I had planned to be in San Francisco today to present at the 2010 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in an Education and Public Affairs session titled "Public Participation in Geoscience Research: Engaging Citizen Scientists." My talk -- being given now by coauthor Jim Bell in my stead -- was titled "Snapshots from Space: Citizen Participation in Space Missions Through Image Processing." Here's the abstract:
For six years, members of the public have been able to ride along with the rovers and cruise with Cassini on their daily journeys across Mars and through the Saturn system by browsing the daily downlinks of raw images posted to the missions' websites. An international community of amateur image processors has grown up around these image libraries, people who not only browse and discuss the photos but also process them into color versions, mosaics, and animations. Until recently, only a few of these amateurs have been able to push beyond the raw image websites -- which post reduced-quality versions of the images, unsuitable for science -- into the actual archived science data at the Planetary Data System. However, recent upgrades to search tools at the various Planetary Data System Nodes have largely removed the barriers (such as arcane file formats) that previously prevented members of the public from understanding how to access science data. Now increasing number of citizen scientists are making discoveries in these image data, while creating beautiful images that display space destinations as a human observer would see them.
I tried to make my presentation (Powerpoint format, 11 MB) light on text and heavy on images. My goal is to explain to the scientists and public information officers that there is an international community of people that has formed around the activity of processing space image data. For most of them, their goal is to answer the question: "What would it look like if I were there?" They produce spectacularly beautiful images, many of which I feature on this blog, and space agencies really ought to use them and their skills to make images that resonate with the wider public. The Planetary Society is working to enable the community to share their work by supporting the community forum unmannedspaceflight.com and by developing a new, centralized gallery for amateur-processed images, amateurspaceimages.com. We hope to launch that gallery in March, and are currently raising funds to support its development. Here are links to some amazing amateur space image processing work.