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Monday, February 22, 2010

Citizen Science and You


Citizen science needs you! Yes that's right, you! You might ask, what the heck could I do for science? The answer of course, is plenty! Thanks to the internet, there are literally dozens of 'citizen science' projects out there right now.

Citizen science enables people like our readers, who have a natural curiosity about the physical world around them, to make real contributions to real scientific projects! The reality is that often science requires massive samples of data, and you can help gather this data. Read on below for more information on which projects you might want to join.

Citizen Sky

Citizen Sky is a project that aims to understand a mysterious star, epsilon Aurigae. Every 27.1 years, epsilon Aurigae dims significantly for about 600 days. This mysterious process is not well understood, and more data is needed to figure it out. You can help by joining Citizen Sky and making your own observations!

Galaxy Zoo

Galaxy Zoo is an attempt to categorize galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Of course, this is far too monumental of a task to undertake by one's self, because there are almost a quarter of a million galaxies on the list.

This is where Galaxy Zoo needs you. Once you register and sign in to their website, you can start classifying galaxies by their characteristics. It works almost like a game, where they show you a galaxy and you click several buttons answering questions about the galaxy's shape and properties.

Solar Stormwatch

Solar Stormwatch is a cool project where you look at some videos from NASA's STEREO solar observatory spacecraft, and classify solar storms in these videos. When you sign up, you do a quick training session. After this, you can watch some truly mesmerizing videos of solar storms, and use their intuitive web interface to classify these storms. I could do this for hours.

Distributed Computing

This one doesn't really require any work from you, but helps science immensely. To participate, you install a software on your computer, called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), which downloads work units from various projects for your computer to work on while you're not using it.

Some scientific projects, like SETI, create massive loads of data, which need analyzing. The trouble is, there isn't a computer in the world fast enough to handle all the data in a reasonable time. So instead of using one computer, BOINC splits up the work and gives it out to millions of computers, much like your own computer.

There are BOINC projects for just about any subject you could think about, from SETI, to searching for gravitational waves, to medical and mathematical research. Just make sure that you keep your computer clean and dust free, as BOINC can generate some serious heat while running.

CoCoRaHS and Skywarn

On a different note, CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow) is a project to log weather patterns all across the US. Using a qualified rain gauge, you simply report how much rain or snow you received to CoCoRaHS. This helps refine weather prediction and validate forecasts. They also have a hail pad project, which I find very interesting.

Along the same lines, you could also get Skywarn certified and keep an eye on local storm systems, reporting them to the National Weather Service. You could save lives with this one, and help validate forecasts. I personally am a Skywarn member for two regional NWS offices in Ohio.

GLOBE at Night

GLOBE at Night is an annual project to characterize light pollution. This year, GLOBE runs from March 3-16, 2010. Basically, you download a star chart of a constellation visible in your area, and compare it to various charts of levels of light pollution. You then submit these results to GLOBE. Data from GLOBE goes to understanding the extent of light pollution, and raising awareness on this issue.

So check out one (or more) of these citizen science projects and make a real contribution today (or tonight, whichever)!

Clear skies!

40 comments:

Flawedprefect said...

Excellent post. I've downloaded similar programs in the past (Seti@Home, for example) and I've loved how you can use downtime to just do a few things to help out. Galaxy Zoo is AWESOME. Thanks for making me aware of a few new ones! Now I can put down that bubble wrap, which was so addictive for those few seconds between tasks.

Sean Welton said...

SETI@Home is still available via the BOINC software ;)

Clear skies!

February 22, 2010 at 5:00 PM

Jonathan Brier said...

I am a huge citizen science and volunteer computing fan. I am working with the nonprofit GridRepublic over at http://www.gridrepublic.org to help move volunteer computing mainstream. I have raised the idea that we add citizen science applications to round out our mission.

GridRepublic is powered by BOINC and is working with them. We launched a Facebook application with sponsorship from Intel called Progress Thru Processors. http://www.facebook.com/progressthruprocessors

I like your site.

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