Archive for the ‘nasa’ tag
The first time I ever saw the Perseids, I was 15 years old.
I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night (without telling my parents, of course) and found the darkest spot at the park nearby. What followed was one of the most awesome sights I had witnessed up until then: hundreds of staggered streaks of light, tearing through an ink-black sky. Part of me knew it was strict science. Another part of me was convinced it was magic. Who knew that a phenomenon that happens every day could resonate so profoundly?
Every day, on average, more than 40 tons of meteoroids strike our planet. Most are tiny specks of dust that disintegrate harmlessly high up in Earth’s atmosphere, producing a slow drizzle of “shooting stars” in the night sky. Meteors (what they’re called before they enter our atmosphere) are made of cosmic material–silicate rock, iron, and metals–left over from the early formation of our solar system.
Where do the Perseids come from?
As the Earth rotates around the sun this weekend, it will pass through the debris field of the comet Swift-Tuttle, a dirty snowball of remnants that never became planets nor stars. The comet takes about 133.2 years to orbit the sun. As it moves, a tail of gas, ice and dust is left behind it.
Each year, from mid-July to early August, the cosmic debris in this comet’s tail culminate in an evening spectacular called the Perseids.
When and How to View
This year, the meteor shower peaks late Sunday (8/11) into early Monday (8/12) just before dawn.
Find a dark field away from any light pollution. Look for the constellation Perseus, where the Perseids derive their name. It should be observable in the northeastern sky. During a Perseid meteor shower, you can expect to observe up to 100 meteoroids in an hour.
What to Bring
What’s nice about the Perseids is you don’t need any special viewing equipment. The naked eye is adequate. Grab a blanket and/or lawn chair, a cup of warm liquid, some snacks, and sit back to wait for the forthcoming light show.
NASA has a Meteor Counter app that iPhone users can download. Viewers of the Perseids can help report how many they see within a particular time frame. The app’s “piano key” interface allows you to tap keys as you view meteoroids. It records critical data for each meteor: time, magnitude, latitude, and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations. Afterward, these data are automatically uploaded to NASA researchers for analysis.
While you’re out there, you might as well turn an otherwise passive (albeit amazing) viewing experience into a participatory one in the name of citizen science.
SciStarter wishes you a happy viewing for this year’s Perseids. If it doesn’t make you feel too cheesy, make a wish when you see your first meteoroid. I know the fifteen year old in me won’t forget to.
If you live in Alabama, you can participate in the Alabama Meteor Tracking Project.
- Keefer, Marsha. “Perseids Meteor Shower to Light Up Night Sky.” Times Online. August 7, 2013. <http://www.timesonline.com/community/news/perseids-meteor-shower-to-light-up-night-sky/article_172824c3-c76c-59bf-9ea1-18c93af9cde5.html>.
- “Meteor Counter.” Scientific American Citizen Science Blog. August 7, 2013. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/project.cfm?id=nasa-meteor-counter>.
- “NASA Meteor Counter.” SciStarter. August 7, 2013. <http://scistarter.com/project/840-Meteor%20Counter>.
Lily Bui holds dual (non-science) bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. 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. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.
This post originally appeared on PLOS blogs.
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.