Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.
Over the last decades, light pollution, the pollution of naturally dark skies by artificial light, has intensified, without regard to its potential impacts on humans and the environment. While some scientific investigation of light pollution and its effects has taken place, it has been narrowly focused within astronomy or the effects on single organisms.
Germany’s Cosalux GmbH developed the Loss of the Night project and app to help scientists measure and understand the effects of light pollution. Citizen scientists can identify visible stars in the sky and contribute to a worldwide citizen science project to create a database for research on health, environment and society.
Loss of the Night allows users to measure light pollution in three steps. The first is an arrow that guides users to a star, similar to a compass. The app then asks users to select visible stars in various constellations and submit their data once observations have been completed. With assistance from stargazers, researchers hope to learn how lamp design contributes to light pollution. Measurements from the app are sent anonymously to the Globe at Night database, a citizen science project that launched in 2006.
The Dark Sky Meter helps citizen scientists measure night sky brightness via an app that runs on Apple iOS devices. The app provides instant information about the night sky quality and also enables citizen scientists to contribute their observations to a global map of sky darkness. (The app can submit citizen scientist measurements to the International Dark Sky Association.)
The Dark Sky Meter app, developed by DDQ, works by taking two pictures. First cover your camera phone using your jacket or a pocket and then press “dark shot” button. Then aim your iPhone to the point in the sky directly above your head and press the “sky” button. The greater the difference between your dark shot and sky shot, the more reliable the data.
NOVA Lab’s Sun Lab gives citizen scientists the opportunity to learn about the Sun and the weather this churning mass of superhot plasma creates. Sun Lab explores what makes the Sun so volatile and gives citizen scientists access to the same data, images and tools that scientists use to predict solar storms.
Sun Lab includes nine brief videos that cover the basic science of the Sun and solar storms, and explain how the Lab uses a tool called the Helioviewer to bring users up-to-date images from some of NASA's best solar space telescopes.
The project’s aim is to create a highly accurate, easy-to-use real-time map of confirmed aurora sightings. The idea is that this will increase your chances of seeing the rare beautiful northern lights during the maximum of the solar cycle (2012-2014). It’s the first solar maximum with social media, and the chance to Tweet about aurora sightings is a powerful way to spread information. Backed by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the project aims to build a predictive capability for the lights' visibility based on citizen scientists’ positive and negative sightings and through social media.
When citizen scientists are able to see the auroras (northern or southern lights), LANL researchers would like to know the observers’ locations so the researchers can map visibility for others to see. The aim of aurorasaurus is to help as many people as possible know when the aurora is visible in their neighborhood, accurately and in real-time. No scientific knowledge or jargon is required, just the ability to navigate the map and enter simple observations. If you went looking for aurora and weren’t able to see it, that is also valuable information.
LANL is also using volunteered geographic information for space science and computer science related research.
Zooniverse’s Space Warps project calls on citizen scientists to help discover elusive objects in the universe by looking through images that have never before been seen. Computer algorithms have already scanned the images, but there are likely to be many more space warps that the algorithms have missed. Space Warps’ creators think that it's only with human help that all of them will be found.
Einstein's theory of gravity, General Relativity, predicted that massive objects, such as stars, would bend the space around them such that passing light rays follow curved paths. Evidence for this theory was first obtained by Arthur Eddington in 1919, when during a solar eclipse he observed that stars near the edge of the Sun appeared to be slightly out of position.
Observations of the distorted background galaxy can also provide useful information about the object that is behaving as a gravitational lens. The separation and distortion of the lensed images can tell astronomers how much mass there is in the object, and how it is arranged. It’s one of the few ways of mapping out where the dark matter in the universe is, how “clumpy” it is and how dense it is near the centers of galaxies. Knowing this can provide crucial information about how galaxies evolve.
Gravitational lenses help astronomers answer all kinds of questions, including how many very low mass stars–that aren’t bright enough to detect directly–are lurking in distant galaxies. Read more on the Space Warps blog.
Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, is dedicated to citizen science and citizen space exploration. Citizens in Space is a nonprofit project working with (not for) the companies developing new commercial spacecraft. Our goal is to enable ordinary people to fly in space as citizen astronauts (citizen space explorers) and to enable citizen scientists to fly experiments into space. For the first phase of our project, we have acquired an initial contract for 10 suborbital spaceflights with one of the new space transportation companies—XCOR Aerospace.
We will be making payload space on these flights available to citizen scientists. Professional researchers will be eligible, too, if they play by certain rules. We will fly these experiments free of charge, but any experiment submitted to us must be licensed as open-source hardware. We expect to fly up to 100 small experiments in our initial flight campaign. Our hope is that the experiment hardware developed through this project will be replicated widely by citizen scientists and flown many times on a wide variety of vehicles in the future. For information on the rules for submitting payloads, see the Call for Experiments.
Along with the general call for experiments, we are offering a $10,000 prize for one particularly interesting experiment in the High Altitude Astrobiology Challenge. We will also have a $5,000 reserve prize for the best experiment which does not win the High Altitude Astrobiology Challenge.
The Lowell Amateur Research Initiative (LARI) is looking to engage the ever-growing and technically sophisticated amateur astronomy community in some exciting research projects with astronomers at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz.
LARI brings together professional and amateur astronomers in a way that affords interested amateurs an opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research and potentially make significant contributions to science.
Lowell astronomers are conducting several projects that would benefit from the participation of amateur astronomers and citizen scientists. These projects span a broad range of technical skills and knowledge from taking very deep images of galaxies to monitoring small stars for transient events to data mining. After getting a sense of your skills and interests, we will do our best to match you with the appropriate researcher and project.
The next transit of Venus occurs June 5 or 6, 2012, depending on your location. Observers in North America see it the evening of June 5. This will be the last transit of Venus to occur in your lifetime. The next transit of Venus occurs in December 2117.
Mercury and Venus are the only planets closer to the Sun than Earth, both moving faster in their orbits and passing us regularly. But rather than crossing directly between us and the Sun, these planets are usually slightly above or below the Sun as we see them. When they line up just right we see the round, black silhouette of the planet slowly crossing the Sun, an even referred to as a "transit." Mercury transits the Sun 13 or 14 times each century. But Venus transits happen in pairs—two transits eight years apart—with more than 100 years between each pair.
When Venus passes directly between earth and the sun, we see the distant planet as a small dot gliding slowly across the face of the sun. Historically, this rare alignment is how we measured the size of our solar system.
Astronomers Without Borders has some special plans for this rare event, which will be seen by most of the world's population. The coming Venus transit offers a chance for modern-day stargazers to repeat the experiments conducted by expeditions around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries—with a modern twist. The free phone app created by the Transit of Venus Project allows every observer with a telescope to record timings of this rare event. Available for Apple and Android devices.
Launched in October 2006, STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program (STP). It consists of two nearly identical observatories—one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind—that have traced the flow of energy and matter from the Sun to Earth. STEREO has revealed the 3-D structure of coronal mass ejections; violent eruptions of matter from the Sun that can disrupt satellites and power grids, and help researchers understand why they happen.
With this new pair of viewpoints, scientists can see the structure and evolution of solar storms as they blast from the Sun and move out through space. In fact, the probes have produced so many images that researchers are looking to citizen scientists to help them study all of the data that's being produced. This work will give astronauts an early warning if dangerous solar radiation is headed their way, and it may even lead to new scientific discoveries.
Solar Stormwatch—created by The Royal Observatory Greenwich, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Zooniverse—isn't just about classifying data. Citizen scientists can talk to other members on the project's forum, sign up for space weather forecast from Twitter, and learn about the latest discoveries on the project's blog. Volunteers can also see how solar storms affect Earth at the project's Flickr group Aurora chasers.
Citizen Scientists with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch are encouraged to take these gadgets, loaded with the Meteor Counter app, along while stargazing. Start the Meteor Counter, lie down in a safe dark place, and be alert for shooting stars. Every time you see a meteor, tap the piano-like key corresponding to its brightness. Keys on the left correspond to dim meteors, which are barely visible to the naked eye. Keys on the right denote "jaw-dropping" fireballs.
With each keytap, the Meteor Counter records critical data such as the time you saw the meteor, the meteor's magnitude and your location. Users can also turn on an optional voice recorder to capture your own description of events. Afterward, these data are automatically uploaded to NASA researchers for analysis.
The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is a project of international collaboration between ESA and NASA to study the Sun from its deep core to the outer corona and the solar wind. SOHO is the most successful comet discoverer in history, having found more than one thousand eight-hundred comets in more than thirteen years of operation. The majority of these comets have been found by amateur astronomers and enthusiasts from all over the world, scouring the images for a likely comet candidate from the comfort of their own home.
To participate in SOHO Comet Hunting, citizen scientists need an Internet connection, photo-editing software and an understanding of what SOHO comets look like. For help with the last item in that list, a guide is available online. Citizen scientists need the ability to display gif images and find the pixel value of any given point in the images. If you don't have the software, you can use the java tool on the LASCO javagifs page to measure positions. Latest images and movies are also available from the LASCO site.
If you think your object is a comet, measure its positions, read the instructions on how to use the report form, and report your object.
The Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) launched a citizen science Web site called Morphology Analysis Project for Participatory Exploration and Research (MAPPER) in conjunction with the 2011 field season.
The PLRP has been investigating the underwater environment of Pavilion and Kelly Lake in British Columbia, Canada with DeepWorker submersible vehicles since 2008.
Now with MAPPER, citizen scientists can work side-by-side with NASA scientists to explore the bottom of these lakes from the perspective of a DeepWorker pilot. The PLRP team makes use of DeepWorker subs to explore and document freshwater carbonate formations known as microbialites that thrive in Pavilion and Kelly Lake. Many scientists believe that a better understanding of how and where these rare microbialite formations develop will lead to deeper insights into where signs of life may be found on Mars and beyond.
Since the early 19th century, astronomers have observed this extremely long-period eclipsing binary located in the constellation Auriga, the charioteer. In 1928, astronomer Harlow Shapley correctly concluded that the two stars were about equal in mass. Based on this information they should be about equal in brightness as well. But the spectrum of the system showed no light from the companion at all. The visibly bright first star (called the primary) was being eclipsed by a massive, invisible second star (called the secondary).
Epsilon Aurigae is bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye even in the most light-polluted cities, and it is visible every fall, winter and spring. The change in brightness that this star undergoes is called an eclipse (a process of fading and coming back to its usual brightness).
On January 15, 2006, the sample return capsule from NASA's Stardust spacecraft parachuted onto the Utah desert. In addition to the particles collected during Stardust's encounter with comet Wild 2 in January of 2004 the spacecraft delivered tiny particles of interstellar dust that originated in distant stars, light-years away. Scientists estimate that Stardust collected 45 of these micron-sized interstellar dust particles using an aerogel collector 1,000 square centimeters in size.
Finding the individual dust particles, however, has been a challenge—made worse by the condition of the collector plates, which are interspersed with flaws, cracks and an uneven surface.
Through its Stardust@home citizen science project, University of California, Berkeley, researchers have invited Internet users to help them search for these few dozen submicroscopic grains of interstellar dust captured by NASA's Stardust spacecraft. The researchers took scans of the plates from a cleanroom at Houston's Johnson Space Center and made images of these scans available for public viewing via the Web. The dust grains will have made carrot-shaped trails in the aerogel, which is a silicon-based sponge 100 times lighter than water.
Since 1995, more than 500 planets have been discovered to be orbiting stars outside our solar system. These exoplanets—terrestrial and larger planets orbiting other stars—are detected with help from NASA's Kepler spacecraft, which launched in March 2009 with the goal of using the transit technique to detect exoplanets. With this method, planets that pass in front of their host stars block out some of the starlight causing the star to dim slightly for a few hours. The Kepler spacecraft stares at a field of stars in the Cygnus constellation and records the brightness of those stars every thirty minutes to search for transiting planets.
The time series of brightness measurements for a star is called a light curve. The Kepler spacecraft beams data for more than 150,000 stars to Earth at regular intervals. With every download of data, the time baseline of the light curves is extended. The Kepler team's computers are sifting through the data, but the Planet Hunters project is betting that there will be planets that can only be found via the human ability for pattern recognition.
NASA is releasing light curves into the public archive to encourage broader participation, which is where you come in. Planet Hunters is an online experiment that taps into the power of human pattern recognition. Participants are partners with Zooniverse's science team, who will analyze group assessments, obtain follow up observations at the telescope to understand the new classification schemes for different families of light curves, identify oddities, and verify transit signals. The main interface plots Kepler's data on a chart and asks the citizen scientist questions about what they see, such as patterns or dips in light.
Deadline: Dec 11 2013
Reward: $52,000 USD
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