'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.