Archive for the ‘Astronomy & Space’ Category
A “citizen science” movement is sweeping the country. Now, astronomy enthusiasts who want to collaborate with leading scientists can visit Astronomy.com to join cutting-edge research projects. Read the rest of this entry »
Buckle up folks, ‘cause NASA is coming to you with a challenge. On Saturday, NASA announced at the World Maker Faire in New York that it has opened up registration for the ‘Mars Balance Mass Challenge’. The space agency has had a history of engaging citizen scientists through online crowdsourcing initiatives such as Target Asteroids!, Planet Mappers and Be a Martian and on the ground challenges such as its annual Sample Return Robot Challenge. In August this year, they partnered with ECAST (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology) for the ‘Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative’ which invites the public to discuss and comment on how NASA is tackling asteroid exploration, potential asteroid threats and planetary defense.
So what is the Mars Balance Mass challenge all about? The exploration of Mars is one of the agency’s major projects. Since its inception, the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) has conducted extensive studies in an effort to understand its climate, natural resources and importantly the possibility of life on Mars. In one such mission in 2012, NASA landed the robotic space probe Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) on the surface of Mars. To accurately land at a predetermined site the probe used a precision guided system which included two ejectable ‘balance masses’ made of tungsten weighing 150 kg (approximately 330 lb) each. The first balance mass comprising of two 165-pound weights was ejected before entering the atmosphere of Mars to offset the spacecraft’s center of gravity during entry. The second balance mass, made up of six 55-pound weights was expelled after atmospheric entry and rebalanced the center of gravity of the craft just before the parachute was deployed 1,2. (You can even see images of the impact craters created by these balance weights on the surface of Mars. Pretty cool huh?)
So how does this relate to the challenge? In the 2012 mission, these balance masses were simply tungsten dead weights. For the challenge, the question that NASA wants your help to answer is
“If you had up to 150 kg of ejectable mass prior to entry and another 150 kg during the entry and landing phase of a Mars mission, what could you do with it that was useful and advances knowledge in a scientific or technological way?”
In other words, by replacing the balance masses in future missions with a useful payload, NASA is hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Perform the function of the balance masses and acquire additional knowledge. Partnering with Innocentive Inc., NASA is offering a prize of $20,000 to the winning proposal. According to their website, this is a “Theoretical Challenge” which means that citizen scientists need only to submit a written proposal, though “ideas, drawings, and detailed procedures are required.”
In an official press release by NASA, Lisa May, lead program executive for NASA’s Mars exploration program said, “We want people to get involved in our journey to Mars. This challenge is a creative way to bring innovative ideas into our planning process, and perhaps help NASA find another way to pack more science and technology into a mission.” The challenge already has garnered significant interest with 215 226 active participants and counting (at the time of writing) within only two days since it was opened to the public. Participation can be on an individual basis or a team effort. For teams, Innocentive offers online workspaces known as Team Project Rooms to collaborate efficiently and document the process.
The Mars Balance Challenge is part of the launch of a larger initiative known as NASA Solve, an online platform which lists all the opportunities available to the general public. These challenges are ones that NASA needs the help of citizen scientists in solving. “NASA is committed to engaging the public, and specifically the maker community through innovative activities like the Mars Balance Mass Challenge, and NASA Solve is a great way for members of the public, makers and other citizen scientists to see all NASA challenges and prizes in one location,” said NASA Chief Technologist David Miller in the press release.
Ideas for the Mars Balance Mass Challenge are not limited to any specific discipline so the (Mars) sky is the limit. Fire up your imaginations, hone your google search skills and start cracking!
1. Harwood, William “Curiosity relies on untried ‘sky crane’ for Mars descent” CBS News 30 July 2012 (Link)
2. Brugarolas Paul B., Miguel San Martin A. and Wong Edward C. “The RCS 3-axis attitude control system for the exo-atmospheric and guided entry phases of the Mars Science Laboratory” NASA.gov (Link to PDF)
Editors Note: This post was also published on the Discover Magazine Citizen Science Salon blog and the PLoS CitizenSci blog.
Editor’s Note: This post has been republished and shared in celebration of SciStarter’s Back To School campaign where you will find 10 citizen science projects aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.
Students Explore the Surface of Mars and Contribute to Citizen Science From Their Classroom
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is asking for help in processing data collected on Mars, in the form of pictures taken by the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Curiosity. On the “Be a Martian” home page there is a dashboard where teachers or students may create an account with a Martian profile, complete with choosing your alien. Each action, associated with a profile, is given points or virtual badges for participating. Creating a profile is not necessary, you may also participate as a “Martian tourist.” After registering (or not) you will be taken to their Citizenship Hall, which has links for pages with polling, a “theater” with video clips about the rovers, the ability to create a post card to send to the rover Spirit, and an Atlas with geographic information about Mars. Accessed from the Citizenship Hall is the, the second major page of their website, the “Map Room.” In the map room there is an introductory video about the program and students have the opportunity to try their hands at three types of Martian mapping. These include aligning photos to match topographic images, counting craters, and tagging physical features of the landscape.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Computer or computers with internet access.
- Projector or smart board may be useful for working as a class.
- Color printer
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- This project can be done in any setting, rural or urban.
- No special tools are required outside of a computer with internet access.
- Students gain a “sense of place” through learning about space and other planets.
- NASA provides a great deal of supporting curriculum, hand-outs, posters, and multi-media resources.
On Sunday August 10, join Slooh and citizen scientists as they observe the Super Moon.
Don’t miss a live interview (Sunday at 7:30 ET) with SciStarter’s founder Darlene Cavalier on Slooh, the telescope and astronomy website devoted to stars and the cosmos.
There is a tendency to prefix anything dramatic, unusual or super with…well, the prefix ‘super,’ which is partly why the Moon is called super twice more this year. Let me explain. When a new Moon coincides with the closest approach the Moon has on its elliptical path to the Earth (because of this the Moon’s orbit typically varies between about 222,000 miles and 252,000 miles from the Earth), it actually appears from 7 to 30 percent larger and brighter, especially when it’s close to the horizon. That happens on the 10th of August—tomorrow—and again on the 9th of September 2014. Slooh will be broadcasting live coverage of the event.
The term ‘super moon’ is not used in professional astronomical circles, but rather has its roots in modern astrology—the high tides created at this time are believed by some to cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and it has actually been blamed for sinking the Titanic (although there has not been any evidence to support this), and for the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
What’s so super about the Moon this weekend? The perigee (that’s what astronomers call it) will coincide with meteor showers. Named Perseid, it is possible to see as many as 100 shooting stars every hour; probably peaking between August 10 and August 13, with the best time to view the shower at about 2 am.