CITIZEN SCIENCE

CITIZEN SCIENCE INFORMATION

NASA Citizen Science: https://science.nasa.gov/citizenscience and https://www.nasa.gov/solve/opportunities/citizenscience and https://science.nasa.gov/heliophysics/programs/citizen-science and https://sservi.nasa.gov/citizen-science and https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/citizen-science and https://www.nasa.gov/nasa-at-home-be-a-scientist and https://nasacitsci.gmri.org

NASA Citizen Science Opportunities

For a list of NASA-related CS opportunities, see here.

Check out NASA’s Open Innovation: Boosting NASA Higher, Faster, and Farther document for information on how you can help NASA at: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/fy1920openinnovationreport-final.pdf 

Science Supported by Public Participation: “NASA’s Science Mission Directorate seeks knowledge and answers to profound questions that impact all people. Through competitions, challenges [like the one mentioned above], crowdsourcing, and citizen science activities, NASA collaborates with the public to make scientific discoveries that help us better understand our planet and the space beyond. Multiple NASA science projects were supported through public participation in Fiscal Years 2021 and 2022, spanning pursuits in astrophysics, Earth science, heliophysics, and more.” For more, see here; for NASA’s Science Vision, see here.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has many opportunities for you to make a meaningful contribution to its scientific endeavors; see: https://science.nasa.gov/citizenscience. For some examples of how these efforts succeed, see: https://science.nasa.gov/get-involved/citizenscience/five-extraordinary-citizen-science-discoveries 

Citizen Science: Theory and Practice is an on-line, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that “focuses on advancing the global field of citizen science by “providing a venue for citizen science researchers and practitioners to share best practices in conceiving, developing, implementing, evaluating, and sustaining projects that facilitate public participation in scientific endeavors in any discipline. Authors include scientists, educators, community organizers, information technologists, conservation biologists, evaluators, land-use planners, and more. Readers include anyone interested in understanding and improving practice of the growing citizen science field.” Check it out at: https://theoryandpractice.citizenscienceassociation.org!

CitizenScience.gov is an “official government website designed to accelerate the use of crowdsourcing and citizen science across the U.S. government.” It has information about available citizen science projects, how to work with the citizen science community to expand efforts and opportunities, and information on how to plan, design, and execute a crowdsourcing/citizen science program. Check it out at: https://www.citizenscience.gov/catalog/#; see also: https://www.citizenscience.org.

NOAA also has a citizen science program (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/citizen-science) and they have developed a “tool kit” for Federal crowdsourcing and citizen science; see: https://www.noaa.gov/office-education/citizen-science-crowdsourcing.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) posts info on how to participate in astronomy research at: https://www.iau.org/public/themes/citizen-science-projects.

If your interests are more “down to Earth,” check out the US Geological Survey; see: https://www.usgs.gov/science-support/osqi/youth-education-science/citizen-science

National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/citizenscience/index.htm

Other agencies offer CS opportunities; see: https://www.citizenscience.gov/#

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_citizen_science_projects

CITIZEN SCIENCE SPOTLIGHT

NASA has a website about CS programming you might be interested in. The site “is the hub for series of virtual events designed to provide current, past, and future NASA citizen science program leaders time and community in which to share and learn practices and approaches that lead to successful and rewarding citizen science projects.” Find out all about it at: https://nasacitsci.gmri.org/about-this-site.

MoonDiff: NASA’s CS project that allows one to help detect recent changes in the Moon’s surface, such as impact cratering, was mentioned prominently in the story about Amaey Shah in the “Of Special Interest” section above. You can help out, too! Find out more at: https://trek.nasa.gov/moondiff.

Find the Cool Neighbors! Brown dwarfs are the least massive of stars, just barely large enough to initiate fusion in their cores. But they are important in our understanding of star/planet formation and exoplanets (see piece in the News: Astronomy section above). NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite, and its later incarnation as the Near-Earth Orbit WISE or NEOWISE satellite, has amassed a very large body of data that contains evidence of brown dwarfs. But there is a LOT of data to sift through to find them, and that’s where you come in. There is a Zooniverse project out there called Backyard Worlds: Cool Neighbors. Find out more about it at: https://is.gd/cool_neighbors

Exoplanet Transits

Planet Hunters TESS is an ongoing Citizen Science program where YOU can use TESS data to find exoplanets. Read more about the program here. Astronomers at the University of Warwick have set up the “Planet Hunters Next-Generation Transit Search,” an on-line way for you to examine digital images for the tell-tale drop in a star’s light as an exoplanet passes in front of it (the exoplanet “transits” its sun). The Kepler and TESS spacecraft, and other observing programs, have found many exoplanets by using the transit method, but both have a built-in very strong observational bias for larger exoplanets orbiting very close to their sun, rather than a more spread-out system like ours. [Think about it. We rarely see transits of Mercury and Venus, even though they orbit almost in the same plane as Earth. A distant view of our Solar System would require VERY precise alignment, and even then, there would be only one small dip in the Sun’s brightness once a year!]

Automated telescopes, such as those based at the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile, continuously monitor the sky. Their automated search routines get all of the close-in exoplanets, but might miss transits in systems like our own. That’s where you come in. You can dive right in and start helping with the search. See the link above and/or here for more info.

Transits Help Scientists Understand Distant Planets: File this one under “Astronomers Learn When Things Go in Front of Other Things,” the recent Item of the Week. Exoplanet transits can provided spectral evidence as to the chemical composition of the exoplanet’s atmosphere, and YOU can help can contribute to the study of same, via the Exoplanet Watch and ExoClock citizen science programs. For a summary of the overall effort, see here.The Exoplanet Watch Project, part of NASA’s larger Universe of Learning STEM learning and literacy effort. There are two areas of support you could provide, either using your own telescope to make new observations, or by analyzing already-acquired other data from other sources. Backyard astronomy equipment is now capable of making meaningful observations of exoplanet systems, and if you don’t have your own scope, you can process data from known exoplanets to refine our understanding of their characteristics. If you ever dreamed about finding out more of what’s “out there,” now you can help do just that on the grandest scale! For a summary of this program, see: https://phys.org/news/2023-01-nasa-planets-stars.html.

Finding Nebulae and Asteroids

If Exoplanets are “Small Potatoes” to You, check out how you can assist the search for faint as-yet-undiscovered nebulae. The effort is covered in an article in the upcoming June, 2024, edition of Sky & Telescope magazine, pages 62-67, and in the meantime, check out the Deep Sky Hunters at https://groups.io/g/deepskyhunters.

On the Other Hand, If Your CS Interests are Closer to Home, check out how you and some friends can participate in the search of asteroids in our own Solar System, and remember, if you find them, you get to name them! The program you should check out is affectionally called “Isaac,” the International Asteroid Search Collaboration, at http://iasc.cosmosearch.org, where you can find out all about it. [Note that the URL is “http,” not “https.”] To participate, you will need to form a team of observers (>=2), have access to a Windows computer, and have a good internet connection. They will provide Astronometrica software and telescopic data, you use it to hunt for moving objects. See the FAQ list at: http://iasc.cosmosearch.org/Home/FAQ. You can also find out more about the IASC on page 57 of the November, 2023 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

This Item has been running for some time.  I’ve moved it into this position because of recent news: SETI Institute: Use your own telescope with the Unistellar App to monitor specific exoplanets with the SETI Institute (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) in their UNITE program. Exoplanetary transits are fleeting, so a world-wide network of observers is needed, and you can be part of it. For more information, see: https://science.unistellaroptics.com.

EXAMPLE: A group of high school students in Oakland played a significant role in UNITE, observing a suspected exoplanet system and confirming its status, TIC 139270665b. “The high school students' involvement in this research underscores the potential of hands-on science education to motivate and engage young minds. Through their participation, students gained real-life skills and insights into the scientific process, from planning and conducting observations to analyzing data and contributing to a scientific publication, on which they are all co-authors. This experience demonstrates the power of blending educational empowerment with research, allowing students to contribute to our understanding of the universe.” For more information on this big learning success, see: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/03/240320160534.htm and for the paper itself in The Astrophysical Journal, see: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/1538-3881/ad2772/pdf

Congratulations to the Galaxy Explorers from Chabot Space & Science Center! 

CITIZEN SCIENCE YOU CAN DO

Become a Black Hole Hunter! The Black Hole Hunter program has already had success, with citizen scientists helping find black holes in data from Earth-based telescopes. Now the program is expanding, using data from TESS, and they would like you to help in the effort! You need a smart phone, a tablet/or other computer, a little up-front instruction, and the desire to make a contribution to astronomical research. Find out more about it at: https://phys.org/news/2024-01-citizen-scientists-elusive-black-holes.html.

Asteroid Occultations: Small objects, such as asteroids, will occasionally pass directly in front of a star, causing a temporary drop in light because the starlight is blocked from our view. Such occultations can now be predicted with accuracy because of the tremendous database of star locations from the Gaia satellite. Where the asteroid-caused shadowing of a given star makes a narrow track along the ground akin to that made by the Moon’s shadow during a solar eclipse. If a large number of observers are watching from different locations near that track, each of which has an accurate clock, then the shape of the shadow, hence the shape of the asteroid, can be determined. The September, 2023, issue of Sky and Telescope magazine has an article about a team of “Shadow Chasers,” who have been doing that work (see pages 34-40). This technique, occultation astrometry, was used to determine the dumbbell shape of the KBO Arrokoth, confirmed by the fly-by of it by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2017. Data from this project was used to precisely navigate New Horizons for the fly-by, too! The shapes of the smaller Trojan satellites of Jupiter, the objectives of the upcoming Lucy mission, are being determined with this technique.

There are opportunities for you to help with this research. See the cited article in Sky and Telescope for more information, check out the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA), and find out more at: https://lucy.swri.edu/occultations.html!

NOTE: The Psyche mission has a number of opportunities for public education and involvement; for more, see: https://psyche.asu.edu/get-involved.

CS Success Stories

The Planet Hunters Score(!): A team of astronomers and CSers have discovered the brightest star yet found to have a transiting planet in the “Goldilocks Zone.” Called “TOI 4633c,” the exoplanet is the size of Neptune and orbits its star in 272 days. The system may contain another small star and another exoplanet to boot. For a summary of this find, see here.

AAS Chambliss Award to CSer: Each year, the American Astronomical Society recognizes a citizen scientist who has “contributed significantly to advances in astronomical research.” The AAS held its annual meeting last month, and awarded the Chambliss Amateur Achievement Award to Dan Caselden, for his work in the Backyards Worlds CS projects, where he applied machine learning techniques successfully to the search for ultracool dwarf stars “near” Earth. For more info, see here.

One-of-a-Kind Supernova Remnant Found: A citizen scientist combing through data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft found a diffuse object in Cassiopeia that was bright in IR but dim in visible light. Dana Patchick flagged it for further study, and that was a good thing, because on more detailed examination it turned out to be the remnant of a supernova observed in China in 1181 CE. It was one of only five supernovae in the Milky Way that was recorded in real-time records. The remnant was unlike that of other supernovae in that it lacks a central star exciting the explosion debris, producing an emission spectrum of hydrogen and helium. Classed as a Type Iax supernova, it may have been formed when two white dwarfs merged. For a summary of the report about this weird object, see: https://phys.org/news/2023-11-amateur-astronomer-one-of-a-kind-supernova-remnant.html; for the abstract of the paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, see here.

How Transparent are Saturn’s Rings? George Xystouris, a Ph.D. student at Lancaster University, used data from the now-long-gone Cassini spacecraft to determine details of Saturn’s rings. They used a new technique involving examination of images of the Sun backlighting the ring system to determine the optical depth of different portions of the ring system. The concept isn’t new, but the student used data from Cassini’s Langmuir Probe, originally designed to make measurements of plasma in the interplanetary medium, an “unusual and inventive way” to utilize LP data. For a summary of the work, see: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/11/231114143915.htm.

SETI Research Leads to a Discovery:Breakthrough Listen is a SETI project that looks for non-natural radio signals, conducted at the Green Bank Telescope. Theoreticians studying Fast Radio Bursts thought that there may be a class of FRBs that are much briefer, on the order of a millionth of a second as oppose to the “normal” thousandth of a second. They combed through a Breakthrough Listen data archive of five hours of data from an FRB three billion light years away, and found a number of the hypothesized Ultra-fast Radio Bursts. The ultimate goal of this research is to study how galaxies acquire surround gases. For a summary of this work, see here; for their Nature Astronomy paper’s abstract, see here.

NOTE! The Breakthrough Listen program is eagerly soliciting citizen science help in analyzing radio data of the type that found UFBs. For more information about helping out, see: https://seti.berkeley.edu/listen!

A sharp-eyed astronomy enthusiast made a significant contribution to astronomical research recently. The University of Leiden was monitoring a number of stars with a network of telescopes and IR data from the NEOWISE spacecraft. The shared the data online with a group of professional and amateur astronomers. One of the amateurs notice one of the stars had a strange behavior, brightening significantly in the IR, and then then starting to fade in visible light three years later. They posted this oddity to the group. The group made many more observations, but the behavior did not recur. The most likely explanation, based on the observations and subsequent computer modeling, is that the IR brightening was the result of two ice giant exoplanets collided, then, three years later, the debris from the collision, still in orbit around the star, moved into line with us and partially blocked the stars light from beyond.

OTHER CS OPPORTUNITIES

IAU Astronomy Citizen Science: I’ve been posting information about citizen science in this section for some time. I recently ran across the link to an International Astronomy Union website providing info on how to participate in astronomical research, with some example programs. Check it out at: https://www.iau.org/public/themes/citizen-science-projects!

While you’re at it, check out this info from astronomy.com: https://astronomy.com/news/2020/11/explore-outer-space-at-home-with-these-6-citizen-science-projects.

NASA Needs You to become a Penguin Detective. Scientists want to know as much about the penguin population and habitats in Antarctica as possible. You’ll use Google Earth to find and map penguin rookeries in Antarctica – quite likely the first on you block to do so! And you don’t have to put up with the smell! Check it out at: https://www.penguinmap.com.

The Astronomical League offers a number of citizen science astronomy projects for CSers over a wide range of experience and available technology. Check it out at: https://www.astroleague.org/content/citizen-science-special-program

Gaia Date Reduction: ESA’s Gaia spacecraft is producing huge volumes of data for the last decade, from which the most precise 3D map of the Milky Way. But they need help in classifying the variable stars in the Gaia dataset. Participants in the Gaia Vari CS project look over Gaia images and check variations in the stars in it with time. “This will help scientists organize and categorize what we know.” ESA also has other CS opportunities. Check it out at: https://phys.org/news/2023-03-amateur-astronomers-stars-gaia.html and at the Gaia Vari website: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/gaia-zooniverse/gaia-vari.

Help Transcribe Star Notes! Charles Pickering was the Director of the Harvard College Observatory in the 1870s. He hired a number of women to perform all sorts of mathematical calculations, other data reduction, and analysis. They were an outstanding asset, called admiringly, “Human Computers.” All made significant contributions to astronomy, and a few made important advances. For example, Henrietta Leavitt discovered the Cepheid period-luminosity relationship, then and now a fundamental astronomical distance-measuring technique. Annie Jump Cannon developed the categories for stellar spectral types, and there were others.

Pickering’s HCO was operating long before digital imaging was possible; even photography was in its infancy, using glass plates and all sorts of chemistry. HCO would generate on the order of 500,000 such plates over the years, along with all sorts of documentation and analysis notes from the Computers. It’s an important historical collection, and still has scientific value today. A program has been underway for years to digitize the glass plates, and that large task is essentially complete, however….

The Computers’ logbooks and notes are important, too, and they haven’t been collated, conserved, and saved. The process is underway, but the program is seeking help to help them “better understand what is hidden within these valuable notebooks.”

So if you, or someone you know, or you know a student or class that could use a good project, check out the March, 2023 issue of Sky and Telescope, page 57 for more information, and go to https://is.gd/star_notes. Check it out!

“The Sungrazer Project is a NASA-funded program [based in the Solar physics Department of the U.S. Naval Observatory] that enables the discovery and reporting of previously unknown comets in the ESA/NASA SOHO and NASA STEREO satellite instrument fields of view. Anyone, anywhere in the world can become a ‘Comet Hunter,’ and immediately begin looking for new comets in the spacecraft data.” SOHO data have revealed over 4,000 new comets, most of which were uncovered by citizen scientists. Check it out at: https://sungrazer.nrl.navy.mil.

The JunoCam instrument aboard the Juno spacecraft has been in the news a bit lately, but it’s now working well. You can help Juno mission planners determine the image targeting by submitting your telescopic data of Jupiter. From here, “The JunoCam webpages are designed to open the door to the public to participate in the steps a spacecraft instrument team follows in implementing their experiment: Planning, Discussion, Voting (decision-making) and Processing. We are pleased to add “Think Tank” as the next step in this sequence.”

One-Two Punch in Meteorite Study: Many of you enjoy watching a meteor shower, hoping to see a big one (not TOO big). 

Observing the fall of meteors, and determining their incoming trajectories from observations from multiple locations, is an old technique. Modern cameras and fast communication networks, however, make meteor observation by amateurs even more important. A group in Croatia has set up the Global Meteor Network, and you can participate. An appropriate camera is needed; you can buy or build. Set up info is here. This program is described in more detail in the January, 2023, issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, page 57.

Finding and recovering meteorites for study is the second part of the story. Technology originally designed to detect clandestine nuclear tests inspired a search technique developed by scientists with the Desert Fireball Network. Changes in radio reception due to momentary ionization of air caused by a meteor’s passage has long been known, but being able to use such data to determine fall location is new. Rather than use military satellites and low-frequency noise detection devices, the DFN folks found a way to use weather radar to detect meteor falls and determine the general area where meteorites might have landed. They then find meteorites on the ground using drone-borne imaging. For more on this part of the “punch,” see here.

The American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) is an OG when it comes to citizen science. They’ve been at it for over a century! A lot of stellar characteristics can be determined if the star varies in brightness, whether it is somewhat random, like the recent dimming of Betelgeuse, or very regular, like Delta Cephei. Keeping track of the details of variation is a good opportunity for YOU to make a contribution to the advancement of our understanding of the nature of the Universe. Check out the interesting history of this fine organization at: https://www.aavso.org/100-years-citizen-science!

AAVSO records are sometimes as important as their present-day observations. Propus (Eta Geminorum) is a 3rd magnitude star marking the foot of Castor in Gemini. It’s a semi-irregular variable red giant star with two small stellar companions. Determination of the orbital period of the smaller and closer of the two was difficult, but the utilization of AAVSO records of the system’s variability from the 1930s and 40s allowed it to be nailed down with precision! For more, see the December, 2022, issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, page 10.

Variable stars and exoplanets are not the only contribution areas for AAVSO citizen scientists.  Dwarf novae are also an area of study where well-equipped amateurs can make an important contribution. “Dwarf novae are binary systems in which a K- or M-type subgiant fills its Roche Lobe and transfers material toward a white dwarf companion.” Variations in the flow of material causes spikes in brightness detectable with relatively-modest equipment. For more on this opportunity, see here: https://www.aavso.org/northern-dwarf-novae-monitoring-campaign.

But Wait, There’s More: AAVSO also has a program where you can help provide important data on newly-discovered supernovae. The pros know when a supernova goes off nearby from the neutrinos they detect from it. What really is important is how the supernova brightens in its earliest stages, and that’s where the citizen observer comes in. AAVSO has set up a “Supernova Early Warning System” and if you are in the program, they’ll “ping” you when a supernova’s neutrino signature is detected, and tell you where it is. If it is in a favorable part of your sky, you’d then acquire a series of images of that area. This is potential a very important contribution! Find out more about it at: https://www.aavso.org/snews-campaign and/or see the September, 2022, issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, page 57.

Venus Cloud Monitoring: The following CS opportunity is for those of you with a bit more than average telescope technology. Venus has a zone in its atmosphere that have clouds with a high content of sulfuric acid. The zone has three layers, imaginatively named lower, middle, and upper. The lower portion contributes significantly to Venus’ runaway greenhouse, and the upper portion super-rotates. Oddly, the middle zone also shows a disruption that propagates even faster than the super-rotation of the upper zone. The reasons for the disruption, which can be seen in the mid-infrared, have yet to be determined. That’s where you come in.

Study of this phenomenon requires long-term monitoring of Venus in the mid-IR. The original work (here) used data from both the Akatsuki spacecraft presently orbiting Venus and observations by amateurs. More such is needed. You’ll need a telescope of at least 8” aperture, a planetary camera, IR filters, and image-capturing and processing software. For more information, see the July, 2002, issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, page 57. Akatsuki has had an interesting history, for more on that, see here. NASA’s not the only Agency that can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat! 

Those Dratted NEOs: Help NASA Monitor Potential Hazards to Earth! NASA is aggressively exploring asteroids, especially those Near Earth Objects (NEOs) that pose an impact hazard to Earth. We’ve flown by a number of asteroids in the past few years, have landing on some, and have returned/are returning samples of them to Earth. We’re even exploring technologies (e.g. DART) that would allow us to deflect a potential impactor.

Earth-based asteroid studies are important, too, but big telescope time is heavily subscribed. Detailed and frequent position measurements of NEOs (astrometry) will help scientists calculate asteroid orbits with high precision, essential in assessing impact risk. Detailed measurements of the brightness of NEOs can provide valuable clues to their composition, also important in assessing impact risk. There is not enough big telescope time available to monitor all the bodies of interest, so NASA needs the help of amateur observers. Modern imaging equipment readily available at modest cost allows observations of the necessary precision to be made, and the software needed to process the observations is readily available at no cost.

The Astronomical League is coordinating NEO observation efforts. You can find out more in the January 2022 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, page 57, or at: https://www.astroleague.org/node/4017. You can make observations that are important in the Grand Scheme of Things, so check it out!

YOU Can Become a NASA Image Detective! NASA astronauts have taken thousands and thousands of pictures of the Earth. But many of them are not as useful as they could be, because the documentation of the just where the image covers is not complete. They need your help. Use NASA’s Image Detective interactive tool to precisely locate the area covered in any given image. You can even accumulate points in so doing and compete with the other Detectives! For more information, see: https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov, then use the four-bar menu in the upper right of the page to get to “Beyond the Photography.” Click on it, and then choose “Become an Image Detective.”

You can help astronomers find “Fast Radio Bursts,” very short but intense flashes of radio waves emanating from distant galaxies. The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) being conducted by an efficient radio telescope in British Columbia. It is collecting enormous quantities of data (more than all of the Internet traffic in Canada combined!). “Despite having a powerful super-computer, clever automated algorithms, and some 100 scientists working on the project, the CHIME team doesn’t have the capacity to sift through all the signals coming in.” That’s where you can help! Find out more about this opportunity here, and/or see the article in the March, 2022, issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, page 57.

You Can Help Train NASA’s Rovers! NASA has put out a call to the public for helping teach an algorithm to recognize scientific features in Percy’s images of the martian surface. The AI4 Mars project was started successfully last year, and the present effort builds on that success by including a broader range of geological features in the training. For more information on this fun project, see: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/you-can-help-train-nasas-rovers-to-better-explore-mars!

NASA at Home – Be a Scientist! NASA has several opportunities for YOU to help them with important research. One of their programs has been listed in A+StW for a number of installments (Planet Hunters TESS), another is new to these pages (AI4Mars); for more on the NASA at Home program, see: https://www.nasa.gov/nasa-at-home-be-a-scientist.

Help NASA be WISE: NASA needs your help their search for objects at the edge of our Solar System and beyond, by analyzing data returned by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft (WISE). WISE can detect faint, warm objects, such as brown dwarfs and Kuiper Belt objects. Astronomers are using automated search routines on WISE data to good effect, but the data are “spiky” enough to fool the automated systems. That’s where you come in! Find out more about this exciting CS opportunity at: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/marckuchner/backyard-worlds-planet-9/about/research!

Help NASA Find Active Asteroids: The dividing line between “comets” and “asteroids” is pretty thin. Some objects like mostly like asteroids, but they are “active”ly releasing some volatiles, like comets do when they are close to the Sun. Only ~30 active asteroids are known so far; YOU can help NASA find more by exploring the images produced by the Dark Energy Camera at Cerro Tololo Observatory in Chile. Find out more why this research is important and what you can do to help the effort, here: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/orionnau/active-asteroids/about/research.

You can help monitor meteor strikes on the Moon! A meteor strikes on the non-illuminated part of the Moon can make a flash bright enough to be seen from Earth. NASA has a telescopic observation program underway at Marshall SFC (https://is.gd/nasa_lunar), but their coverage is not complete. Amateur astronomers can contribute with automated observation of the Moon. Observations made during a meteor shower period are particularly useful. For more information, see the data-collecting organizations’ websites: ALPO (Association of Lunar & Planetary Observers; http://alpo-astronomy.org/lunarupload/lunimpacts.htm) and BAA (British Astronomical Association; https://britastro.org/node/10648). The BAA website has info on the equipment requirements to make the observations.

The Astronomical Ring for Access to Spectroscopy: How would you like to acquire meaningful astronomical data with your very own equipment? Technology now available to amateur astronomers is now good enough to collect spectral data on stars and objects of interest – there are too many for the professionals to handle and they are looking for help to see that nothing important “slips through the cracks.” If you are interested in such things, check out: http://www.astrosurf.com/aras and http://www.spectro-aras.com/forum!

Help NASA Observe Impacts on Jupiter! Earth is not the only body in the Solar System that gets impacted, even though Earth impacts are most near and dear to us. Jupiter gets hit much more often because of its enormous gravity. Remember Comet Levy-Shoemaker 9? Recently, an amateur captured the transient flash of an impact on Jupiter. Understanding the impact rate on Jupiter can help astronomers assess the impact probabilities for elsewhere in the Solar System. But the same shortage of big telescope observing time cited above affects monitoring Jupiter for impacts, too, and amateur observers can “make a big impact” on this study, too, just as for NEOs. Software has recently been developed that would allow amateurs to monitor Jupiter for impact events. The January, 2022, issue of Sky and Telescope has an article about the DeTeCt program, managed by the Europlanet Planetary Space Weather Services; see: https://is.gd/europlanet for info. But wait, there’s more!

OTHER EXAMPLES OF CITIZEN SCIENCE SUCCESSES

Undergrad and Kepler: A detailed analysis of data from the Kepler spacecraft was made recently by a University of Chicago undergraduate and his faculty advisor. The data had been analyzed previously, from which over 2500 exoplanets were identified. However, the data were not sufficient to yield any information about those newly-discovered worlds, apart from their existence. Until now. Student Jared Siegal and Leslie Rogers found a statistical way to set an upper bound on the mass of exoplanets in multi-planet systems. They inspected 80 different exoplanet systems, and found they could set limits on the mass of about 50 of the exoplanets involved. Siegal is now a first-year student at Princeton, and is an NSF Foundation Research Fellow. For more information on this success, see here.

Kepler Data Reduction: TESS was not the first satellite dedicated to searching for exoplanets, and number of instruments are presently looking for more and studying known exoplanets in more detail. The precursor mission for TESS was the Kepler Space Telescope, which found more than half the 5000 exoplanets discovered to date. KST ran out of maneuvering fuel and was decommissioned on October 30, 2018. Before it retired, KST returned mountains of data, so much so that only now has it finally been fully analyzed by a team that included a number of citizen scientists. The final week of KST data yielded three new exoplanets (two confirmed and one awaiting verification as of 6/2/23). For a summary of this project, see here; for the paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that resulted from this work, see here.

Solar Flare Distribution Study: Ever-longer author lists in planetary science have become more prevalent in recent years, in large part because the use of ever-larger teams of scientists on spacecraft teams. But a paper with an author list likely longer than the paper itself? Yes, and it’s a good thing. A variety of spacecraft have made detailed observations of the Sun over the past few decades. A physicist at CU-Boulder’s Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics wanted to test the hypothesis that very small solar flares, too small to be detected by most telescopes, are ubiquitous, and collectively are sufficient to heat the lower corona. The approach would be to review present and previous observational data to look for evidence of such “nano-flares” that might have been overlooked.

Combing through such a large mass of data would be a daunting task in normal times, but early 2020 was not a normal time. COVID was forcing many colleges to operate remotely, and the study was planning to employ students to review data. What to do?

LASP also had a Fall semester Physics course about “hands-on” Physics. Students were not going to be physically present for putting hands on. What to do? 

Duh. The science team enrolled 995 students in the hands-on course, and they contributed a total of 56,000 hours of work on the project.

Their results indicate that nano-flares were not present in numbers sufficient to induce much heating in the lower corona. IMO, the more important results were that 995 students got to contribute to a real science project, using real data, in a real professional environment. 

And each participating student was included on the author list! For a summary, see here; for the paper in The Astrophysical Journal, see here.

Supernova Database: Back in the day, detecting a supernova in another galaxy was relegated to professionals with large telescopes (and good luck). Today, there is a flood of data on extragalactic supernova coming in from all sorts of automated observing programs; nobody was keeping track of it all, especially in real time. That is, until a dedicated amateur astronomer, David Bishop, who desired to make a contribution to astronomical research, saw a need for a supernova information clearinghouse. His latest tool is the Latest Supernova website: https://is.gd/bishop_sn. Bishop handled info on 21,086 supernova observations, of which 2,294 were confirmed as genuine. He proved that you don’t even need to have a telescope to make an important contribution to astronomy!

In that same vein, amateurs have long made important observations of transient phenomena such as discovering new comets, new asteroids, or new supernova. One of the more successful of late is the Japanese amateur astronomer Koichi Itagaki, who has found 168 supernova, 3 comets, and 5 asteroids. His observations are of such high quality that professionals use them routinely.

You can find out more about both Bishop and Itagaki in “The Lure of Extragalactic Supernovae,” an article by Bob King in the February, 2023, issue of Sky and Telescope (pages 57-59).

Lost Spacecraft: Found! There are many defunct satellites and spacecraft out there. Most we know about, but some are “lost.” One such was the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft, launched in 2000 to study, you guessed it, auroral phenomena. Everything was going fine with it until December 18, 2005, when contact was lost abruptly. Twelve years later, amateur astronomer Scott Tilley detected signals from the wayward spacecraft, and contacted NASA. NASA APL acquired housekeeping and other data. Apparently, the spacecraft lost attitude control and lost its telemetry link; subsequent motions eventually allowed part-time contact. IMAGE was planned as a two-year mission; it was very successful for over twice that time period. And even better, IMAGE was the first space science mission to formally include an education and public outreach component, called POETRY. For more on IMAGE’s recovery, see here.

Now, which one of you will be the one to recover Ranger 3 or Ranger 5?!?

DART Follow-Up: We all know that the DART spacecraft successfully impacted asteroid Dimorphos a while back, and the initial analysis supported our hopes that such an impact could alter an asteroids trajectory to prevent it from hitting us. A detailed follow-up analysis shows that the impact did, indeed, cause a significant deflection. For details, see: https://phys.org/news/2023-03-results-nasa-dart-planetary-defense.html.

NASA got some help in conducting that detailed follow-up analysis. “Citizen scientists worldwide made decisive contributions to defend our planet by recording accurate and meaningful observations supporting the NASA DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission. The team, including eight SETI Institute astronomers and led by SETI Institute postdoctoral fellow Ariel Graykowski published their results in Nature on March 1.” See the quote and additional information here: https://phys.org/news/2023-03-unistellar-citizen-science-network-seti.html.

Hubble Asteroid Hunters: The effect satellite constellations are having on our ability to look at the heavens was mentioned in the TWSftUoTtCBDftSoTiFoOT section above. The Hubble Asteroid Hunters CS effort involved over 11,000 amateur volunteers, who looked at over 37,000 HST images acquired between April, 2002, and March, 2021, and found 1701 new asteroid trails in them. About a third were asteroids already known, but the rest were newly-discovered. For more about the HAH success with asteroids, see: https://esahubble.org/news/heic2207.

Some of the images examined also had streaks caused by a satellite passing in front of the HST during image acquisition. The problem was quite rare in 2002, but has grown in importance ever since as LEO and higher become more and more crowded. As of 2021, over 6% of new HST images have such streaks. The HAH CS effort provides a quantification of how much satellites are now interfering with astronomical observations, amateur and professional. 

Variable Stars Discovered, Lots of Them: Here’s a wonderful example of the interrelationship between scientific inquiry and the technology that enables/assists it. There are a number of different reasons that some stars vary in brightness, and the details of that variability make them a useful object of study. The All-Sky Automate Survey for Supernovae (ASAN-SN) and other surveys were recently analyzed, assisted by a machine learning algorithm. The survey picked up 378,861 variable stars, of which 116,027 were previously unknown! Not only was their variability detected, there were sufficient data to allow a rough initial classification (periodic and irregular).

Here's the best part. The machine learning effort was greatly assisted by Citizen Scientists! The machine could flag objects whose brightness changed, but not all of them were valid observations. The CSers examined the observations and rejected the obviously-spurious ones. For more information on this interesting study and example of the value of Citizen Scientists, see: http://www.sci-news.com/astronomy/variable-stars-10867.html.

CSer Discovers 34 Ultracool Dwarf Binaries: Frank Kiwy pored through a NOIRLab catalog of 4 billion celestial objects as part of a CS project called “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9.” He used software that could comb the database for objects with the spectrum of a brown dwarf stars, which are ultracool for stars. His search turned up ~2500 candidates, then examined them further to find 34 systems that were binary, with a brown dwarf orbiting a white dwarf. Kiwy’s work will allow scientists to focus on the newly-discovered systems in order to determine the characteristics of brown dwarfs; are they like oversized planets or like undersized stars? For a summary, see here; for their paper reporting the discovery, see here.

Voyager 2 and the Image Guy: Uranus’ rings were discovered by astronomer James Elliot aboard the Kuiper Airborne Observatory back on March 10, 1977, as related here. Nine years later, Voyager 2, the only spacecraft ever to visit Uranus (or Neptune, either), acquired two images of the rings during its quick fly-by. Since then, Uranus’ rings have been imaged from Earth on a number of occasions. Images acquired by the Keck telescope in 2007 showed that one of the uranian rings might have changed in brightness, but it was difficult to compare the Keck and Voyager data, because the Sun-camera-Uranus geometry was so different.

An amateur image processing enthusiast, one Ian Reagan, knew of this problem and decided to see if there were any other Voyager 2 images that could help. Ian knew that Voyager 2 had taken “over the shoulder” looks at its previous fly-bys at Jupiter and Saturn, and that if the same thing had happened at Uranus, the viewing geometer as the spacecraft receded would be more like Keck’s. He cranked up his image processing tools and found evidence of the Zeta ring in other Voyager 2 images (over 35 years after they were acquired)! Additional images yielded additional views. The upshot: The uranian ring system is more similar to the ring systems of Jupiter and Saturn than previously supposed. For more info, see here. Way to go, Ian!

Global CS Program Finds Asteroids: The Hubble Asteroid Hunter program was established in June, 2019. Its goal was to have citizen scientists examine archival Hubble Space Telescope images to look for asteroids. The images were acquired over the past two decades, and had typical exposure times of 30 minutes or so, long enough for a moving asteroid to make a short, curved trail on the image. A total of 11,400 CSers examined 37,000 images, and came up with over 1000 asteroid trails, which were then used to train an AI algorithm for an automated search. Score one for us humans, CSers found over one thousand, the AI found about 700! For more in this CS success story, see: https://phys.org/news/2022-05-global-citizen-science-asteroid-trails.html!

Amateur Astronomers Measure Asteroid Shape: A team of astronomers from the SETI Institute teamed with 26 citizen scientists in a successful effort to determine the shape of asteroid 1999 AP10. This particular asteroid is classed as a “Near Earth Asteroid,” one with an orbit that crosses Earth. Some NEAs pose a potential collision hazard, so knowing as much as possible about them is rather important. This was the first time that amateur observations played a key role in this sort of study. For more, see: https://astronomy.com/news/2020/12/citizen-astronomers-map-near-earth-asteroid .

Congratulations to Giuseppe Donatiello, an amateur astronomer, for discovering a dwarf galaxy likely to be companion to the nearby spiral galaxy, M33. He was processing data from the DESI Legacy Imaging Surveys and found the faint galaxy.For a summary, see: http://www.sci-news.com/astronomy/pisces-vii-dwarf-galaxy-10283.html; for the paper, see: https://academic.oup.com/mnras/article/509/1/16/6381713.

CSers Can Help Understanding of Venusian Clouds: The following CS opportunity is for those of you with a bit more than average telescope technology. Venus has a zone in its atmosphere that have clouds with a high content of sulfuric acid. The zone has three layers, imaginatively named lower, middle, and upper. The lower portion contributes significantly to Venus’ runaway greenhouse, and the upper portion super-rotates. Oddly, the middle zone also shows a disruption that propagates even faster than the super-rotation of the upper zone. The reasons for the disruption, which can be seen in the mid-infrared, have yet to be determined. That’s where you come in.

Study of this phenomenon requires long-term monitoring of Venus in the mid-IR. The original work (here) used data from both the Akatsuki spacecraft presently orbiting Venus and observations by amateurs. More such is needed. You’ll need a telescope of at least 8” aperture, a planetary camera, IR filters, and image-capturing and processing software. For more information, see the July, 2002, issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, page 57. Akatsuki has had an interesting history, for more on that, see here. NASA’s not the only Agency that can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat! 

Citizen Scientists Help Find a Long-Period Exoplanet: Paul Dalba, an astronomer at UC Riverside, leads a team of citizen scientists who have been helping look for exoplanets. Recall that TESS and the transit method of exoplanet detection have a strong detection bias for large exoplanets very close to their suns; longer-period exoplanets are more difficult to find because the transits they cause are much rarer, and the farther an exoplanet is from its star, the closer the Earth must be to the plane of its orbit to produce transits we can see at all. Dalba’s group specializes in finding long(er)-period exoplanets.

Tom Jacobs, one of Dalba’s CS assistants, found a dip in the light from star TOI-2180 in TESS data and alerted Dalba, who began observing the star regularly. The exoplanet that caused the dip Jacobs saw is Jupiter-sized, but with a mass three times larger. Its period is 261 days, and its only 379 light-years away, and Earth lies directly in its orbital plane. For more on this particular CS success, see: https://phys.org/news/2022-01-unusual-team-gigantic-planet-hidden.html. The paper in The Astronomical Journal where the team announces the results is here: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/1538-3881/ac415b.

Citizen Scientists Find ~10,000 New Variable Stars: More than 3,100 volunteers have combed through data collected from Ohio State’s All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae this year and found thousands of new variable stars. They were also able to identify bad data in the survey, much of it caused by satellites in LEO. The ASAS-SN program has been going on for some time, but their automated telescopes were upgraded recently, giving the volunteers a lot of good info to work with. For a summary of this work, see here: https://phys.org/news/2021-11-citizen-scientists-variable-stars.html. The results of this latest round of data analysis were published on-line, see: https://arxiv.org/abs/2111.02415.

Two New Exoplanets: A father-son team in Pomona are members of Planet Hunter TESS, a 29,000-strong citizen science team effort that uses TESS data to find new exoplanets. PHT just announced the discovery of two exoplanets orbiting HD 152843, a star slightly larger than the Sun lying ~352 light-years away. One is a “sub-Saturn,” and the other is the size of Neptune. Both, if in our Solar System, would lie inside the orbit of Mercury. Miguel Rubio, and his father Cesar, are among the 12 authors of the discovery paper. For more information about this discovery, see: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/citizen-scientists-discover-two-gaseous-planets-around-a-bright-sun-like-star; for more about the Planet Hunters TESS effort, see: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/nora-dot-eisner/planet-hunters-tess.

Lost no More: Recovering Jupiter’s Moons: Jupiter has 79 known moons. Five of them were discovered in 2002, but their orbits were not well determined, and they’ve been “lost” ever since. Until now. Two of them have been observed by the original discoverer, who obtained better orbits for them. However, an intrepid and skilled amateur, consulting the records of previous observations, managed to “find” four of the five, the two the original discoverer had found (unbeknownst to him) and two others. Only one of Jupiter’s 79 is still lost. For more info on this feat, see: https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/amateur-astronomer-finds-lost-moons-of-jupiter.

Thirty Nearby Brown Dwarfs Discovered: Astronomers and Citizen Scientists working on the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 Project recently announced the discovery of 38 brown dwarf stars within 65 light-years of Earth. The datasets examined are very large; the professionals drew on the 100,000+ citizen scientist in the Backyards Worlds collaboration for assistance in finding these very faint objects. Now we know more about out one little corner of the galaxy! For a summary, see here; for the paper abstract, see here

CMEs are Complicated! Corona Mass Ejections from the Sun can disrupt power grids and communications networks on Earth, and can cause lasting damage to electrical transmission systems and satellites. Scientists trying to understand more about CMEs and their effects need to know more about any patterns in CME types and occurrences, so they have crowdsourced the identification/classification of CME observations. For a summary of this contribution of the public in important research, see: https://eos.org/research-spotlights/the-complicated-complexity-of-solar-storms, for the actual article in the journal Space Weather, see: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2020SW002556.

Citizen Volunteers Help Figure Out an Odd Neutron Star System: An international research team, using a novel data analysis method running on ~10,000 graphic cards in the distributed science project, Einstein@Home, identified the source of mysterious gamma rays as a heavy neutron star with a very low-mass companion. For more, see: https://phys.org/news/2020-10-mystery-unusual-neutron-star-revealed.html

NASA data, and a school class, help the Earth: The Earthrise Alliance, aided by a team of ninth-grade students in Weston, Massachusetts, found many of the illegal, environmentally-damaging, and dangerous gold mines popping up in great numbers in the Amazon basin; see: https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/spinoff/NASA_Satellite_Data_and_Analysis_Make_Earth_Better/

Citizen Science Strikes Again! Participants in a NASA citizen science project, Disk Detective, perused image data from NASA’s WISE spacecraft (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) mentioned above, looking for stars with disks of dust around them that could be potentially related to exo-planets. They scored recently with W1200-7845, a relatively-nearby brown dwarf star. Several observatories are planning follow-up looks at this star. Summary: http://www.sci-news.com/astronomy/young-brown-dwarf-circumstellar-disk-08496.html; Presentation abstract: https://www.abstractsonline.com/pp8/#!/9052/presentation/736.

And Again! A team of two professional astronomers and a number of citizen scientists recently discovered a “hot Jupiter” exoplanet, a brown dwarf, and an eclipsing binary system. See: https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/first-discoveries-pro-am-exoplanet-survey.