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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

The most exciting citizen science project ever (to me, anyway)

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/06/21 08:23 CDT

A guest blogger here recently rounded up the large number of participatory research projects that are collectively known as citizen science. I think these are all very cool and I encourage you to check them out but none of them has yet inspired me to spend my precious time as grunt labor on a gigantic collective project. Until now.

Read More »

Citizen Science projects for Planetary Science: Get Involved! Do Science!

Posted by Mike Malaska on 2011/05/12 05:13 CDT

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.

Read More »

Lovely crater turns up in MoonZoo; 2 million images classified, lots more Moon left

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/04/18 10:48 CDT

Here's a very pretty picture to start off the week: a really gorgeous fresh crater on the lunar farside. There's nothing particularly unusual about this crater; it's just recent and fresh so there's a mesmerizing amount of detail in the feathery patterns of the ejecta that fans outward from it.

Read More »

LPSC 2011: Day 3: Moon, Mars, and Venus

Posted by Ted Stryk on 2011/03/10 11:11 CST

Wednesday morning included some interesting conversations. Notably, I spoke with Pamela Gay, who is responsible for the MoonZoo citizen science program and who is presently working on developing a site through which the public will be able to help search for potential Kuiper belt objects for the New Horizons mission to encounter after the Pluto flyby.

Read More »

Map the world's light pollution by participating in GLOBE at Night

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/03/01 11:48 CST

Now in its sixth year, GLOBE at Night is a citizen science program that marshals the eyes of thousands of people around the world once a year to assess the degree to which light pollution diminishes our views of starry skies.

Read More »

Help to hunt for planets!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/12/16 01:38 CST

The Planet Hunters website, like Zooniverse's other projects, is very, very easy to get up and running.

Read More »

Bringing MOLA altimetry tracks into Google Mars

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/08/27 05:02 CDT

I've had a fun morning of noodling around learning how to write KML files, and have produced one for Google Mars that shows you all of the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter tracks that cross the area Opportunity has driven through already, as well as the area of Endeavour crater.

Read More »

New Pulsar Discovery Shows Power of Citizen Scientists and Planetary Society Members

Posted by Charlene Anderson on 2010/08/12 05:15 CDT

Planetary Society members have reason to celebrate today, with the on-line publication in Science of the discovery of a new pulsar by three citizen-scientists working with Einstein@home, a descendant of the SETI@home project.

Read More »

A spectacular new global map of Mars, which YOU can make even better

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/07/23 03:41 CDT

I am such a nerd. This new map of Mars just brought tears to my eyes. Honestly.

Read More »

Is this SMART-1's impact site?

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/06/15 12:44 CDT

Speaking of spacecraft crashing...

Read More »

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