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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

Apply for a Shoemaker NEO Grant! Deadline extended to June 24

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/06/08 02:00 CDT

Amateur astronomers, get your proposals in for this year's round of Shoemaker NEO Grants!

Read More »

The June 3 Jupiter Impact: 22 hours later

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/06/04 01:14 CDT

Time to take stock of what happened a day ago. The worldwide, round-the-clock nature of planetary science is both exhilarating and challenging!

Read More »

Confirmation of the Jupiter impact from Christopher Go

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/06/03 07:51 CDT | 1 comment

The impact flash on Jupiter observed earlier today by Anthony Wesley has been confirmed by Philippines-based amateur astronomer Christopher Go.

Read More »

A NEW! Impact on Jupiter

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/06/03 05:51 CDT

On the same day as a team of astronomers released new Hubble Space Telescope images of last year's Jupiter impact, the original discoverer of the 2009 impact scar, Anthony Wesley, reported on an amateur astronomy forum that he had observed a new impact on Jupiter.

Read More »

Moon Zoo is ready for you

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/05/12 04:15 CDT

I'm delighted to point you to a citizen science project for wannabe space geologists like me: Moon Zoo.

Read More »

Downloading the "First Voyage into the PDS" class

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/03/30 04:07 CDT

Here's how to watch the class on how to access Voyager data through the Planetary Data System, which I conducted to a small audience this morning.

Read More »

Space Imaging 3: First Voyage into the PDS

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/03/28 11:24 CDT

I've finally caught my breath enough to contemplate starting up my imaging classes again.

Read More »

Your chance to shoot your own high-resolution pictures of Mars

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2010/01/20 11:48 CST

The HiRISE public suggestion tool, called HiWish, is a Web site that allows you to log in and select a spot on Mars as a suggestion for where the HiRISE instrument should take an image.

Read More »

Be a Martian!

Posted by Ryan Anderson on 2009/11/18 03:35 CST

I think the new "Be a Martian" collaboration between NASA and Microsoft is a great idea!

Read More »

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