Astronomy Rewind sorts through old pictures for new cosmic perspectives

A photo of the Orion Nebula from the June 1905 issue of Astronomical Journal, at left, can be matched up automatically with WorldWide Telescope’s sky atlas, at right. (AAS / NASA / SAO Astrophysics Data System / WorldWide Telescope)

A new project called Astronomy Rewind is recruiting citizen scientists to bring decades-old cosmic images back from the dead and restore them to their rightful place.

It’s the latest offering from Zooniverse, a crowdsourcing platform that got its start a decade ago with Galaxy Zoo and has since branched out into the search for Planet Nine, worlds around distant stars, exotic subatomic particles and much, much more.

Astronomy Rewind pulls together scanned images and maps from American Astronomical Society journals that go back to the 19th century, and invites volunteers to classify them by category.

With the assistance of an automated program at, the images can be placed in their proper context on modern-day sky survey maps and other data repositories.

They’ll also be incorporated into the Astronomy Image Explorer, a service of the AAS and its partners at the UK Institute of Physics Publishing, and into the image database for WorldWide Telescope, a digital sky atlas developed by Microsoft Research and now managed by the AAS.

“There’s no telling what discoveries await,” project co-founder Alyssa Goodman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, or CfA, said in a news release. “Turning historical scientific literature into searchable, retrievable data is like turning the key to a treasure chest.”

In this case, the treasure consists of scanned pages from the Astronomical Journal, Astrophysical Journal, ApJ Letters and the ApJ Supplement Series – all provided by the Astrophysics Data System, or ADS. The ADS archive is funded by NASA and housed at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which is part of the CfA.

Astronomy Rewind is built on a foundation…

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