Captivating the global media recently was the discovery of an ‘Earth-like’ planet, Kepler 22b. It is one of many planets to be found orbiting other stars, discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope. Launched in March 2009 with a lifetime projected at 3.5 years, the telescope sorts every photon from the cross section of the Milky Way its aimed at. At first, certain obvious effects made several interesting planets jump out at the research. As the program enters its third year, there is now a tremendous amount of information to be sorted.
Using previous science crowdsourcing endeavors as inspiration, a group called the Citizen Science Alliance has created an interactive experience that allows anyone with an internet connection to take part in sorting this mountain of data. They provide a platform for several projects online at Zooniverse.org. So far, there are over half a million volunteers helping out with their projects.
As testament to the power of the approach, it was reported a few weeks ago on NASA’s website that there have been 2,326 planets so far discovered. Imagine what the results would be if this project continues for years and all of the data gets sorted. We could be making the first steps towards a galactic map as we begin to look outside of Earth for inspiration and new frontiers.
Except this is a mountain of homework that a small army of grad students just couldn’t hope to do alone.
Enter the excited citizen of the planet! We get to take part in a mission higher than ourselves conveniently anywhere you can access the internet. Presumably, that bus ride at the start of your day could be the time and place for you to discover the next home planet on your iPad! Or perhaps you would like to try your hand at lunar cartography or asteroid discovery?
So if you enjoy puzzles and are the volunteering sort, take an hour today and visit the Zooniverse to do your part for humankind.