11 Ways to Help Scientists Do Science Right Now
published during a waxing crescent moon.
04/14/2016

science

Imagine watching a really good movie or listening to music and at the same time helping scientists find planets around other stars. Citizen science has always been around, but thanks to websites like Zooniverse.org, anyone who cares about science can become an integral part of the process—even without a science degree.

Zooniverse has many different projects across scientific disciplines such as biology, geology, and ecology—but since NOW.SPACE is all about the universe, we chose to focus on their impressive amount of space-themed projects.

If you feel like getting some science on while hanging out, this is the best place to feel like you’re making a difference. Here’s a list of all of Zooniverse’s spacey science projects that you can take part in today:

Planet Four: Terrains

Hone your skills as a Martian meteorologist! There are an abundance of images of Mars taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Context Camera and the HIRISE camera, which is the highest resolution camera ever sent to another planet. By studying these images, the public can help to identify changes in surface patterns on Mars. Planetary scientists then use this information to figure out what is happening in Mars’s atmosphere.

Galaxy Zoo

This project might be the most well-known citizen science project of all time, boasting 48 scientific publications produced from data catalogued by the public. Galaxy Zoo’s data set comprises galaxies imaged by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Hubble’s CANDELS survey, and from smaller sets of galaxies such as the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey. If you choose to participate, you’ll help astronomers to classify galaxies by their shape, which provides insight into their formation.

Galaxy Zoo: Bar Lengths

Galaxy Zoo also has another program called Galaxy Zoo: Bar Lengths, which focuses on structures in disc galaxies called stellar bars. The length and width of a stellar bar can be used to estimate a galaxy’s age.

Higgs Hunters

It’s been called the “God Particle”—essential to the structure of all matter. The Higgs Boson eluded scientists for decades until the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was created, which is the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth. As a “Higgs Hunter” you will help sift through data looking for exotic particles that have yet to be discovered.

Comet Hunters

Atop Maunea Kea in Hawaii lays a suite of powerful telescopes. One of the most powerful of these is the Japanese National telescope, Subaru. The data collected from this beast of a scope contains answers to where comets might be coming from in our solar system. Some of them arrive from the Oort Cloud, but some have been found in the nearby asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. However, it’s hard to tell the difference between a comet and an asteroid, which is why the Comet Hunters team needs help. As a Comet Hunters team member, you will look at Subaru’s images of known asteroids located in the asteroid belt to see if they might actually be comets in disguise. The team has already classified over 140,000 objects, but they still need help investigating the data.

As a Comet Hunters team member, you will look at Subaru’s images of known asteroids located in the asteroid belt to see if they might actually be comets in disguise. The team has already classified over 140,000 objects, but they still need help investigating the data.

Poppin Galaxy

This team is trying to understand how galaxies interact by looking at how they are warped in space. Scientists still aren’t exactly sure what causes these warps, but by enlisting citizen scientists to help categorize different types of warps, they are hoping to narrow down exactly what is causing galaxies like our own, to change shape.

Sunspotter

Looking directly at the sun can cause irreversible damage to your eyes. But what if there was a way to safely look at the sun and do science at the same time? Team Sunspotter is asking the public to look at over 200,000 images of sunspots in order to help scientists better predict the sun’s magnetic activity. When the sun emits a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), it sends highly ionized particles travelling at the speed of light. When those particles come swinging past Earth, they collide with our magnetic field. While our magnetic field does a pretty great job of protecting us from harmful radiation, some of those particles still make their way through and can interrupt GPS satellites and other electronic equipment. If scientists can get a better handle on predicting the weather from the Sun, the more likely we will be able to protect ourselves here on Earth. The data this team is using comes from the Michelson Dopper Imager (MDI) instrument, which is aboard the Solar And Heliospheric Observatory, currently orbiting the sun at Earth’s Lagrange point 1.

Asteroid Zoo

Astronomers want to know where the near-Earth asteroids are lurking for a variety of reasons ranging from being able to measure the threats to our existence to knowing which asteroids are close enough to mine for resources. You can help these astronomers scan the skies for asteroids using data collected from the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS), a set of data deemed invaluable by scientists around the world.

Disc Detective

Now is the time to become the Sherlock Holmes of space! The science team at Disc Detective is looking for people to tackle the daunting task of examining data from the Wise Survey. This survey took infrared images of the sky looking for places where planets were born—particularly, the dusty discs of young stars, which are known to be excellent planetary nurseries. By identifying these discs, scientists will learn more about planet formation and maybe even how our own solar system came to be.

Planet Hunters

Hunting for planets is a difficult and time-consuming effort, but it’s the top priority for many astronomers, cosmologists, and planetary scientists. The Planet Hunters team is currently on version 2.0 of this project but still uses exciting data from NASA’s Kepler Telescope.

One of the scientific objectives of the Kepler Mission is to discover planets that orbit other stars located within our region of the Milky Way galaxy. Kepler detects exoplanets by looking for transits, a term that describes the event when a planet orbits its host star. Whenever a transit takes place, Kepler sees a dip in the brightness of the light from the host star. A small dip can indicate that a small planet has passed in front of the star, and a large dip can mean something huge like a gas giant.

In order to help the Kepler team nail down which stars may have planets orbiting around them, citizen scientists need to carefully identify these transits. In their first launch of Planet Hunters, over 300,000 volunteers around the world properly identified several planets around other stars. Now with version 2.0 it’s time to find even more!

Radio Galaxy Zoo

Black holes are the bullies of the universe. Whenever they encounter matter of any kind, they absorb it—never to be seen again. During the process of engulfing all of this matter, black holes spit out jets of material and release a ton of electromagnetic radiation from radio waves to visible light to X-ray light. Measuring the radio waves emitted by black holes allows astronomers to understand more about how they grow.

Radio Galaxy Zoo asks the public to help find supermassive black holes by matching radio wave images from the Australia Telescope Large Area Survey with infrared images taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope.