Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Solar Storm Watch Wants You

Citizen science is big in astronomy. Astronomers have lots of big data sets to analyze and computers can only do so much. Computers are good at crunching lots of numbers. Recognizing complex patterns can give computers some trouble but is something that a person with just a little training can get good at very quickly.

Astronomers have been taking advantage of this for several years with the Galaxy Zoo project where people help classify galaxies and hunt for supernova. These collaborations have resulted in quite a few papers being published in peer reviewed literature. These projects have amassed over 250,000 users and 55 million galaxy classifications!

Now comes the newest member of the family, Solar Storm Watch. In Solar Storm Watch, you look for storms in data from the STEREO mission. STEREO consists of two spacecraft, one ahead of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun and one trailing the Earth, to give us 3-D views of the Sun. You get to look at data from the STEREO spacecraft to detect solar storms and measure their speeds. Solar storms can effect us on Earth with effects ranging from the pretty but harmless (northern lights) to disrupting communications and, in rare cases, causing blackouts by overloading power grids.

Before you can analyze real date and contribute to the database, you do have to complete a short web based training to learn to identify solar storms. It took me less than 15 minutes to do. Basically you are shown a series of pictures and have to identify which ones have the storms. One neat thing is that they also show you how to identify comets, particle strikes on the detector, and optical artifacts (these skills are useful for analyzing any photographs, especially those that supposedly show UFOs!)

This is a great project for teachers to get their class involved with as well. The web site keeps track of the storms you spot and other achievements.

Just be careful...it can be addictive!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.


OrbsCorbs said...

Now I'm worried about solar storms, too.

kkdither said...

Will we have to shovel?