A machine learning method which has been widely used in face recognition and other image- and speech-recognition applications, has shown promise in helping astronomers analyze images of galaxies and understand how they form and evolve. From a report: In a new study, accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal and available online [PDF], researchers used computer simulations of galaxy formation to train a deep learning algorithm, which then proved surprisingly good at analyzing images of galaxies from the Hubble Space Telescope. The researchers used output from the simulations to generate mock images of simulated galaxies as they would look in observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. The mock images were used to train the deep learning system to recognize three key phases of galaxy evolution previously identified in the simulations. The researchers then gave the system a large set of actual Hubble images to classify. The results showed a remarkable level of consistency in the neural network’s classifications of simulated and real galaxies. “We were not expecting it to be all that successful. I’m amazed at how powerful this is,” said coauthor Joel Primack, professor emeritus of physics and a member of the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP) at UC Santa Cruz. “We know the simulations have limitations, so we don’t want to make too strong a claim. But we don’t think this is just a lucky fluke.”
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