Archive for the ‘nasa’ tag
Pilot Joe Kittinger once said, “You can’t get any real fun things unless you volunteer.” At the time, he was referring to things like voluntarily jumping out of planes at extremely high (and low-oxygen level) altitudes to help NASA conduct research on zero-gravity environments. Maybe it was his unbridled enthusiasm for precarious work. Or maybe it was just the 1960s. Either way, Kittinger’s volunteerism was instrumental to NASA during its pre-Apollo days. Whether or not he knew it, Kittinger was a citizen scientist.
The Changing Face of Science
A citizen scientist is an individual who, more often than not, voluntarily contributes his or her time, effort, and/or resources to formal or informal scientific research without necessarily having a formal science background.
It used to be that a citizen scientist referred to a bird watcher or an amateur astronomer, but today, citizen scientists come from all walks of life. This includes current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are tuning non-traditional audiences into citizen science; online gamers who lend their skills to specially designed programs to analyze folding protein structures; and students who want a more hands-on experience outside the classroom. Retirees, community organizations, and even prison inmates are getting in on the action.
Formalizing the field
“Amateur science,” “crowdsourced science,” and “public participation in scientific research” are some common aliases for citizen science. Though the monikers suggest an element of novice, the fields that citizen science advances are diverse: ecology, astronomy, medicine, computer science, statistics, engineering and many more.
“There’s a need to get beyond unique terminology and jargon,” says Meg Domroese, coordinator of the Public Participation in Scientific Research conference. “We want to talk about how to formalize as a field so that people can share it, can enter it.”
The Public Participation in Scientific Research Conference was the first of its kind. Science researchers, project leaders, educators, technology specialists, evaluators, and more sat down together to engage in dialogue and exchange ideas. The cross-disciplinary event unveiled the publication of the first journal issue exclusively devoted to citizen science.
With today’s increasingly connected world, we can share collected data for research as instantaneously as we tell our Twitter followers what we had for lunch. Many citizen science projects enable mobile technology to connect with volunteers, collect data, and share results. The opportunities to participate in citizen science are no longer limited by access to tools. Mobile technology makes it possible to help the USGS measure and record earthquake tremors, join NASA’s effort in counting passing meteors, or even help monitor noise and light pollution in our communities. Citizen scientists can help solve the mystery of ZomBees (bees that have possibly been infected by the larvae of parasitic flies), help astronomers classify galaxies, and discover moon craters. Projects like SciSpy and iNaturalist provide a mobile app with which participants can share photos and observations of wildlife in their backyards, cities, and towns.
The idea behind these diverse projects is that anyone, anywhere can participate in meaningful scientific research. For some projects, volunteers literally don’t have to go farther than their own backyards to contribute!
It’s time to bridge more gaps by harnessing the power of people who are motivated by a desire to advance research, a connection with nature, and a goal to improve human health and communities. It’s not difficult to imagine how an informed public can, in turn inform policymakers. In fact, there are national and international groups pushing for this right now.
Citizen science also brings together a range of disciplines. From chemistry to biology to data science to astronomy to archiving sheet music, the spectrum of projects is diverse and manifold.
We may not all be as stoked as pilot Joe Kittinger was to jump out of a plane for the sake of science, but there are thousands of opportunities for us to nurture our curious, scientific minds with our feet firmly on terra firma.
To learn more about citizen science, check out the following sites, articles, and blogs.
Citizen science definition on Wikipedia
Searchable list of 500+ citizen science projects
Cornell Citizen Science Toolkit
Citizen Science | Scientific American
Citizen Scientists League
Lily Bui is a senior contributor at SciStarter.com, a website that connect regular people to real science they can do. Although she holds dual nonscience bachelors’ degrees, served in AmeriCorps, worked on Capitol Hill, and is a touring musician, she has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. She now works in public radio. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns.
Remember those old diagrams in your grade school science text books? I used to flip through each chapter trying to find the coolest images, but was continually disappointed when I was forced to squint at tiny illustrations. As I continued through school, however, I found myself drawn to large illustrations that conveyed information effectively and in plain language. I read The Way Things Work every night before bed. The blend of science, art, design, and communication, was intriguing, and I suppose part of why I entered the field of GIS and mapping.
From subway maps to government information pamphlets and all across digital and print media, illustrations are an engaging way to convey information.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) agrees, and their new citizen science project, JPL Infographics, calls on you to be the scientist-artist in charge of communicating their cutting edge science. NASA provides a huge library of amazing high-resolution space images, 3-D models, and lists of interesting facts for you to piece together into your very own Infographic. You can browse other user submissions for inspiration and then upload your finished image easily online.
Head to the JPL Infographics project to learn more. It is free to join, and registration is easy! This is a really fun and challenging project, and your work will be used to educate and inform others about cutting-edge space exploration.
Fire up both sides of your brain and create some educational space art!
Photo: NASA JPL
By Nick Fordes
2,083 citizens and scientists representing 111 different organizations collaborating on 71 challenges to produce over 100 innovative solutions to issues at home on earth and in space!
Wow! Citizen science was really in full gear during last month’s International Space App Challenge. The NASA-lead project was a huge success and created a considerable media buzz, landing a spot on the BBC News homepage.
The 71 challenges ranged in scope from creating an app to visualize the cosmos from the perspective of an alien planet to developing an oven that can bake in space using low energy. These challenges resulted in over 100 solutions, 50 of which are nominated for open judging through Tuesday, May 15th.
That’s right, you can still have a part in this incredible initiative by voting for the solutions you like best! You can go the main voting page to get started, or check out a blog post with descriptions and videos of each project on open.nasa.gov (which, by the way, is the great newly revamped blog about NASA and it’s community involvement).
In this video from the U.S Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Comet Lovejoy takes a death-defying journey through several-million degree solar corona as it passes the Sun on December 15th, 2011 (EST). The comet defied the expectations of many experts by not only surviving its solar plunge but re-emerging as strong and bright as before.
“It’s absolutely astounding,” says Karl Battams, computational scientist at NRL. “I did not think the comet’s icy core was big enough to survive plunging through the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, but Comet Lovejoy is still with us.”
The imagery used for this video was gathered from NRL’s Sun-Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (SECCHI)/EUVI-A instruments, which are a part of the NASA Solar Terrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) mission. STEREO consists of two space-based observatories – one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind. With this new pair of viewpoints, scientists are able to see the structure and evolution of solar storms as they blast from the Sun and move out through space.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, Comet Lovejoy was discovered on Dec. 2, 2011, by a citizen scientist — Terry Lovejoy of Australia. As it turns out, it’s not all that uncommon for comets to be discovered by citizen scientists from the public. For years, NRL’s Sungrazing Comets Project has asked people to help discover new comets.
In December 2010, as people on Earth celebrated the holidays and prepared to ring in the New Year, a European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA spacecraft quietly reached its own milestone: on December 26, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) discovered its 2000th comet.
Drawing on help from citizen scientists around the world, SOHO has become the single greatest comet finder of all time. This is all the more impressive since SOHO was not designed to find comets, but to monitor the Sun.
“Since it launched on December 2, 1995, to observe the Sun, SOHO has more than doubled the number of comets for which orbits have been determined over the last three hundred years,” says Joe Gurman, the U.S. project scientist for SOHO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Of course, it is not SOHO itself that discovers the comets — that is the province of the dozens of amateur astronomer volunteers who daily pore over the images produced by SOHO’s LASCO (or Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph) cameras. More than 70 people representing 18 different countries have helped spot comets over the last 15 years by searching through the publicly available SOHO/LASCO images online. The 1999th and 2000th comets were both discovered by an astronomy student at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.
“There’s an ever-growing community of amateur astronomers who contribute to this project,” says Karl Battams, who has been in charge of running the SOHO comet-sighting web site since 2003 for the Naval Research Laboratory, where he does software development, data processing, and visualization work for NRL’s solar physics missions. “These volunteers are absolutely fundamental to the success of this program. Without them, most of this tremendously valuable astronomical data would never see the light of day.”
Researchers at Penn State University need your help to study the distribution of microorganisms in household hot water heaters. Turns out your everyday hot water heater can double as a model hot spring, one of Earth’s extreme environments where important clues about microbial life in the Solar System might be found.
First, researchers want to better understand the genetic differences of similar microbes from across the globe: Which populations of microbes are isolated and what can this tell us?
Penn State’s Astrobiology Research Center (which is part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute) is running this citizen science project, titled, “Pilot Citizen Science Study of Distributed Domestic Water Heater Microbiology Diversity” and here’s how it works:
Participants take a water sample from their kitchen tap and answer 20 questions to help determine which-and how many–microorganisms are present. The whole process takes about 30 minutes. Researchers will then combine your answers (data) with contributions from households across the country. The goal is to generate a first image of the biogeographic distribution of microorganisms across the United States.
I had a chance to chat with Dr. Chris House, Associate Professor of Geosciences & Director of the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center. He gave me the inside scoop on microbes, why they’re important, and how the study will help NASA understand extreme environments around the Solar System.
Off we go!
First, what are microbes doing in water heaters? Is that bad?
Chris: The main microbial group known from water heaters is Thermus. This thermophilc species is also known from hot springs around the world and was first isolated from Yellowstone National Park. It lives by using oxygen to consume organic material from the water. It is not harmful in any way. Read the rest of this entry »
This post was originally published on Citizen Science Buzz, a blog on TalkingScience that highlights science projects that are helping us better understand our planet and the Universe
Wherever you are – anywhere in the world – on June 21st consider taking and submitting a photo of a blank white piece of paper between 5:00 and 8:00 pm.
Your photo will not be just a picture of a pretty white piece of paper, it will be scientific data used to calculate earth’s albedo – the proportion of solar energy that bounces back out to space when it hits the Earth’s surface.
For three years Dr. Kathleen Gorski and her students at Wilbraham and Monson Academy near Springfield, MA have been snapping pictures of white paper and using them to measure albedo by comparing the white paper to the surrounding ground surface.
Now they are opening the project up to anyone who would like to participate!
Here’s how you can get involved:
- Stick a reminder in your calendar for Tuesday June 21, 2011 between 5:00-8:00 pm so that you don’t forget. (Note: I added this step to Kathleen’s instructions because I know I will need a reminder!)
- Put a white card (index or business cards work well) on any ground surface with the white side facing up.
- Snap a digital photo. No particular position for the camera is required. Just hold it, look down, and take the shot. (Kathleen has found that any camera will do – a cell phone or SLR will both work. And any resolution will be fine.)
- Email the photo to email@example.com.
- 5. Include the location (either your city and state or your latitude and longitude).
Kathleen and her students will analyze the data, comparing the response of the white card to the response of the ground surface in each photograph using ImageJ software and will depict the data points on a map. They will be posting the results this summer or fall on a new project website, and Kathleen will be presenting about the project to teachers at the National Science Teachers Association meeting in Hartford, CT in the fall.
For those of you sleepless people who want to learn a bit about stars and help scientists at the same time, consider joining the Great World Wide Star Count taking place from October 29 through November 12, 2010.
In order to participate, download the star count’s activity guide to determine which constellation you should observe. Once you know what to look for, check out the sky an hour after sunset (7 to 9 pm) and find your constellation. Next, match what you see to the set of magnitude charts (included in the activity guide), and report your observations. You can also look online to see results from previous years of international stargazing.
Once you’re hooked on astronomy, consider joining up with NASA’s Interactive Space Physics (INSPIRE) project to record very low frequency radio emissions. For this project, you’ll need to build your own detector with kits from the website. Some of the radio waves you’ll measure come from naturally occurring sources and are called “sferics” (short for “atmospherics”). These natural waves are often generated by lightning and are also called “tweeks,” “whistlers,” and “chorus.” Are you wondering what lightning sounds like? If you don’t yet have a kit, listen to some sferics here. (Want to hear more? Check out their audio gallery.)
In addition to listening in on nature’s noises, your kit will allow you to monitor human-made radio emissions in the same frequencies. This research helps scientists learn more about how naturally occurring very low frequency radio emissions are generated, as well as how our human-made signals interact with the ionosphere and magnetic fields. This is a unique opportunity to collect data and work with real NASA space scientists on important scientific problems.
If you’re, ahem, inspired, to hear more, check out a recent segment about this program on NASA/Discovery radio.
Get outside and take a look up, or listen in!
The coolest new citizen science project may also be the HOTTEST!
Launched this week, Solar Stormwatch is looking to citizen scientists to help spot explosions on the sun and track them across space to Earth. These explosions, also known as “coronal mass ejections” or “solar storms”, release high-energy particles that can be a safety hazard for astronauts and disrupt our satellites and power grids.
In 2006, NASA launched two identical spacecraft — one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind — to study the sun and its solar storms in 3-D. The spacecraft took thousands of images, and Solar Stormwatch scientists need your help to analyze the images and spot storms.
Solar Stormwach has a great new website full of informative diagrams and videos from the project team. Snoop around the website, and after you’ve familiarzed yourself with the basics of solar science, set up an account to get trained to identify solar storms.
Your contribtion could help scientists understand why solar storms happen and ultimately provide early warning to astronauts that could be exposed to dangerous solar radiation.