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Citizen Science

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.

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): 

What you do: Nothing! Download the SETI@Home screensaver and let your computer search for extraterrestrial signals automatically during computer idle time.
Equipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)

International Observe the Moon night
What you do: Each autumn, go outside and look at the Moon!
Equipment needed: None.

GLOBE at Night
What you do: Go outside and compare key constellations to a provided guide to determine level of local light pollution.
Equipment 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).
Equipment needed: None!

Moon Mappers
What 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).
Equipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)

Ice Investigators
What you do: Help the New Horizons Mission find Kuiper Belt Objects!
Equipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online) 
Planet Hunters
What you do: Look at Kepler light curve data to identify extrasolar planets.
Equipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)

Solar Stormwatch
What you do: Identify and track solar storms.
Equipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)

The Milky Way Project
What you do: Identify and outline giant bubbles in images of the Milky Way as taken by the Spitzer IR telescope.
Equipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)

Galaxy Zoo
What you do: Look at pictures of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky survey and click on "classifications."
Equipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)

What you do: Search images for tracks left by interplanetary dust grains captured by the Stardust spacecraft's aerogel matrix.
Equipment needed: Computer and internet connection. (100% online)

Citizen Sky
What you do: Observe the variable (visible to the naked eye) star epsilon Aurigae and note its brightness compared to other stars.
Equipment 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.).
Equipment needed: Various, but observation time is needed.

American Association of Variable Star Observers
What you do: Observe and create light curves of variable stars.
Equipment needed: Telescope and/or naked eye observations of key stars; computer and internet connection.

Global Telescope Network
What you do: Image objects related to NASA Gamma-ray space telescope, Swift, and XMM-Newton mission.
Equipment 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.)
Equipment needed: High-quality telescope and imaging setup.

BAA-Jupiter section
What you do: Image Jupiter and record changes in its cloud belts.
Equipment needed: CCD or Webcam and minimum 4-inch refractor or 6-inch reflector are recommended.

Radio Jove
What you do: Build a working radio astronomy receiver and record Jupiter and solar emissions.
Equipment 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

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!

Thanks to Mike Malaska for contributing to this page.

Blog Entries About Citizen Science

Citizen scientist spots changes on Rosetta's comet

Posted by Marco Parigi on 2017/02/27 06:00 CST | 3 comments

Citizen scientist and self-described "comet whisperer" Marco Parisi explains how he made a striking discovery on Comet 67P using Rosetta mission data.

Read More »

Help map Mars' south polar region!

Posted by Tanya Harrison on 2015/07/24 12:42 CDT | 3 comments

The science team of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter wants your help in mapping out the weird and wonderful features of Mars' south polar region!

Read More »

2007 Shoemaker Grant Still Yielding Asteroid Science

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2015/01/06 05:15 CST

Telescope purchased in 2007 with the support of a Shoemaker grant is still in service and has worked on over 100 near-Earth asteroids over its 8 years of operation.

Read More »

New camera improves a California near-Earth asteroid program

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2014/12/29 04:40 CST

A new camera is improving the efficiency of the Near-Earth Asteroid Program at the Center for Solar System Studies. This update from Shoemaker NEO Grant winner Bob Stephens reveals amazing recent progress using his 2013 Planetary Society grant.

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Hunting Binary Asteroids

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2014/11/07 05:31 CST

Thanks to The Planetary Society’s Shoemaker NEO Grant program, a new telescope has been brought to bear focusing on searching for and understanding the properties of binary asteroid systems.

Read More »

Stardust@home Finds Some Stardust

Posted by Amir Alexander on 2014/08/21 07:48 CDT

What’s new at Stardust@home, the groundbreaking program that asked volunteers to help find interstellar dust particles collected by the spacecraft Stardust.

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Interstellar Dust Grains Found by Stardust@home

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2014/08/15 06:04 CDT | 3 comments

Seven possible interstellar dust grains have been found by Stardust@home, a citizen scientist project that The Planetary Society helped out early on. The dust grains would be the first ever examples of contemporary interstellar dust.

Read More »

Eyes and stopwatch are all that are needed to help measure an invisible asteroid

Posted by Ted Blank on 2014/03/03 01:04 CST | 1 comment

Would you like to be part of one of the largest citizen-science efforts in the history of astronomy? The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) invites you to join in the campaign to observe and time the best and brightest asteroid occultation ever predicted to occur over a populated area – and no telescope is required!

Read More »

Planetary Radio: NEOWISE PI Amy Mainzer

Posted by Mat Kaplan on 2014/01/01 12:56 CST | 1 comment

NEOWISE has reawakened to discover many more asteroids and comets. The mission leader thanks the amateur astronomers who follow up on these discoveries.

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America's Pastime: Planetary Science

Posted by Mat Kaplan on 2013/10/15 12:16 CDT

Apologies to baseball fans and others for the theme of this week's Planetary Radio preview, which has star player Emily Lakdawalla on deck.

Read More »

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