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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

Working Together - Scientists & Historians, Professionals & Amateurs

Posted by Fran Bagenal on 2013/09/18 10:53 CDT

From October 6 to 11, two divisions of the American Astronomical Society - Planetary Science and History - are meeting together for a combined annual conference. There will be several opportunities for the public to participate: a free public talk, several webcast lectures, a special online event for the Juno flyby of Earth, and a pro-am workshop on how amateur astronomers can contribute to planetary science.

Read More »

Asteroid Telescope First Light

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2013/08/16 03:04 CDT | 5 comments

Using a Shoemaker NEO Grant a new telescope is operating in Illinois to do asteroid tracking.

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Determining Near Earth Asteroids’ Properties from the California Desert

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2013/08/05 05:04 CDT | 2 comments

Shoemaker NEO Grant winner Bob Stephens specializes in lightcurves of near Earth asteroids to determine their physical properties. Here is an update on recent progress using his 2013 Planetary Society grant. This is the first in a series of updates on Shoemaker NEO Grant winners.

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Return of the Pale Blue Dot

Posted by Mat Kaplan on 2013/07/18 11:27 CDT | 4 comments

You can be part of a planetwide group photo as Cassini and MESSENGER turn their cameras Earthward on July 19.

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Programmable Mars Watch for $50

Posted by Ara Kourchians on 2013/07/11 06:00 CDT

Time is kept differently on Mars. This is because Mars itself rotates a little slower than Earth. This proves to be a pain when it comes to timekeeping.

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Asteroids – what you can do

Posted by Alex Karl on 2013/05/23 01:52 CDT | 2 comments

Partnering with our friends from The Planetary Society, the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), whose members hail from all over the globe, is bringing you an update on our activities and something you can join in on—at least if you are a student or young professional aged 18–35.

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Kuiper Belt Objects Submitted to Minor Planet Center

Posted by Alex Parker on 2013/01/25 03:30 CST | 2 comments

Recently, several of the Kuiper Belt Objects our team has discovered while searching for New Horizons post-Pluto flyby candidates have been submitted to the Minor Planet Center and their orbital information is now in the public domain.

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Can you find a new planet?

Posted by Martin Still on 2013/01/07 12:35 CST | 1 comment

A change in the Kepler data delivery process provides both scientists and the public to get involved in planet discovery.

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Crowdsourcing the Andromeda Galaxy

Posted by Jason Davis on 2012/12/11 06:29 CST | 1 comment

Scientists would like your help starting at high-resolution images of the Andromeda Galaxy captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Citizen "Ice Hunters" help find a Neptune Trojan target for New Horizons

Posted by Alex Parker on 2012/10/09 12:15 CDT | 1 comment

2011 HM102 is an L5 Neptune Trojan, trailing Neptune by approximately 60 degrees. This object was discovered in the search for a New Horizons post-Pluto encounter object in the Kuiper Belt.

Read More »

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