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Ah, citizen science.  How we love you so :)

For those not familiar with the concept, citizen science is what we call distributed science projects in which members of the public contribute to the science being done: they help collect the data, for example, or analyse it. Examples include Galaxy Zoo, as well as a host of others.

And now there’s a beautiful new project in which to get involved, and it’s far from time-heavy: Globe at Night.

As part of this project – which runs over four different periods this year – one takes naked eye observations of the night sky, the idea being to track the effect of light pollution all over the world.  From their website:

The GLOBE at Night program is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting citizen-scientists to measure their night sky brightness and submit their observations to a website from a computer or smart phone. Light pollution threatens not only our ’right to starlight’, but can affect energy consumption, wildlife and health. The GLOBE at Night campaign has run for two weeks each winter/spring for the last six years. People in 115 countries have contributed 66,000 measurements, making GLOBE at Night one of the most successful light pollution awareness campaigns.

I remember, growing up in Johannesburg (South Africa) – the night sky was never even close to black.  In fact, it was generally closer to a dark, bruised mauve.  In Wellington, though, where I live now, the sky’s beautiful.  We have so few people here, and the winds are so hectic (keeping dust out of the air) that our night skies are pretty crisp and, of course, it’s even better outside the city!

In order to take part, one has to:

1) Find one’s latitude and longitude.

2) Find Orion, Leo or Crux by going outside more than an hour after sunset (about 8-10pm local time).

3) Match one’s nighttime sky to one of the provided magnitude charts.

4) Report one’s observation.

5) Compare one’s observation to thousands around the world (heh, this seems more of an ‘if you like’, but yes).

Happy skywatching!

UPDATE: And now, this! A british television audience has discovered a potential new planet.  Awesome :)

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More on citizen science, written in email form to some colleagues in december 2011:

Absolutely perfect timing given the orca sighting this morning, Scientist American and last.fm have released whale.fm. Here, you can help researchers match and group hundreds of calls taken from pilot and orca whales (well, yes, dolphins), the communication of which animals are still poorly understood.  The results will also help identify whether sonar communications, for example, affect pilot whales. And, for those who’re not only auditorily-inclined, you can also see the sonograms, which are very, very cool :)

Other citizen science projects like this, which allow anyone interested in science to contribute to humanity’s knowledge using only their time and a computer, include:

  • Galaxy Zoo (using Sloan Digital Sky Survey images) — classification of astronomical bodies such as universes, pulsar mirrors, etc. The site has now ben archived (you cans till go and have a look, though, at the results!) and the project moved to Galaxy Zoo: Hubble.
  • Galaxy Zoo: Hubble — the newest version of Galaxy Zoo, in which players will be helping to classify over 250,000 images of galaxies drawn from the Hubble*.
  • foldit — a game in which players can contribute to the enormous challenge presented by protein structure prediction and protein design
  • Mapper — another classification game in which you can ‘help NASA find life on Mars by exploring the lakes of British Columbia’

It’s worth noting these games have led to significant scientific advances (and publications), and huge use: Galaxy Zoo had some 200,000 players, and foldit has some 75,000, of which one of the best is a Kiwi (his handle is Aotearoa).