Help NASA map Mars

Posted by Karri Ferron
on Monday, November 30, 2009
NASA and Microsoft have collaborated to create a web site where citizen scientists can assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet. NASA/ESA/The Hubble Heritage Team Photo
Looking for another way to become a citizen scientist? Fascinated with Mars and current missions to explore the Red Planet? If you answered “yes” to both of those questions, NASA and Microsoft Corp. have teamed up to create a new online adventure just for you.

Drawing on observations from NASA’s Mars missions, the Be a Martian web site lets the public help improve martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet.

Citizen scientists can participate in the first task, connecting detailed pictures of martian features with wider panoramas. The collaboration of thousands of users could assist astronomers in producing far better maps and smoother zoom-in views, and offer easier interpretation of Martian surface changes.

Next, participants can start counting martian craters, which could help scientists determine the relative ages of small regions on Mars. In the past, counting martian craters has posed a challenge because of the vast numbers involved. But NASA hopes that won’t be the case with citizen scientists’ help.

In addition to completing these tasks, which are pretty easy to follow after viewing the video directions, the Be a Martian site has many cool extras. Users can visit a virtual town hall forum where they can expand their knowledge by proposing Mars questions and voting on which are the most interesting to the community. Online talks by Mars experts will address some of the submitted questions. Other features include interactive tools for viewing Martian regions and movies about people who study Mars in diverse ways.

I’ve had fun participating so far, and it’s a great way for astronomy enthusiasts young and old to help out and learn more about the Red Planet. Will you take part in the research? Or do you feel these citizen scientist projects are overrated?
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