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Science education, computer-based learning, informal education, citizen science
A particularly successful effort to engage the public in science has been to move the nearly countless galaxies imaged by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to citizen scientists in a project known widely as Galaxy Zoo (URL; http://www.galaxyzoo.org). By examining the motivations, methods and appeal of Galaxy Zoo to the participating public, other models of citizen science might be purposefully formulated to take advantage of the success exhibited in Galaxy Zoo. In addition, we want to understand the reasons people engage in science in informal settings in order to better enhance teaching methods in formal settings. We pursued an investigation of the underlying reasons for the success of Galaxy Zoo revealed by inductively analyzing contributor’s posts and discussions through the accompanying Galaxy Zoo online bulletin board. Using a grounded theory approach, we learned that many of these motivations originate in the aesthetic power of astronomical images or the opportunity to become an empowered and contributing scientist, which Galaxy Zoo successfully harnesses, while not compromising the scientific value of the project.