Archive | June 2014

…And We’re Back!! Sunspotter Round 2

I suppose Friday the 13th is as good a day as any to launch a Citizen Science project.

For those of you who helped us classify the previous data set: Welcome back!
And hello to all of our new Sunspotters!


If you haven’t a notion of what Sunspotter is all about, check out our science section. In short, our goal is to determine the complexity of sunspot groups. It is well known (to solar physicists) that more complicated looking sunspot groups produce more solar flares than simple looking ones. But so far, scientists have not found a good way to quantify sunspot group complexity. This is not a task easily accomplished by a computer. Humans, on the other hand, can easily point to the more complex in a pair of objects, ideas, images, and so on.

I’m pretty sure you have an idea of which is the more complex: a graduate text on quantum mechanics, or an Italian cookbook?
On the other hand, it would not be straight-forward for a computer to make that choice. The same is true with sunspot groups.

In round one (lasting only a month!), ~1,600 volunteers helped us to rank ~13,000 images of sunspot groups by choosing the more complex one in ~300,000 pairs of images. This has allowed us to quantify ‘true’ sunspot group complexity for the first time! Now that we have a handle on how to give complexity a number, we want to determine how the complexity of a sunspot group changes over time.

A less complex sunspot group.

A less complex sunspot group.

To do this we have automatically detected thousands of sunspot groups and tracked them over time. Each sunspot group has been detected about 15 times per  day. Some of these sunspot groups were included in the previous dataset, but now they are being detected in a different way. That means that you will see a number of similar-looking images- but don’t worry if you can’t tell which sunspot group is more complex, just do your best! When graphing the complexity of a sunspot group over time, we are hoping to see clear jumps in the data when the sunspot group became more complex and we expect this to be followed by the occurrence of solar flares.

A more complex sunspot group

A more complex sunspot group

There are a few ‘biases’ that we could not easily correct for with the previous dataset, that we hope to get a handle on this time. For instance, depending on a sunspot group’s position, it will look more squished as it nears the edge of the Sun. As mentioned in an earlier post, we are now using a projection technique to ‘de-squish’ the sunspot groups. Also, it is likely that the most complex sunspot groups are always the largest. However, humans might also be biased toward thinking bigger things are more complex, even when they are not. So, to help reduce this bias, we have ‘de-scaled’ the images so that all of the sunspot groups, big or small, will appear roughly the same size on your screen.

We think you will find it much easier to focus on complexity with this new data set.

Thanks for listening, and happy classifying!!

¿Qué significa Sunspotter?

Sunspotter es el nuevo proyecto de ciencia ciudadana que nos ofrece zooniverse.  Es el primer proyecto de dicha plataforma que está completamente disponible en español, esto incluye además de la página web, un grupo de científicos de habla hispana que responderán las dudas de los voluntarios y mantendrán este blog con las últimos novedades.

Pero… ¿qué significa Sunspotter?

Para entender el término Sunspotter tenemos que jugar un poquito con el inglés. Muchos de ustedes sabrán que sun significa sol y spot mancha.  De ahí que a las manchas solares se les conozcan como sunspots. Pero en inglés, a veces un sustantivo puede ser también un verbo, y así sucede con to spot que entre otras cosas significa localizar o divisar.  Además, así como to teach es enseñar, y teacher es el que enseña (profesor), spotter es el que realiza la acción de divisar, esto es, un observador. Con esto, conseguimos entender un poco el juego de palabras que deriva del nombre de este proyecto.  Por un lado vamos a clasificar manchas solares, pero por otro, nos beneficiamos de los ojos de los voluntarios que son buenos observadores de la complejidad del sol.

Como ya expliqué en el anterior artículo (donde aún no habíamos logrado la perla de nombre que tenemos ahora), el fin último de este proyecto es ser capaz de predecir cuando las fulguraciones solares van a ocurrir. Sin embargo esta es una empresa para nada sencilla con los datos que tenemos hasta el momento, y es aquí donde Sunspotter intenta incorporar una nueva perspectiva al problema. Durante muchos años los que han trabajado observando el sol y clasificando las manchas solares saben que si una mancha solar es grande, “mala” y “fea” va a producir una fulguración solar. Pero, ¿cómo sabemos si una mancha solar es grande, mala y fea? El tamaño es fácil de obtener mediante un algoritmo sencillo, no así el que sea “mala” y “fea”. ¡Es ahí donde te necesitamos!  Hemos encontrado que la complejidad es un parámetro que nos indica bastante bien cuando un grupo de manchas solares tiene una pinta “mala” y “fea”. Y creemos que con la simple tarea de comparar cuál es el grupo de manchas solares más complejo de entre dos nos da la información suficiente para clasificar todas las manchas solares en esta nueva escala.

No esperes más, ¡únete al resto de voluntarios, y ayúdanos a clasificar las manchas solares!  Entre más seamos mejor será nuestra clasificación.  Tampoco te olvides de preguntarnos en el foro cualquier duda y discutir con el resto de voluntarios tus manchas solares favoritas. ¡Te esperamos!

First Results from Sunspotter

Hello Sunspotters,

After our brief hiatus, we are about to launch the next phase Sunspotter this Friday! As we mentioned before, there will be >200,000 images. Ranking the sunspot group complexity of this new dataset will require literally millions of clicks. This time we are trying to learn about the evolution of complexity in sunspot groups.

Last time, our goal was to obtain a quantitative measure of sunspot group complexity- the results of this are exactly what I presented to the attendees of the 224th American Astrophysical Society meeting in Boston, MA, last week. My talk was well attended by sunspot and solar flare experts who asked a number of insightful questions about the data analysis method, and about how data was presented to the hard-working volunteers.

You can view the slides from the presentation on FigShare. I will be writing an in-depth post explaining the methods and analysis techniques used to get these results as we pull the journal paper together for publication.

Hope to see you all on soon!