Sunday, September 14, 2014

Citizen Science - How a Non-Scientist Can Contribute to Science

Astronomers have always had two distinctions - the amateur and the professional. Now, when we say amateur we don't mean a newbie or something. In astronomy, the term amateur means individuals who have no formal education in astronomy (not actual scientists in the field of astronomy). They include a large range of individuals who are either beginners, enthusiasts or even those with large contributions and discoveries. Usually amateurs have more time on their hands to do observations than professionals. Some professionals have close to 0 experience with hands-on observations and focus more on analysis of data, computations, simulations, etc.

So how can a non-scientist make contributions? For one, there is an enormous amount of data and not enough people to look at them. Because of this citizen science projects were introduced to allow any individual to help in improving and filtering down large data sets. Here is a listing of some citizen science projects you can get involved with.

This project allows you to get involved in the identification and classification of galaxies by looking at image sets from the SDSS, HST, and UKIRT. It is an interactive project where classifications can be done individually, in groups, or as a class (which I've personally done with my astrophysics students). Basic information on galaxies, papers, and results are available also to public.

2. Cosmo Quest

This project allows you to map other objects in the Solar system. Currently they allow the mapping of the Moon, the asteroid Vesta, and Mercury.

3. Agent Exoplanet
This project allows you to detect exoplanets (planets orbiting around other stars) by analyzing their light curves (plots showing variations in light levels over time). This is headed by astronomers at the Las Cumbres Observatory.

4. Solar Storm Watch 
This project allows you to monitor for solar storms which may then be used for early warning. This is a project by the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the makers of Zooniverse.

5. Be a Martian
This project allows you to improve Martian maps, and assist in research and analysis in an interactive game-like template.

6. SETI@home

This project allows SETI [Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence] to make use of computers connected to the internet to do analysis of radio telescope data while the computer is idle (this citizen science project allows you to contribute w/o actually doing anything).