Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking at a TEDx conference, where I explained the concept of citizen science to a very receptive and enthusiastic audience. Check it out, and please share it with your networks!
City dwellers might not realize it, but they’re missing out on some great views… of the sky. Light pollution from sources like street lights and advertising marquees washes out all but the brightest of stars.
A new app just released for the Android OS, called “The Loss of the Night” is designed to find out exactly how bad the light pollution is. The app helps measure skyglow by learning which stars are visible or invisible to the naked eye at the user’s location.
According to Christopher Kyba of the Institute for Space Sciences at Freie Universität Berlin, it works like a game — it guides you to a certain star and asks if you can see it. Based on your response it then asks you for a new star that’s either brighter or darker.
In addition to helping scientists quantify the problem, there’s a benefit to the user. “People who use the app also find that they end up learning the names of stars and constellations that they didn’t know before,” said Kyba.
iPhone users, meanwhile, can also contribute. The Dark Sky Meter project, set up by Norbert Schmidt, Mario Hodzelmans, and Harro Treur, helps measure the sky directly using the iPhone camera, and there’s a lite version and a pro version to chose from.
The folks at Zooniverse have another great project on the go, this time focusing on Mars.
At Planet Four, scientists would like you to identify and measure features on the surface of Mars by examining images taken of the southern polar region. In particular, you’re being asked to look for “fans” and “blotches” on the Martian surface.
The current thinking is that fans and blotches indicate wind direction and speed. By tracking them over the course of several years, planetary scientists can get a clearer understanding of the Martian climate. The aggregated data from the image analysis will provide the first large scale measurement of wind on the fourth planet from the sun.
For a detailed explanation of how fans and blotches are formed, check out the About page here. To sign up and start (virtually) cruising Mars, use the sign up link in the upper right corner of the Planet Four site, or use your existing Zooniverse login.
On Jan. 19, 2006, NASA launched New Horizons to investigate the outer edges of our solar system. Some 2300 days later, the craft is just halfway to Pluto, on approach for a flight past Pluto and its moons in July 2015.
Once it is done it’s Pluto-Charon work, New Horizons may be retargeted for an encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). Discovered in 1992, the Kuiper Belt is a massive region of rocks, ices, and metals that stretches from the orbit of Neptune to an area some 50 AU beyond the Sun.
Your job, should you join the good folks over at Ice Investigators by Cosmoquest, is to look over some of the many thousands of images we have of the region to find a good target for a New Horizons flyby. Ideally, the target will be at least 30 miles (about 50 kilometers) across, and be suitable for taking high resolution images, doing infrared spectroscopy and four-color maps, and looking for an atmosphere and moons.
You can get started with the Ice Investigators project by logging in and marking KBOs on the images provided; you’ll be looking for white, clearly defined blobs against a background of stars, cosmic rays, transients, and asteroids.
Cosmoquest is also responsible for the Moon Mappers project discussed in a previous article.