Citizen Science Project Shows Anyone Can Be a Scientist

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.

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.

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

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

There Are New Abuse Allegations Against Adrian Peterson

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.