Archive for the ‘Astronomy & Space’ Category

Your Citizen Science Idea Could Fly to Mars and Win You $20,000 from NASA!

By September 22nd, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Comment

mars balance challenge

Rack your brains for a chance to win cash from NASA (Image Credit: NASA)

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?)

Positioning of the ejectable tungsten balance weights on the MSL. Two blue lines represen the 150 lb balance masses ejected before entry and six 55 lb masses ejected after entry are represented by the blue circles. (Image Credit: NASA2)

Positioning of the ejectable tungsten balance weights on the MSL. Two blue lines represen the 150 lb balance masses ejected before entry and six 55 lb masses ejected after entry are represented by the blue circles. (Image Credit: NASA2)

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!

***

Interested in citizen science projects from NASA? Search for them using the project finder on SciStarter!

Sources

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.

Categories: Astronomy & Space

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Citizen Science in the Classrom: Mapping Mars and Be a Martian with NASA

By September 9th, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Comment

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

Mars Rover main page

Grades:

1st -12th

Description:

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Super Moon, Super Meteor Showers, Super Citizen Science

By August 9th, 2014 at 4:08 am | Comment

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.

 

Credit NASA

 

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.

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NanoRacks Launches Four Payloads on SpaceX-3

By June 2nd, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Comment 1

What do Cheerleaders, Flies and Cancer Research Have in Common?

 

Houston, TX-May 12, 2014 — NanoRacks is excited to have continued broad participation aboard the International Space Station (ISS) through partnerships with citizen and student scientists on the SpaceX-3.

The launch occurred on April 18th from Cape Canaveral, FL. NanoRacks is hosting four payloads on the International Space Station that incorporate work from over eight institutions, both domestic and international. NanoRacks is pleased to have launched two of the seven winners of the Space Florida International Space Station Research Competition on the SpaceX CRS-3 launch.

“The breadth and range of these latest experiments vividly shows how utilization of the International Space Station has accelerated,” said NanoRacks CEO Jeff Manber. “We want to thank all our partners with a special shout-out to Space Florida for their ISS Research Competition program”

The on-station payloads included work of students and researchers from UCDavis, Stanford University, Ohio State University, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, NASA Ames, NASA JSC, Texas Southern University, Savannah State, Jarvis Christian College, Tougaloo College, and Prairie View A & M (NASA’s ISS Tier2/Tier3 University Research Project), the Science Cheerleaders, and the German space agency, DLR.

NanoRacks ISS facilities and services are made possible via a space act agreement with NASA. Each of the four payloads launched had a unique mission:

MERCCURI: Microbiologists from UCDavis and the Science Cheerleaders, along with thousands of other citizen scientists from SciStarter, are working to compare the growth of microbes from built environments on Earth with their growth on ISS. They will compare types of microbes found on Earth with those found by astronauts aboard the ISS.

UR-1: Researchers and students from Texas Southern University, Savannah State, Jarvis Christian College, Tougaloo College, and Prairie View A & M (NASA’s first ISS Tier2/Tier3 University Research Project (thus, UR-1)) are focusing on Pharmacology, Immunology, and Cancer research through the NanoRacks platform, with the goal to investigate countermeasures that could “modulate and augment the immune system” focusing on Pharmacology, Immunology, and Cancer research through the NanoRacks platform, with the goal to investigate countermeasures that could “modulate and augment the immune system.”

HeartFlies: Stanford University, Ohio State University, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and NASA Ames launched HeartFlies. HeartFlies is a medical experiment set to understand the effects of space travel on astronaut cardiovascular systems.

Cancer CellBox: Germany’s DLR is carrying out experiments on “scavenger cells” of the human immune system and on human thyroid cancer cells. CellBox will study changes in cellular and molecular function as a result of microgravity. NanoRacks was the first commercial provider that commissioned for transporting and carrying out experiments for the German Space Agency, DLR. Through the CellBox mission, DLR is trying new ways to offer German scientists cost-effective options for carrying out experiments in space.

About NanoRacks:
NanoRacks, LLC – was founded in 2009 in Houston, Texas. They are the market leader in commercialized and scheduled space operations on the ISS via a Space Act Agreement with NASA and their own hardware inside and outside the ISS. To date, over 150 payloads have been delivered to space under the direction of NanoRacks.

Release Date: May 28, 2014

For more information: Email press@nanoracks.com or download the press release.

Image: Robert Neff

This originally appeared on the NanoRacks’ Press Release page.

A Citizen Scientist’s Guide (and Pronunciation Guide) to the Camelopardalids Meteor Shower

By May 22nd, 2014 at 11:22 am | Comment

209P/LINEAR comet

How to use the American Meteor Society’s smartphone app (iOS and Android) to create observer reports of fireballs and meteors during the Camelopardalids this weekend.

Coming soon to a sky near you: a brand new meteor shower!

Barring all cloudy conditions and light-polluted landscapes, you should be able to bear witness to the Camelopardalids this Friday, May 23, 2014 (going into the morning of Saturday, May 24, 2014).

As Earth orbits the sun, sometimes it passes through the stream of debris left by a comet. If the timing is just right, the debris enters the atmosphere and create trails of light in the sky, more colloquially referred to as “shooting stars.” Alas, they aren’t stars at all but tiny pieces of pebble, rock, and grains as fine as sand.

The comet responsible for this shower is 209P/LINEAR, which was discovered in 2004 by Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research, for which it’s nicknamed. It came to closest to our sun (perihelion) on May 6, 2014, but it’ll miss Earth by about 8.3 million kilometers (about 5 million miles) at its closest on May 29, 2014. Don’t worry — we’re not in any danger from it…this time around.

What you can do while you watch the Camelopardalids

The American Meteor Society invites you to report fireball and meteor sightings with their smartphone app and browser-based field logger. The smartphone app allows witnesses to log details about their observations using a mobile device, meaning you can take it with you to your preferred viewing locations — your backyard, a hiking trail, the beach, etc. Sensors in the phone provide a means of triangulating your GPS location, the azimuth and elevation levels, and start/end points of the meteor. Using this data, the AMS can not only accurately determine where meteors occur, but they can also use the data to trace their orbits to their origins.

Simply start your observing session and then each time you see a meteor point to that place in the sky and swipe your finger on the screen in the direction the meteor traveled. Observation data is uploaded to the AMS website, available under your profile there and shared with the scientific community. You can also use the AMS app to look up a meteor shower calendar with star charts and moon conditions for all major and minor showers throughout the year.

[You can also read about contributor Angus Chen’s conversation with Mike Hankey from the American Meteor Society on SciStarter’s Citizen Science Salon at DiscoverMagazine.com.]

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 10.40.28 AM

No matter where you’re watching it from, this cosmic event should be exciting and accessible to astronomers and amateur citizen scientists alike.

Oh, and in case you’re curious about how to pronounce “Camelopardalids,” don’t worry — Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, has got you covered:

References:

Plait, Phil. “We May Get a Major Meteor Shower on Friday May 23-24.” Bad Astronomy. MAY 20 2014 7:00 AM.

209P/LINEAR. (2014, May 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14:54, May 22, 2014.

“Fireballs.” American Meteor Society (2014, May 21).

Image: Wikimedia


Lily Bui is the Executive Editor of SciStarter and holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She is also the STEM Story Project Associate for Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Cambridge, MA. This fall, she’ll be a masters candidate in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program. Previously, she helped produce the radio show Re:sound for the Third Coast International Audio Festival, out of WBEZ Chicago. In past lives, she has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.