in a new tab).
As VASCO continues, the project is looking to improve its methods, including bolstering the artificial intelligence used by the project and gathering infrared and optical images of some of the “hottest candidates”.
“Being part of the VASCO citizen science project helps the person learn more and develop new skills and practice scientific research like a real scientist,” said Hichem Guergouri, astrophysicist at the CERIST research institute in Algeria and co -author of the article, told Space.com in an email. “The results we might find in the Citizen Science Project might even lead to amazing new discoveries that everyone would like their name to be a part of, so I encourage everyone to join the VASCO Citizen Science Project. “