Citizen Science projects for Planetary Science: Get Involved! Do Science!
Posted By Emily Lakdawalla
2011/05/12 05:13 CDT
I've been meaning to write up a blog entry on this topic for a while so was very happy to have someone do it for me -- Mike Malaska. By day, Mike is a Ph.D. organic chemist leading drug discovery projects for a pharmaceutical company. By night, he is a space enthusiast fascinated by the surface geology of Titan and other planetary bodies, and an eager citizen scientist. He prepared the following list to support the upcoming Citizen Science exhibit at the Astronomy Days event at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on May 21-22 -- a free event, by the way, for those of you in the area of North Carolina! --ESL
by Michael J. Malaska
Citizen Science projects let volunteers easily contribute to active science programs. They're useful when there is so much data it overwhelms computing algorithms (if they exist) or the scientific research team attempting to process it. In many cases it is easier to train volunteers to recognize patterns than it is to create a computer algorithm that attempts to do the same thing. (In some cases, the two approaches can be combined: Citizen Science data and results can be used as training sets to create advanced computer algorithms.)
There are many opportunities for citizen scientists to assist in the analysis of the huge amounts of data collected from spacecraft missions or other records that are then distributed out to volunteer researchers of various levels and interests. Many are 100% online so can be done from the relative safety (and warmth) of your home computer. Many allow you to jump in right away (a minimal tutorial is usually helpful at the beginning) for a quick try, while more in-depth exploration is possible through associated forums or blogs. Here is a quick list and links to some planetary science and astronomy Citizen Science projects (in rough order of increasing commitment):SETI@HomeWhat you do: Nothing! Download the SETI@Home screensaver and let your computer search for extraterrestrial signals automatically during computer idle time.
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)International Observe the Moon nightWhat you do: On October 8, 2011, go outside and look at the moon!
quipment needed: None.GLOBE at NightWhat you do: Go outside and compare key constellations to a provided guide to determine level of local light pollution.
quipment needed: Can be done on computer or even iPhone with downloadable app.Great World Wide Star Count What you do: Count stars in certain constellations sometime during a 4-day period to determine light pollution (next count: October 14-28, 2011).
quipment needed: None! Moon ZooWhat you do: Identify craters larger than a certain size with a drawing tool (Crater survey); compare two images to see which has more boulders (Boulder Wars).
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)Planet HuntersWhat you do: Look at Kepler light curve data to identify extrasolar planets.
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)Solar StormwatchWhat you do: Identify and track solar storms.
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)The Milky Way ProjectWhat you do: Identify and outline giant bubbles in images of the Milky Way as taken by the Spitzer IR telescope.
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)Galaxy ZooWhat you do: Look at pictures of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky survey and click on "classifications."
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)Stardust@HomeWhat you do: Search images for tracks left by interplanetary dust grains captured by the Stardust spacecraft's aerogel matrix.
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online) Citizen SkyWhat you do: Observe the variable (visible to the naked eye) star epsilon Aurigae and note its brightness compared to other stars.
quipment needed: View of Northern hemisphere winter sky (constellation Auriga is high overhead). Association of Lunar and Planetary observers (ALPO) What you do: Record and identify changes and features in many solar system bodies (impacts on the Moon, comets, Jupiter, Saturn, etc.).
quipment needed: Various, but observation time is needed.American Association of Variable Star ObserversWhat you do: Observe and create light curves of variable stars.
quipment needed: Telescope and/or naked eye observations of key stars; computer and internet connection.Global Telescope NetworkWhat you do: Image objects related to NASA Gamma-ray space telescope, Swift, and XMM-Newton mission.
quipment needed: Astronomical imaging gear.Planetary Visual Observatory and Laboratory (PVOL) What you do: Take and upload astrophotographs to a database of outer planet images. (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.)
quipment needed: High-quality telescope and imaging setup.BAA-Jupiter sectionWhat you do: Image Jupiter and record changes in its cloud belts.
quipment needed: CCD or Webcam and minimum 4-inch refractor or 6-inch reflector are recommended.Radio JoveWhat you do: Build a working radio astronomy receiver and record Jupiter and solar emissions.
quipment needed: How-to instructions to build and wire your own radio receiver are included.
For the really interested astronomy enthusiasts, you can come up with your own projects based on your own observations. Here is a starter guide that suggests several types of projects.
Citizen Science projects are not just limited to astronomy! A great general resource to find Citizen Science projects is scienceforcitizens.net. Here are just a few examples in different disciplines:MOLECULAR BIOLOGY: PhyloWhat you do: Align genetic sequences using an easy and highly addictive game format online.
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online).WEATHER: Student's Cloud Observations Online (S'COOL) What you do: Observe clouds at specified times and report (can be done anywhere).
quipment needed: Access to outside (can be done anywhere); computer and internet connection.NATURAL SCIENCES / ECOLOGY: The Great Backyard BirdcountWhat you do: Observe and count birds on a 4-day period (next count is Feb 18-21, 2012).
quipment needed: Access to outside (doesn't require internet connection).NATURAL SCIENCES / ECOLOGY: eBirdWhat you do: Observe and note birds in your backyard or other locations.
quipment needed: Access to outside; computer and internet connection. WEATHER: Old WeatherWhat you do: Transcribe weather data from old shipping logs (you get to choose the vessel!)
quipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)NATURAL SCIENCES / ECOLOGY: Project BudBurstWhat you do: Observe when certain key plants bud or flower.
quipment needed: Access to outside.NATURAL SCIENCES / ECOLOGY: The Dragonfly Swarm ProjectWhat you do: Record and identify and take pictures of swarms of dragonflies.
quipment needed: Access to outside; digital camera; computer and internet connection.FOSSILS: Mastodon Matrix ProjectWhat you do: Volunteers dig through a baggie of fossil matrix to identify rocks, shells, and plant pieces that were excavated near a mastodon fossil.
quipment needed: Minimal; surrounding matrix will be provided to you.
All these projects allow you to quickly dive in and start working in a scientific project. Now you have multiple opportunities to collaborate and discover something new! Good luck!