Exploring Space with Citizen Science - CosmoQuest

Written by Nicole Gugliucci, SIU-E, and Rusty Low, IGES

Public participation in scientific research is a growing trend and many projects welcome interested citizen scientists – students and adults alike – to assist in the collection and analysis of data. One of the many citizen scientist projects supporting space research is CosmoQuest. Spacecraft such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Dawn, and MESSENGER are sending back far more high-resolution images of the surfaces of planetary bodies than scientists could ever examine themselves. Yet, these images hold the key to understanding the origins and histories of the Earth’s moon, the planet Mercury, and the protoplanet Vesta, one of the largest asteroids in the solar system. The solution: citizen scientists are helping researchers identify the many millions of impact craters documented in these images.

Scientists have developed easy-to-use suite of tools so that volunteers can identify impact craters on digital images accessible online from any computer. For instance, in CosmoQuest’s Moon Mapper project, citizen scientists locate and flag impact craters on the moon’s surface, then send the image back to scientists for verification and analysis. Once a crater is identified, planetary scientists analyze the image to learn about the moon’s surface and subsurface, including its age, thickness, composition, and ultimately, origin.

CosmoQuest’s Moon Mappers encourages entire classrooms to participate in the citizen science process. Through NASA Wavelength, teachers can access TerraLuna, an inquiry-based instructional unit exploring the origins of the moon and Earth. The resource also provides instructions for middle school teachers who wish to incorporate Moon Mappers as an authentic science research experience into their science curriculum.

In addition to citizen science activities and materials for educators, CosmoQuest hosts live science education events, including Weekly Space Hangout and Learning Space. These Google+ Hangouts are a great way for educators to learn more about astronomy and find fun, classroom-friendly activities for students, as well as ask questions of scientists. CosmoQuest occasionally holds special events online, including Virtual Star Parties, so be sure to check in and see what’s going on this week!

Have you used citizen science resources in your classroom? Do you have any tips & tricks to share?

Check out our other posts on citizen science in the classroom: