Tuesday, October 25, 2011

LifeMapper...a Window into Nature's Future

Photo Courtesy: LifeMapper.org
Last week I took a break from Tuesday "Tools of the Trade" to talk about citizen science philanthropy and how it can be used to solve scientific AND social problems.  It's still an important topic and I encourage you to take part in the conversation.  But this week I'm back with another "Tools of the Trade" article.

This week I want to look at "LifeMapper", a tool for mapping animal habitats and testing how those habitats may be altered due to global climate change.   Users can tap the database of geographic data for over 900,000 species and 20,000 environmental species models to graphically display where animals have recently been observed, how their habitat may change as the environment changes, and how that environment may change based on various economic development models.  Everything is shown on a large world map highlighting both the existing places each animal has been observed as well as an outline of territory with the same climate and terrain.  For example, a search for coyotes (Canis latrans) shows where they have been observed (orange dots) and areas of similar habitat (red shading).  You can also see similar habitats with different shades of red.

Photo Courtesy: LifeMapper.org and OpenScientist.org
You can also play with the data for species that have already been modeled.  Continuing our example, we can see the new habitat for coyotes caused by climate changes under a standard economic development model:

Photo Courtesy: LifeMapper.org and OpenScientist.org

Finally, we can see it with a sustainable economic development model:

Photo Courtesy:  LifeMapper.org and OpenScientist.org

As you can see this data can be a very useful tool for citizen scientists and even high school students looking for an easy tool for understanding climate change.  But it can also be a very high-end tool for more advanced studies.  The site allows researchers to set all the parameters for their own climate change experiments and witness the impacst as shown above.  Or they can create their own unique models and run those as well; this can be done both on the site as well as by downloading the full program and data to your own computer for analysis.

This leads into another interesting fact abouet LifeMapper; all the species observation data comes from the Geographic Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and is publicly available to anyone who wishes to use it.  GBIF is a repository for data from governments and museums representing over 50 countries that have pooled their collections data in this one central facility.  It also includes data from many museum-sponsored bio-observation projects.  In other words, the citizen science projects you've been reading about on this very website!  So now that you've worked on all these projects and diligently added your data to the collection, it's finally time to use it.

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the LifeMapper web site to learn more about the project and find any recent updates.
  • Click on the Species link to bring up the main web interface and display map.  This will look very similar to the example images shown above.
  • Directly above the map is the "Species Name" field.  Just type the first three letters (minimum) of the species name and a full list of every species with available data will appear.  Pick the species and/or subspecies you wish to analyze.  Don't know the name of an individual species?  Check out the citizen-science run Encyclopedia of Life for your answer.
  • Once selected, a world map will appear with all the observation data for your selected species.  Use the interface tools to zoom in/out, or move around the globe (I don't recommend scrolling since the system was a bit glitchy when I tried it, but the built-in interface worked perfectly).
  • Right below the map will be any existing climate models that have already been run for this particular species.  Just click the radio button (small circle to the left) for each model you are interested in and a new map will automatically pop up.
  • Keep clicking back and forth between the climate models for a good sense of the differences in each.  That's all there is to it!
Once you've mastered the basics there is still a world of exploring you can do with the LifeMapper program.  We'll be discussing those in a future blog post but for now let's start with the basics to get the hang of it.  It's such a simple, easy way to see how we humans are impacting the Earth, as well as how we can help improve life under certain conditions.  So take heart, and start playing with the data!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Engaging Citizen Science to Help the Unemployed

Photo Courtesy: AMagill
Two weeks ago I started looking at the field of Citizen Science and started wondering how we can increase it's impact in society.  Recently the field has done much for individual scientific fields, such as ecology and biochemistry, that can keep our people and our planet healthy.  But I'm also wondering about increasing the non-scientific impacts of citizen science.  My previous posting looked at this question broadly but now I'm interested in how it can be used in one specific area: unemployment.

One thing I've tried to establish in this blog is the ability of citizen science to provide income to participants and provide advanced training to volunteers so they can more effectively participate in the programs.  Building on these trends my plan would provide money to the unemployed through innovation challenges, provide meaningful work to the poor through observational bounties, use citizen science projects as opportunities to enhance technical skills, provide an avenue for scientific entrepreneurship, and re-motivate disenchanted workers. Looking at each of these more closely:

  • Innovation Challenges: A growing number of companies are looking to the citizen science community to solve problems and rewarding them with sizable cash awards.  Some challenges require technical skills but many do not.  Instead they just require creative thought or detail-focused work.  Well-known examples exist through the Ansari XPrize Challenges (complex challenges), to challenges brokered by Innocentive (simple and complex challenges), and many others sponsored at the private and governmental level. So there is great opportunity to expend these opportunities to benefit more people, provide more solutions to companies, help laid-off workers sharpen their skills solving challenges in their selected occupations, and provide accomplishments for unemployed workers to emphasize on resumes.
  • Observational Bounties: Similar to challenges above, these bounties ask individuals to perform observational tasks or collect information on natural phenomena and reimbursing them for their rime or accomplishments.  Examples include collecting weather data in geographically dispersed places for private forecasters, collecting wildlife and plant diversity data for environmental firms, or providing detailed survey data for mapping firms.  One analogy is the creation a Civilian Conservation Corps of Science; instead of depression-era workers building roads these would be unemployed workers collecting ecological and other data useful to private firms, government agencies, and academic researchers alike.  The more valuable the data, the more compensation can be provided to participants.
  • Technical Skills Training and Maintenance: Citizen science projects are not just for people with existing science and technology training.  It is also a fantastic way for people to learn about new industries and develop their own real-world technical skills.  This model has been shown quite successful for educating students from elementary school through high school.  And it has been used to provide real-world experiences for young scientists in a college curriculum.  So it's the perfect time to extend it to the community and vocational college level and increase Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills among unemployed and incumbent workers.  As an added benefit, this type of training lends itself to distance-learning and other non-traditional methods of reaching students, an important quality when attempting to train adult-age workers.
  • Avenues for Entrepreneurship: The organizing and managing of large science and technology projects can easily spin-off into business creation as well.  Once a group has formed to work on a certain engineering or scientific challenge, not only can they sell the results but also start looking at related problems and come up with their own business ideas.  The group can continue to improve the technology and commercialize it, or look at similar problems that develop into a new company.  Apple started out as a computer hobbyist club and Google began in the founders' garage; in many ways these companies started out as citizen science projects.  It's time to develop even more.
  • Motivating Disenchanted Workers: In any recession a large problem are laid-off workers who are out of work for an extended period of time and slowly lose motivation to continue increasing their skills.  The benefit of citizen science based training is it's focus around a broader social goal and the general search for knowledge.  These can be highly motivational for the unemployed struggling to keep their spirits (and skills) up.

While there is huge potential for adapting this approach to increasing employability and much of the basic groundwork has been laid, nobody has done much work on using it for this purpose.   So my hope is to keep following up this line of thinking with more details and a plan to bring it all together. 

But what are your thoughts?  Before we get much further I'm curious if this seems like a good idea to the rest of you, or if it's just not plausible.  Alternatively , do you have other ideas to add to the plan?  Let me know in the comments below so we can bring everyone's perspectives together on this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Agent Exoplanet...a Not-so-Secret Agent of Astronomy

The search for planets outside our Solar System has expanded greatly over the last ten years as every week brings announcements of new planets that look more and more like our home planet.  The search has drawn in many astronomers and has guided the development of many telescopes, both on Earth and in orbit.  It's also a field of large interest to citizen scientists with a number of different projects available to participate in.  Today we look at a new one created just three weeks ago, Agent Exoplanet.

Agent Exoplanet grew out of research performed at the Los Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network.  This group is set apart from other astronomy research groups by their creation of a network of telescopes at different longitudes around the Earth.  So an observation can begin from one telescope and then "handed off" to another as the object dips below the horizon.  This continuous tracking allows for uninterrupted data collection, especially valuable for transit-based planet hunting.  This measures the loss of light occuring when a planet crosses in front of a star, and can last for a few minutes to a few hours.  So having an uninterrupted data source is very important.

This is very similar to the PlanetHunters citizen science project operated by the Zooniverse team, and it appears to have learned some lessons from that effort.  Both projects evaluate potential planets by looking at light curves of stars that diminish during a transit.  Both have highly intuitive interfaces and friendly video tutorials explaining how to participate.  And both provide an important amount of scientific background to keep people interested and demonstrate the value of participation, but not too much that it scares away potential participants.    The key difference is Agent Exoplanet is based on observations of individual stars and asks users to create the light curve by tracking the star in photographs and calibrating the data collection with calibrating stars also tracked in each photo.  Most of the work is ensuring each star is perfectly tracked within the software's cross hairs; this is used to create the light-curve and establish the planet's orbit.  Users are also tracked and receive "Award Badges" based on various accomplishments.  Conversely, the PlanetHunters site just displays graphs of light intensity already created by software with users identifying potential changes in brightness.  Both are important scientifically but I found Agent Exoplanet much more user-friendly and having higher appeal to the lay-person being based on actual night-sky photographs and not data graphs.

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the Agent Exoplanet web site and learn about the importance of transits to the search for planets outside our Solar System.
  • Click on Mission Briefing to learn about the project and watch the video tutorial on how to participate.  The interface is pretty easy to learn and involves lining the stars in cross-hairs and ensuring the light-curves for each line-up on top of each other.  I've attached a screenshot in Image 1 below in case you are interested. 
  • Once the tutorial is complete you are almost ready to begin.  All that's left is setting up an account so you can get credit for your work.  Click on http://portal.lcogt.net/account/register/?next to provide your name, a username, your e-mail address and a password.
  • Once registered and logged in, click on Start the Mission for the stars available in this initial phase.  I recommend starting on the "Beginner" star with Corot-4B.  Line up all the stars for each timed observation until all are complete.  Next you will analyze the light curves as discussed in the tutorial, and as shown in Image 2 below.
  • That's all there is to it!   Go ahead and click away, earn the award badges, and have fun!

Image 1: Interface for lining up the target a calibration stars.
Photo Courtesy: Agent Exoplaney and Openscientist.org

Image 2: Graph of star light during transit compared to calibration stars.
Note the dip in intensity during transit.
Photo Courtesy: Agent Exoplanet and OpenScientist.org

Hopefully you enjoy this project as much as I did.  This one is just getting off the ground so I'm sure they can use all the participants and support you can give.  I suspect once this takes off there are more projects in the Los Cumbres pipeline, so watch this space for news of more citizen science opportunities in astronomy.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    An Evening with SkyWarn and the Capital Weather Gang

    The Washington Post Capital Weather Gang host a SkyWarn Training session
    Photo Courtesy: OpenScientist.org

    Tonight I had the rare opportunity to meet over 250 citizen scientists and talk about our shared love of Washington DC weather and meteorology. The occasion was sponsored by the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang as a chance for their blog's "Capital Weather Watchers" to chat with the newspaper's weather team in person and meet their fellow readers too.   As an added bonus we also received Spotter training from the Federal governments Skywarn program.  This was a very interesting evening with a large audience of energized citizen scientists, so I'm publishing Thursday's post early so I can share the excitement with you too.

    I've previously written about the program in my SkyWarn blog post but never had a chance to attend a training.  Until now.  All I can say is that it is highly informative, easy to understand, and quite exciting to watch.  Knowing that I am now a person qualified to "spot" for the weather service and make the reports of hail or flooding heard on the news is a very odd experirnce.  Even odder is knowing that weather service will call ME for updates when severe weather is in the area is an odd feeling.  But I feel I now have a much better understanding of what I'm looking for.

    Chris Strong of NOAA's National Weather Service delivered the main training session.  After quickly describing the role of spotters and organizational structure at the weather service, he dove into the basics of spotting and science of meteorology.  We learned the proper way to measure hail (measure the largest hailstone you can find along the longest axis, and describe it in terms of fixed-size objects, not marbles).  He also went into great detail about how tornadoes form and the various thunderstorm phenomena spotters are asked to report on.  We also learned about the danger of lightning that kills men (like me!) three times more often than women, and the danger of downdrafts, including dramatic footage of a backyard suddenly ripped apart during a storm.  In fact there were many evocative videos included in his slides, such as a funnel cloud over Andrews Air Force Base and a growing flash flood that starts as a trickle and ends up washing away cars in a nearby parking lot.  They really are a sight to behold and if you have the time I highly recommend viewing it yourself here.

    The Capital Weather Gang also spent some time in the spotlight.  They talked about their history and continuing efforts to keep the local community of weather watchers engaged in the sight.  I can attest first-hand that it's a highly energetic and very informed community that interacts with the site, and this energy comes through in everything they write.  It's also a great place to learn about the weather...every forecast is described in great detail with all the factors leading it it, so not only can you learn about the weekend's coming snowstorm, but you also get a detailed analysis of the moisture flows and computer models that lead to the forecast.  They call themselves weather enthusiasts, but they are true citizen scientists in my book.

    Finally, what intrigued me most were the wide variety of people in the audience.  We had young and old, white and black, and just slightly more men (60%) than women.  All were quite interesting and fun to talk to.  So nothing like the stereotypes many people have about weather watchers or citizen scientists.  These are people just like you and me with an interest in the world around them and an intellectual passion to understand it further.  And they couldn't be nicer.

    Finally, on a personal note, I went in to this evening not knowing a single person of the over 250 attending.  But I sat down and quickly entered into a lovely conversation with everyone at my table.  Nobody knew each other, or at least we initially thought.  But after a brief discussion we discovered that I had sat next to a co-worker I've spoken with many times but never met in person, and also met the husband of another woman I've worked with in the past.  Such a small world!  So it turns out citizen scientists really are just the people next door.  Just in this case it was the office next door.

    UPDATE:  Check out the Capital Weather Gang's own synopsis of the event here.  I recommend clicking over to look; not only do they feature a number of different perspectives on the event, but they featured OpenScientist quite prominently!

    Tools of the Trade for Do-It-Yourself Biology

    Today's Tuesday "Tools of the Trade" for citizen scientists looks at the recent DIYBio movement and the resources available for people interesting in participating.

    For those of you who aren't already familiar with it, Do-It-Youself Biology is a growing part of citizen science where participants create their own biotechnology labs and perform biochemical experiments in their own homes.  Sometimes called "BioHackers", the field has received it's greatest notoriety for synthetic biology, where scientists manipulate an organism's genetic material (often by implanting genes from one organism into another) to create new features not previously found in nature.  But there are also many others types of DIYBilogy.  Some participants have used these techniques to find new treatments for disease, such as the famous Lorenzo's Oil example where devoted parents find a new treatment for their son's rare and deadly neurological disease.  More recently, DIYBio enthusiasts have discovered potential markers for heart disease that have led to larger government-funded studies to validate the experiments and expand the research.

    If you are interested in the DIYBio movement in general there was a great article in Discover magazine "Dawn of the Biohackers, October 2011" that I highly recommend.  It doesn't provide much on the "How" of DIYBio but does a great job of exploring the culture, highlighting scientific advances in the field, and forecasting the field's future.  For citizen scientists like me it is great seeing the success this movement has had, and this article definitely conveys the excitement flowing from this field.

    One thing I find fascinating about the DIYBio field is that it has taken an area of science that seems highly complicated and resource-dependent and makes it accessible to people on shoe-string budgets.  For amateur astronomy all one needs is a telescope and a night sky, birdwatchers just need a good set of binoculars, and ecologists just need a meadow or stream to take samples...alternatively biotechnology requires expensive machinery and lab space out of most people's reach.  But that's no longer the case as innovators have found ways to make those expensive machines affordable, local groups have sprung up to provide support (and even lab space) for interested participants, and educators have found cheap methods to perform complex analyses using household materials. 

    So let's take a look at some of these resources:
    • GarageBio.org: Twice monthly podcast exploring the challenges of DIYBio, interviewing key players in the field and explaining various aspects of the field in layman's terms. As of this posting the organization is still quite new, but they have a high level of excitement and are tackling some important issues. So I encourage you to give them a listen.
    • DIYBio.org: This web site provides links to a variety of biological lab safety resources and links to many local DIYBio organizations citizen scientists can get involved in to learn more about the field.
    • GENspace.org: Web site of a DIYBio organization in the New York area.  The group has put a lot onto this web site, including how-tos for gene-based experiments, links to various problem-specific projects in the DIYBio community, and a variety of classes on synthetic biology and other topics.
    • BioCurious.org: DIYBio incubator in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Biocurious offers lab space, lab equipment, meeting space, classes, and a community of like-minded individuals for citizen scientists to join.  Contacting them is a must for any DIYBio enthusiast in the California area. 
    • CofactorBio: Look here for advanced biotechnology equipment made extremely affordable. Theirmain claim to fame is the Open PCR...this Polymerase Chain Reaction machine allows researchers to take a single sample of DNA and multiply it millions of times for testing. These normally cost thousands of dollars but here they sell make-it-yourself kits for under $600. The company also manufactures the Genelaser kit for isolating specific segments of DNA before amplifying it through PCR.  Samples can then be analyzed and decoded for your own analysis.  In other words, Cofactor sells everything you need to collect the DNA from a sample material, islate a specific part of the DNA you are interested in, and multiply it for analysis through gel electrophoresis or other methods.
    • OpenWetware.org: Wiki-based collaboration site for sharing DIYBio resources and experience amongst citizen science researchers. If you aren't sure how to perform a scientific technique, or are looking for chemical or biological materials for your research, this is one of the best places to look.
    • MethodBook.net: Collection of biological techniques and protocols similar to OpenWetware.  The big difference is many of these are designed for use in academic or industrial laboratories, but many are easily adaptable for DIYBio use. 
    Hopefully these links will help you get started.  I plan in the future to post about some specific DIYBio projects  that you can get involved in.  But for now a brief explanation of the field and a listing of resources should feed your appetite and help you get started.  Remember, the field of synthetic biology may look difficult and expensive, but getting started really is easy. Fortunately there are many people just waiting to help.

      Friday, October 7, 2011

      Thoughts on Reducing Poverty with Citizen Science

      Photo Courtesy: AMagill
      The last few weeks have had me thinking a lot about citizen science and its place in society.  On the scientific side it's doing quite well as the research community increasingly involves itself with, and takes advantage, the passion of citizen scientists.  But I'm also interested in it's larger place in society and how it can make the world better for individual people.

      Much of this started with a Washington Post article about billionaire Bill Conway's desire to use his investment fortune to help the unemployed and create sustainable jobs for the poor.  He doesn't yet know the best way to accomplish the goal, so in true innovation-prize style he's turning to the public for their most creative ideas.  This prompted many budding ideas I've had of using citizen science to increase job skills, employ the unemployed, and spur entrepreneurship which I'll be building on in future posts. But I'm starting to get ahead of myself.

      I also received a e-mail today from the SETI@Home group requesting donations to expand the project's scope and maintain the project's ongoing operations.  These researchers have performed first-rate science for over a decade, have spent their money very wisely, and blazed a path for the modern resurgence of citizen science.  In other words they're a group I'm happy to support.  But it continued my thinking that started with Bill Conway's challenge. What is the best way to support citizen science...both to help our fellow citizens and continue the exciting science?

      So I send the question back to you.  What are your thoughts?  I've brainstormed in a number of areas myself and have been drafting some future blog posts on the topic, but want to hear your thoughts before I go too much deeper.  To get things started, here are a few key topics I'm planning to discuss:

      • Should we be supporting creation of new projects, or helping improve existing ones?
      • How can we expand the use of citizen science bounties to help the poor and unemployed?
      • How do we best use citizen science as a platform to teach technical skills to both children AND adult workers.
      • For large-scale efforts or philanthropists with deep pockets, is it best to support multiple different projects or create one larger project encompassing many different aspects of citizen science?
      • For people with smaller budgets, how do you balance investing in your own citizen science tools (such as a telescope) with donating money to a citizen science charity?
      These and other questions I'll start answering with my own thoughts next week.  But the more of your ideas I can incorporate early on the better the discussion will be for all of us.

      As a final note, I encourage everyone to take a look at the initial article about Bill Conway's challenge for maximizing his philanthropy and helping the most workers.  Send him your own ideas or any unique insights you may have to Inquiries@Carlyle.com.  If they involve citizen science let me know too...comment below or e-mail them to OpenScientist@GMail.com.  I'd love to incorporate them into our public discussion too.

      Thursday, October 6, 2011

      Dive Deep with NASA and Practice Finding Life

      A Citizen Science trend I've recently noticed are the increasing numbers of projects asking participants to analyze scientific images.  These projects take advantage of the large numbers of citizen scientists that can perform visual-identification tasks much bettter than computers can.  Although machines can help us automate picture collection,  they aren't very good at understanding what is captured in the picture.  That's where the human eye comes in...it's still the best at recognizing patterns.

      The Zooniverse projects are a great example.   Many of the scientific images needing analysis come from space missions and Earth-bound telescopes and these projects crowdsource analysis of those images in a wide variety of ways.  Some, such as PlanetHunters, are looking for other planets as part of NASA's grand search for life.  And that's where the MAPPER (Morphology Analysis Project for Participatory Exploration and Research) comes in...another piece in the grand search for extra-terrestrial life but based right here near home.

      This project is testing ways to improve detection of microbialites, a type of rock created by bacterial deposits on its surface.  The theory is that these formations may be common on any planet with a bacterial history, so looking for these rocks on other planets may guide us to potential clues for life.  On Earth most microbialites are at the bottom of cold lakes.  So NASA has sent expeditions to two Canadian lakes to scan the entire lake beds and map where the microbialites form.

      The first part is nearly done...robotic subs and scuba divers have taken all the images needed from the lakes.  Now they need our help analyzing and interpreting the data.
      Getting Started is Easy:
      1. Visit the MAPPER web site and view the Slide Show Tour to learn more about the project. 
      2. Once you are ready to get started, click on "Sign Up Here" to create an account.  All you need to provide is your full name, an e-mail address, and a password.  That's it.
      3. Once logged in click on the interactive tutorial designed to teach you everything you need about the system.  In it you will learn to only tag clear photos that are not fuzzy and not blocked by the camera equipment, see examples of the various tagable items are (e.g., dark sediment, trees, trash, microbialites, rocks, algae, etc.), and practice how to use the tagging system.  As you can see below it's really quite simple.  The system will also take you through a number of test pictures where you'll see the newly-acquired photo analysis skills and will be graded on how well you identified features in each one.
      4. Once the five-minute tutorial is done you are ready to start!  Just click on "Tag Photos" and get to work.  As you complete more pictures you will get more points in the ongoing completion contest, and will receive new types of photos as you get more experience with the system.
      Photo Courtesy: LifeMapper.org and OpenScientist.org
      Currently NASA and it's partners have surveyed two different lakes for this project, Pavilion Lake and Kelly Lake.  While they have many photos that need analyzing the number is not infinite.   I expect this phase of the project may end after a few months once all the data analysis is complete.  So what are you waiting for?  Get out there and start tagging!

      Tuesday, October 4, 2011

      Tour the Universe with a Planetarium on your PC

      It's Tuesday again, and time for another Tuesday Citizen Science "Tools of the Trade" post.  What I like about this series is getting the chance to explore some of the fascinating resources available that aren't distinct projects, but which put everything in context and help us appreciate the science even more.  I've come across many of them over the last year and was always excited to share them with you.  I just didn't know how...and now it's my chance.

      Photo Courtesy: WorldWideTelescope.org and OpenScientist.org

      Today I want to look at the WorldWide Telescope project: a partnership between Microsoft and NASA to make astronomy accessible to citizen scientists everywhere.  It let's you explore the night sky with a highly intuitive, easy-to-use, and pretty-to-look-at interface.  You can zoom around the stars, point the telescope at distant galaxies, "land" on Mars or the moon while panning around images from the Spirit and Phoenix landers, and you can scan the planet's surface with images taken from orbiting satellites such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  You can also program a "tour" of sites and create a presentation of interesting sites or follow one of the many pre-programmed tours available in the program.  This let's it be used as a home planetarium, just more powerful and with the ability to point it yourself.

      Much of the imagery comes directly from NASA missions that have produced a wealth of information, but that's not the only source.  Much also comes from Earth-based telescope surveys recording in a wide variety of wavelengths.  This lets citizen scientists look at far-off galaxies in infrared or the optical range, and make comparisons of what they see.  You can even add your own data with the Excel plug-in and other capabilities built-in to the system.  So not only is it a great educational tool for beginning astronomers, but it's also capable of helping with more advanced citizen science and professional projects.

      I could spend a longtime talking about all you can do with the program but I'll leave that for another time.  For now let's just dive in and start playing around.

      Getting Started is Easy:
      1. Visit the Worldwide Telescope web page and read about the many features of the program.  If you prefer, watchthere  various introductory videos to learn more about the project and get excited about the program's possibilities.
      2. Click on the "Install Windows Client" (for PC) or "Run Web Client" (for Mac or PC) button.  If you are installing, follow the prompts and download the necessary add-ons to accommodate the program.  It should only take a minute or two, then open the program.  People choosing "Run Web Client" won't need to install and will save time by jumping right into the program (though the program may be slower once you actually get into it.)
      3. If you want to tour specific pre-set planets and galaxies, use the ribbon bar at the top of the program screen to select a destination.  Clicking on it will cause your screen to "travel" to the location.
      4. If you prefer to explore yourself, just use the mouse to pan around and use the scroll buttons to zoom in and out (traveling further and further away from Earth).
      5. If you prefer to view different sky surveys or images at different wavelengths, use the "Look at Sky" feature on the bottom bar and select the appropriate data set.  You can also use the telescope missions on the top ribbon bar to select different wavelengths or data sets for viewing.
      6. That's all there is to it.  Have fun!
      Hopefully you'll have as much fun exploring with this program as I have.  It's extremely powerful and we've only scratched the surface of it's features with the instructions above.  But let's play around and see what it can do first.  In future posts I plan to describe more specific ways we can use this tool for our own citizen science projects or to even create a brand new project.  I also plan to tour some of the other resources available for making NASA imagery public.  The missions were fully paid for by us taxpayers; now we have a chance to experience them ourselves.