So you Think you can Solve a Cosmology Puzzle?
Cosmologists have come up with a new way to solve their problems. They are inviting scientists, including those from totally unrelated fields, to participate in a grand competition. The idea is to spur outside interest in one of cosmology's trickiest problems measuring the invisible dark matter and dark energy that permeate our universe. The results will help in the development of new space missions, designed to answer fundamental questions about the history and fate of our universe. "We're hoping to get more computer scientists interested in our work," said cosmologist Jason Rhodes of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who is helping to organize the challenge, which begins on Dec. 3, 2010.

"Some of the mathematical problems in our field are the same as those in machine-learning applications for example facial recognition software." JPL and several European Universities, including The University of Edinburgh and University College London in the United Kingdom, are helping to support the event, which is funded by a European Union group called Pattern Analysis, Statistical Modelling and Computation Learning. The principal investigator is Thomas Kitching of the University of Edinburgh. This year, the competition, which has operated since 2008, is called GREAT 2010, after GRavitational lEnsing Accuracy Testing. The challenge is to solve a series of puzzles involving distorted images of galaxies. Occasionally in nature, a galaxy is situated behind a clump of matter that is causing the light from the galaxy to bend.

The result is a magnified and skewed image of the galaxy. In the most extreme cases, the warping results in multiple images and even a perfect ring, called an Einstein Ring after Albert Einstein, who predicted the effect. But most of the time, the results are more subtle and a galaxy image is distorted just a tiny bit not even enough to be perceived by eye. This is called weak gravitational lensing, or just weak lensing for short. Weak lensing is a powerful tool for unlocking the fabric of our universe. Only four percent of our universe consists of the stuff that makes up people, stars and anything with atoms. Twenty-four percent is dark matter a mysterious substance that we can't see but which tugs on the regular matter we can see. Most of our universe, 72 percent, consists of dark energy, which is even more baffling than dark matter.

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