Zooniverse: Sunspotter

Zooniverse: Sunspotter
Image: Courtesy of NASA’s TRACE (Transition Region And Coronal Explorer) space telescope, via Wikimedia Commons.

'Sunspots' and 'solar storms' are the feature of an ambitious project launched internationally by astrophysicists at Trinity College Dublin. Citizen scientists work as part of a global team to better understand sunspot and solar storm phenomena and their impacts on Earth. They do this by ‘rating’ the relative complexity of each sunspot image they see on the Sunspotter Web site, based on its size, shape and arrangement of ‘magnetic blobs’. Sunspotter is essentially a game of hot-or-not for sunspot data; citizen scientists are shown two images of sunspot groups and asked which is more complex. This is extremely useful in helping astronomers understand the physics of our star, the Sun.
Researchers cannot just use computers to classify all of this data because 'complexity' is not easily quantifiable, says Paul Higgins, a solar flare expert and Irish Research Council Research Fellow in Trinity's Astrophysics Research Group. Data we collected from Sunspotter volunteers may allow Higgins and his team to train a computer algorithm to measure sunspot complexity in the near future.
This project is part of the ‘Zooniverse’, a Web portal devoted to citizen science projects and which has more than 1 million volunteers.

Project Details

  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: Trinity College Dublin
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Data Processing
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages

    Sign up for the Sunspotter project either from the Sunspotter Web site or the Zooniverse site.

See more projects in FreeData ProcessingAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

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.

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