Citizen Science Project Shows Anyone Can Be a Scientist

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 24 2013 8:00 AM

Citizen Science Maps Asteroid Craters like the Pros

Citizen Science is coming into its own. The idea behind it is that a lot of solid scientific analysis doesn’t need years of training, classes, and pain. In many cases the ground work can be done by nearly anyone with only a few minutes training, and the results are just as good as if a pro tackled it.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Case in point: Vesta. That’s an asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, and recently enjoyed the company of Dawn, a spacecraft that mapped the surface over and over. Thousands of craters were imaged, and cataloguing them is difficult. It’s hard to train computers to pick out craters that are faint, overlapping, or non-circular.

Advertisement

Enter citizen science in the form of Asteroid Mappers. Created for Cosmoquest (full disclosure: I’m an advisor for CQ), it allows you to look at actual images from Dawn and find craters in them (there’s one for the Moon as well using LRO data). It’s easy, fun, and actually rather addictive.

mapping craters on Vesta
Analysis of craters maps made by citizen scientists are as accurate as those of the pros.

Image credit: Asteroid Mappers/Cosmoquest

And accurate! Astronomer Pamela Gay, aka Star Stryder, is project Director of CQ and just announced that they tested the results of Asteroid Mappers using a few regions on Vesta, comparing how “amateurs” did with professional crater spotters. The results were essentially the same.

This works best when lots of people analyze the data, which minimizes outliers, that is, inaccurate individual measurements. They found the same thing with Moon Mappers, too. In other words: the more, the merrier! So I urge you to sign up for these projects and try your hand at them. It’s not a game; you’ll be helping real science.

And you’ll have fun doing it.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.