Thursday, December 2, 2010

Amateur Astronomer Makes History

The Washington Post recently published an interview with Gus Johnson, an amateur astronomer and the first person to witness a black hole's birth. 

Thirty-one years ago he discovered a supernova while working with AAVSO, in the same way many people today continue observing variable stars through the organization.  But he got lucky as the sudden brightening of a supernova also heralded the birth of a new black hole.   Though not all of us receive such good fortune it shows how a dedicated individual with a sharp eye and observant nature can still make a big difference.

Read the full interview at

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Prizes for Innovative Amateurs at Innocentive

The only thing more satisfying than discovery is being paid for your discoveries, and Innocentive is here for you.

For the past nine years Innocentive has been publishing business and scientific challenges for the everyday public to solve.  Challenges range from developing innovative theories or ideas, to validating detailed solutions and building working prototypes.  Winners can receive cash awards from $5,000 to as much as $1,000,000 depending on the challenge and how successfully it's solved.

Innocentive has also done a good job of providing challenges at all levels with some requiring detailed scientific knowledge while others needing only the creativity of everyday people.  This helps level the playing field and teaches you  about the frontiers of current fields.  After signing up for a challenge you enter the "Challenge Room" where you can put together your ideas, read background materials provided by the challenge sponsors, and ask any questions you have on the contest or potential solutions.

Sponsors of the challenges, called "Seekers", include not just pharmaceutical companies and government agencies (like NASA) but also non-profit and civic groups looking for non-technical solutions to environmental and societal problems.  So you can enjoy the discovery, earn money for it, and feel good doing it.

Getting Involved is Easy:

  1. Visit Innocentive's web site at  Register as a new user and enter the site.
  2. Provide your areas of interest and expertise for the system to find challenges you might be interested in, or view the list of challenge areas.
  3. Find a challenge you're interested in and sign up by creating a "Project Room" for it.  
  4. Let all your knowledge and creativity loose on the problem!
And last, but certainly not least, submit your solution and earn your reward.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

NASA Taking Mars Pictures for YOU!

NASA's Mars orbiter is now working for everyday citizen scientists, collecting suggestions from the public on wanted pictures and shooting the ones receiving the most votes.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) included the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE camera) on it's voyage to the Red Planet, also called the "People's Camera".  Today the first eight images requested by the public were made available at    A couple of examples are shown here although these are actually full scientific photographs taken in multiple wavelengths.  These can be combined and manipulated as you see fit with the special viewer software available on the site.  Of course you can also just marvel at the beauty of the shots.

Although HiRISE has been orbiting Mars since 2006 only 1% of the planet's surface has been photographed.  To suggest new target sites register with the project team at and offer your suggestions.

Enjoy the Show!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Cataloging Every Living Species on Earth

The "Encyclopedia of Life" aims to create a complete, online database of information on every single plant and animal species on the Earth.   The goal is to create a single web page for every single species with authoritative information and descriptions, photographs, video, location maps, and all other information necessary to understand the species.  Although a complete database has never been completed before, this site plans to harness the nearly-limitless capacity of the modern internet to host this information in one place, and to harness the power of scientists and individuals around the world to populate it.

The project is currently focused on animal, plant and fungal species, although the many other microbial species will be cataloged as the project continues.  When completed, it will serve as a global biodiversity tool, providing scientists, policymakers, students, and citizens information they need to discover and protect the planet and encourage learning and conservation.

Getting Involved is Easy:
  1. Visit the home page at and view the detailed explanatory videos at
  2.  Click "Create an Account" near the top of the home page to register with the site.
  3. Search for the species you are interested in by common name, taxonomic name, or by browsing the site.
  4. Click on "Add New Content" to create a new subsection of information on the species, or click on  "Comment"in each section to suggest edits on existing content.  There are reviewed and incorporated as needed by the individual curators of each web page.
  5. Enjoy reviewing other species page to learn about the diversity of life and contribute your own knowledge to the catalog.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Watch the Twinkling Stars

AAVSO - The American Association of Variable Star Astronomers.

This well-known and respected amateur astronomy group has been collecting data on variable stars for over 95 years.  This data is particularly useful for understanding the lifecycle and behavior of stars, and may even be useful for identifying planets outside our solar system.

Despite the importance of this data, professional astronomers are unable to spend the time needed to regularly watch these stars and analyze their brightness.  AAVSO's stargazers already enjoy scanning the sky and this provides a valuable purpose to an enjoyable hobby.

AAVSO volunteers receive some brief training online and given the tools to accurately measure star brightness.  After an evening of observations the data is sent to AAVSO headquarters where it is combined with nearly 100 years of data, and analyzed by scientists around the globe.

Getting Involved is Easy:
1) Visit and learn more about this exciting group.
2) Review the AAVSO Manual for Visual Observing of Variable Stars available at  The manual is available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and many other common languages.
3) Take your personal telescope into the backyard on a clear night with a pad of paper, pencil, and the star charts described in the manual.
4) Submit data to the AAVSO WebObs system.  Only AFTER submitting the data, review the observations from other volunteers to see how yours compare.  Use this as a learning tool to help "calibrate" your observer's eyes.
5) Take satisfaction in advancing the variable star data available for other scientists (or yourself!) to analyze.

Good luck, and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

SETI@Home - Home Computers Search for Intelligent Life

This is one of the earliest, most popular, and easy-to-join projects around.  The Search for Extra-Terrestrials at Home (SETI@Home) connects individual personal computers together into a virtual "Supercomputer" capable of performing huge mathematical tasks.  In this case, processing radio-wave signals from outer space to identify potential messages from alien life forms.

Based on the idea that breaking up a huge job into many smaller jobs makes the impossible possible, SETI@home collects massive amounts of data and splits it into tiny chunks for home computers to analyze.  This is all done in the background with spare computing power so these work-units never interferes with your own work. Once downloaded these signals are analyzed for tell-tale signs that they are artificial in nature, not man-made, and don't come from the Earth.  We are looking for a strong signal from a single point in the sky, and may repeat on a regular basis.  This identifies potential candidates for alien signals, and while only the first step it is by far the most intensive (and what the program focuses on).  Once candidates are identified they are sent back to the project team to compare against known signals (to rule out false candidates), searched for in the sky again, and examined further to identify their true nature.  So helping scientists with the big computing tasks let's them focus on the other difficult tasks of separating potential signals from real ones.

We will talk much more about this ground-breaking project in the future, but for now we recommend you stop by and try it for yourself.

Getting Involved is Easy:
  1. Visit  Click on "Participate" and then "Download".
  2. Your computer will download the BOINC client.  This is a background program that SETI@Home (and many other projects) run on top of.
  3. Install BOINC and run the program for the first time. One the main view appears, click on "Add Project".  A new window will appear to guide you through the process.
  4. Scroll through the list of available projects (more on these in future posts) and select the bottom one, SETI@Home.  You will now be connected to the project and prompted to create an account for yourself.
  5. Once the account is successfully set up, the SETI@Home program and data to analyze will be automatically managed by your computer.  You don't need to do anything else (unless you want to) except enjoy donating your computer time to a worthy cause.
Good luck, and enjoy!

Monday, January 4, 2010

What is the OpenScientist Blog?

This blog is designed to keep people current on all the happenings in citizen science and help them get involved. We will do this by:

  1. Promoting new and existing opportunities for people to get involved in citizen science.
  2. Chronicling the successes, failures, and everyday exploits of the scientists and their projects.
  3. Explaining science projects in plain English so everyone can understand the work and help them make meaningful contributions to it. Or at the very least, explain it will enough for everyone to appreciate the work.
  4. Helping people connect to science projects that they are most interested in.
Every day we will have more information for you. Some days we may link to an exciting news story, other days to a new project being developed, and other days we will take an in-depth look at an existing project and explain it in thorough, but easily understandable, detail.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Announcing the new OpenScientist Blog!

New years bring new possibilities and a new format for OpenScientist. Over the next few weeks this blog will begin chronicling the daily opportunities available in Citizen Science. These are ways for regular people like you and I to aid and even lead the path to new discoveries. And we will be chronicling the many successes coming to this field.

So please stay tuned as we embark on an exciting new journey of discovery together!