The Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS) is a project that will take some of the first observations with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)! CEERS will use imaging and spectroscopy to discover and study galaxies at redshifts from z~1 all the way up to z~13(!), testing current theories of galaxy formation and evolution. As one of the first projects observed with JWST, CEERS will help demonstrate the capabilities of the observatory, help the community become familiar with all the telescope can do, and do some really cool science! In preparation for the CEERS observations, the team has selected thousands of possible targets based on some preliminary information from the Hubble Space Telescope. Their monumental task is now to inspect all possible targets and identify the best subset for more detailed follow-up observations with JWST.
In October, 2019, CEERS team members participated in a “Science Sprint” hosted by the Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science (TIDES) at the University of Texas at Austin. Sprints are one-day immersive research experiences that provide undergraduate students the opportunity to work together to solve real research problems. During the CEERS Sprint, the team worked with about 25 undergraduate students to classify more than 5000 high-redshift galaxy candidates by evaluating their shape and brightness in multiple imaging filters. They also introduced a JWST track as part of their Vertically Integrated Project (VIP) research group at UT Austin, following the VIP model from Georgia Tech, where more senior members of the group help lead and mentor the newer members. In this case, the incoming students learn about imaging, and galaxy sample selection and analysis techniques all while helping build the datasets the senior members use for their analysis projects.
For both efforts, they used the Zooniverse Project Builder to present the data to the students for inspection and to collect their classifications. Students learn how to distinguish between good high-redshift galaxy candidates and contaminants such as lower-redshift galaxies, stars in our own galaxy, and detector artifacts that can masquerade as high-redshift galaxies. They are simultaneously helping the team improve their automated criteria for selecting high-redshift galaxy candidates and helping them determine which of thousands of candidates they should prioritize for the CEERS spectroscopic observations.