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Exploring Space with Citizen Science - A Zooniverse of Opportunities!

Written by Rusty Low, IGES and Morgan Woroner, IGES

Engaging students in real-world research opportunities can be a challenge. Often, classrooms aren’t equipped to allow students to study remote space objects like black holes, stars, and planets. Last week, we focused on CosmoQuest, a project inviting users to become citizen scientists, engaging in space research by analyzing data from NASA missions.

For a chance to participate in research projects that are “out of this world,” Zooniverse offers a wide variety of options, many focusing on NASA space missions. The projects cover a range of space sciences, offering something for those interested in deep space, as well as learning more about our own galaxy and solar system. With a little background information users can start hunting for planets with Planet Hunters, a project analyzing data from the Keplar spacecraft. Disk Detective explores data from the WISE mission, asking users to identify debris clouds surrounding distant stars. Interested in supermassive black holes? Radio Galaxy Zoo asks citizen scientists to identify jets of material traveling at near the speed of light, using data from infrared telescopes.

Most citizen science projects are designed for individual participants, but some use interfaces that allow groups of individuals to collaborate on a mission. As an example, Galaxy Zoo offers an interactive tool, Navigator, which makes it easy for educators to lead a group of students in classifying the shapes of galaxies. An educator portal, ZooTeach, allows educators to easily share lessons and resources that support student learning in conjunction with their citizen science research.

If you are interested in phenomena a little closer to home, the Milky Way Project invites users to analyze infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Solar Stormwatch asks for help spotting explosions on the Sun and tracking them across space to Earth. Even closer to Earth, the Planet Four and Moon Zoo projects ask for help in measuring and classifying features on Mars’ and the Moon’s surfaces, respectively. Moon Zoo has different challenges for volunteers to choose from: Boulder Wars asks users to determine which crater has the most boulders surrounding the impact site, whereas the Crater Survey asks for a more detailed analysis of surface features. Both challenges assist scientists in visually classifying images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Zooniverse is a citizen science resource for formal and informal audiences alike. The site is very user-friendly and provides interactive materials, such as mission briefings and videos from scientists and researchers, explaining why citizen science contributions are so important to their work. Zooniverse offers a learning environment that emphasizes research and data, while making analysis worthwhile and exciting, and introducing the real-world experiences of NASA researchers and scientists. You’ll also find additional citizen science projects in archaeology, biology, climate, and the humanities.

Are you a citizen scientist contributing to a project? We’d like to hear about your experiences!

Check out our other posts on citizen science in the classroom: