Thursday, May 31, 2012

Two Mobile Apps for Capturing Wild Life Around You

Photo Courtesy: Dmitri N.
One of the best things about mobile citizen science apps is they are always with you.  Whatever you do, whatever you see, no matter where you are, can be recorded and tracked.  The best apps are also highly intutitive with a simple-to-use interface.  So the two biggest obstacle to participating are easily overcome.

At this point one of biggest remaining obstacle is choosing which citizen science projects to join.  Most people are willing to join one, some join many more.  But you can't do it all.  Not only do you keep yourself from getting burned out, but channeling your effort on just a few projects improves the quality and quantity of your participation.  So focus your efforts on the ones you like best. 

But how do you choose which projects to participate in?  First get to know the variety of apps available...this site and the new Citizen Science for your Phone page are a great place to start.  Also look for projects that will interest you both now and in the future; often this means a variety of different ways to participate, such as collecting data as well as analyzing it.  You might also try apps in different scientific areas...moving between two keeps all parts of your brain busy and help prevent mental fatigue.  These are just a few thoughts (there are entire blog posts possible on this topic!) but there are many more as well.

On that note we present two more mobile citizen science apps below...WildObs-Observer and WildLab-Bird.  Both are wildlife observation tools that help you identify and record animal sightings.  This data can be useful for protecting endangered species, understanding migration, and tracking population growth.  They also both collect data and make it available to public researchers to analyze and interpret (that means us!).  So what are you waiting for...won't you check them out?

Getting Started with WildLab-Bird is Easy
  • Visit the WildLab web site to learn more about the project, and download the iPhone app (not yet available on Android).
  • Register on the home screen with your name, e-mail address, and password.  They don't ask for much.
  • Take a walk in the woods are just gaze out your window for local birds.
  • When you spot a bird use the WildLab app to identify it.  First, tap "Species ID" and decide what type of area you are in: Woodland, Coastal, Wetland, or Grassland.

  • Next, determine the basic type of bird observed.

  • Next, narrow in on the exact species using the pictures as a guide.

  • Finally, confirm the spotting by checking the bird's known range on the map ("Range") and listening to an example of its call ("Listen").  You can then add any notes, take a picture, share it with your friends (on Facebook), and submit it to WildLab.  Your notes and observation will be recorded along with the time and location you made it. 

  • Visit the WildLab user site to view your sightings online and make any changes that are needed.  That's it!
Getting Started with WildObs - Observer is Easy
  • Visit the WildObs web site to learn more about the project and register with your name, user name, and password.
  • Download the iPhone or Android app.  Both are free applications though they are supported by third-party ads.
  • Take a walk in the woods or in your backyard, keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife.
  • Once you encounter an animal you wish to record, open the app and click on "Species" and "Lookup by Species name" to determine the exact species being identified.  You can add as little information (e.g., frog) or as much (e.g., American Green Tree Frog) as you know. 
  • Review the hit-list of possibilities (with pictures) to determine the exact species.

  • Make your selection for close-up picture and links to encounters by other WildObs users.
  • Click on "Record Observation" to confirm the animal's identity.  This will bring up a screen for including a picture, description, and keyword tags.

  • Tap "Save" to record the encounter and share it with the WildObs team.  You may also share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ if you wish.
  • That's all there is to it!
Hopefully one of these two new apps will be of interest to you.  They don't require much work, but if you see something interesting and want to record if for posterity (and science!), fire up this app and follow the directions.  Biologists will thank you for it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Watching Venus Fly Across the Sun

Photo Courtesy: Jan Herold
One of the best things about citizen science movement blogging is discovering the wide diversity of projects available to users.  Many have been created and each year more are added to the growing list of projects to join.  But today we talk about a special project.  A once-in-a-lifetime project.  A project tracking the upcoming Transit of Venus across the sun.

A similar event occurred eight years ago before the citizen science community was ready to participate.  The next one is scheduled for June 5-6, 2012, and there won't be another until 2117.  So this is literally our last-chance to get involved!

During a Transit the Sun, Earth, and Venus line up perfectly.  As Venus passes between Earth and the Sun, you can actually see it as a black dot traveling across the face of the Sun.  Kind of like an Eclipse but much smaller and with a planet.  Although fun to watch for the sheer  neatness factor, it has played a very important role historically in our understanding of the sky.  By positioning observers across the globe and precisely recording the time the Transit started and stopped, astronomers could calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun.  It just took a little understanding of geometry (the principle of Parallax) and accurate data.

Obviously we already know the distance to the Sun and don't need a Venusian transit to calculate it.  However, there are still very important research being performed during this upcoming event.  Some scientists will be analyzing light passing through Venus' atmosphere to get a better idea of what the air is made of.  This helps not just for Venus, but as a "calibration run" for observing far-distant exoplanets as they cross in front of their own parent stars.  This helps us learn the limits of exoplanet observations and can provide clues for getting more information during future exoplanet transits.

So what are you waiting for?  June 5 is almost here!

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Learn more about the upcoming Transit of Venus and the history of transits at, a web site published by Astronomers without Borders.
  • Download the VenusTransit mobile app for iPhone or Android.
  • Open the application and click on "Visibility".  It will find your current location and tell you when the Transit can be seen in your area.

  • Now you need to get ready for the event.  First, pick up some eclipse shades, welder's goggles, or other heavy-duty eye protection.  Staring at the sun literally causes blindness so you want to be prepared.  Pick some up at a local hobby shop, an astronomy web site, or even
  • Practice making transit observations using the app's simulation function.  You will see a video clip of Venus from the 2004 event and must correctly log it's start/times.  Just press the timer when the planet first fully enters and first exits the sun's sphere.  After each attempt you will be given the "actual" observation so you can continue practicing your skills.

  • On Transit day, watch the sun (using proper protection!) and click on the app's "Timer" button.  Start and Stop the timer as the planet enters and exits.  The phone will do all the rest, although you can provide extra data or pictures once the Transit is over.

The Transit is fast approaching and there won't be another for 115 years.  So download the app now, pick up some glasses, and run a few simulations on your phone. And if you get any good pictures send them my way.  I'd love to see them!

FOR MORE MOBILE APPS VISIT THE NEW Citizen Science for your Phone PAGE !

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Studying Roadkill to Prevent it

Photo Courtesy: Splatter-Spotter
and California State University
Today I'm looking at the Splatter Spotter mobile citizen science App.  It's a simple project asking users to report any roadkill they find on their travels.  At first this may seem morbid, gross, or just a little bit weird.  But it's a well-meaning scientific project aiming to save wildlife and avoid future kills.

Each year over a million animals are killed on America's roads and the numbers continue to grow.  This is not just sad because some cute, furry creatures are violently killed.  It's also a problem for impacting animal migration routes, threatening endangered species, harming the natural balance between predator and prey, and increasing vehicle accidents and human injuries.  So improving our understanding is not just a dark curiosity; it's a needed start to solving these problems.

Strangely not much good data exists on the amount and locations roadkill incidents.  Which animals are hit the most?  Where do most incidents occur?  Are there commonalities between locations?  How can we design roads to minimize roadkill?  Most studies have been very small and include potentially unreliable data.  Sure, road crews can tally the animals they find, but tracking is inconsistent with great potential for reporting bias.

That is where citizen scientists come in.  We already travel roads across the country with great local, regional, and national coverage.  And reporting is simple with just a few clicks on a mobile device.  Just recording the location and general type of animal can go a long way to creating a reliable incident database.  So won't you pitch in?

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the Splatter Spotter home page to learn more about the program and the science behind the project.
  • Download the Splatter Spotter App for iPhone (it's not yet available for Android).
  • Start driving your local roads.  Of course we hope you don't find any roadkill, but invariably you probably will.
  • If you see a kill while driving normally, open the application and click on "Current Location" to record your position.  If you posting about a previous encounter, use the "From the Map" option to find your position.
  • Once the location is set you need to describe the animal.  If you know the specific species the pull-down list will have it.  If not, categorize the animal by size (small, medium, or large) and choose the general option best describing the animal.  For example, "Unknown Small Animal", "Raven or Crow", or "Unknown Frog".   Further examples are shown below.

  • If you like, take a photo and attach in the next screen.  This will help scientists identify the animal if you are unable, or interpret any interesting facts about your sighting.
  • The final step is reporting on road conditions, such as the type of surroundings (urban, wildland, orchards, etc), road speed, and visibility.

  • Once you've mastered this portion (which shouldn't take you long at all), you can also set the application to record in "Transect" mode.  This is perfect for a long road trip.  Select the transect option and it will continue recording your location. When you find roadkill, just provide the animal and road description (described above) while everything else is taken care of automatically.
That's all there is to it! 

This is a very simple app to use and requires no special training.  Just drive along the roads as you normally do.  If you stumble across a kill, record a few basic pieces of data for us.  I know it's kind of gross and may not seem worthwhile, but every piece of information helps.  Won't you help too?

FOR MORE MOBILE APPS VISIT THE NEW Citizen Science for your Phone PAGE !

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Playing in the (Mobile) Galactic Zoo!

Photo Courtesy: Zooniverse
Last year we first looked at the GalaxyZoo: Hubble project from the Zooniverse.  This well-designed project needs your help cataloging the wide variety of galaxies captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.  It's been a highly successful  project that has published a number of peer-reviewed papers based on the data collected.  Not only is it easy to learn and fun to participate in, but it makes an important contribution to the field of astronomy.

Building on this success, the Zooniverse group has created it's first mobile application based on GalaxyZoo.  Everything is pretty much the same...participants are asked to identify the same features on the same images as those in the online version.  But as a phone application you can do it anywhere and anytime.  So if you have a few minutes to kill at the Subway stop or want to show your friends at the pub the fun of citizen science, this application is for you.

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the Zooniverse sites online to register as a user.  They don't require much information (only name and e-mail); just enough to give you credit for your work.
  • Download the GalaxyZoo App from either the Apple App Store or Android Play Store.  It's free from both so don't worry about the credit card.
  • Start the app and log on with your username and password.  After a short delay to stockpile (e.g., download) galaxy images, click "Done" to get started.
  • Your phone will show an image of each galaxy with a series of questions on bottom about how the galaxy appears.  Logos with examples of each galaxy type are also included to help you answer each question.  Just click on the appropriate answer and the next one will pop up.  For example,
    • Question 1: Is the galaxy simply smooth and rounded, with no sign of a disk? 
Photo Courtesy:
Zooniverse and

    • Question 2: Does the galaxy have a mostly clumpy appearance?
Photo Courtesy:
Zooniverse and

    • Question 3: Is there a sign of a bar feature through the centre of the galaxy? 
Photo Courtesy:
Zooniverse and
  • Answer each to the best of your ability, but don't stress over each image.  Many other people will also be reviewing them with the results combined to help reduce any potential errors.  You can also go back at any point with the "Undo" feature in case you want to change an answer.
  • If some of the galaxies are difficult to classify or you don't understand what the researchers are looking for, check out the online tutorial for descriptions, examples, and sample quizzes.
  • If you have further trouble with any aspect of the app, check out the GalaxyZoo iPhone instruction page for help.

That's all there is to it.  Hopefully you'll have as much fun with this mobile app as you have with the many other Zooniverse citizen science applications that are also available.  But if not, check out some of the many other programs we're collecting on the new "Citizen Science for your Phone" page.

Finally, let us know if you have any more mobile citizen science apps you'd like us to highlight.  We always appreciate the help!

FOR MORE MOBILE APPS VISIT THE NEW Citizen Science for your Phone PAGE !

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Citizen Science for your Phone

Photo Courtesy: Dmitri N.
Today we offer a brand new feature on OpenScientist...a listing of all the mobile iPhone and Android citizen science applications now available.  Some of these we've discussed before but now all projects can be found in one place.  No need to search around for them any more!  Just follow the "Citizen Science For Your Phone" link on the left-hand side to find them all.

Over the next few days and weeks I'll be adding even more apps to the page.  But don't let that stop you...there are a number already listed.  Check it out and download some free mobile apps now!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Making Old Weather New Again

Last year we talked about the OldWeather project and it's attempt to gather data from 100-year old naval records.  All ships back then recorded local conditions in a highly consistent way, creating a reliable record useful for climate change research.  They also traveled across the globe, providing a rich data collection unmatched elsewhere.  As citizen scientists we were asked to view images of the ships logs and transcribe the data into a usable electronic form.  This program has been going strong with many ship's logs completed.  Find out more, or better yet, join the action, by reading all about it here on OpenScientist.

But that's not all.  The logs provide more than just weather data, they also provide key insights into the ship's journeys and reveal much about life at sea.  This is of great interest to naval historians who have set about turning these logs and transcriptions into a compelling narrative.  And they need your help too.

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Visit the OldWeather web site to learn more about the project and the ships being researched.
  2. Find a ship you are interested in and whose logs have already been transcribed.
  3. Visit the Naval History Homepage to learn more about the log editing project.
  4. Let the editors know which ship(s) you are interested in editing by sending an e-mail to  They will respond back with a Microsoft Word file containing a raw feed of the transcribed logs.
  5. Now you can start editing!  Learn the common abbreviations and style requirements at , and you will also receive instructions with the e-mail word file.  Follow them closely so everyone can produce a consistent product.
  6. Mail your finished narrative to the Naval History editors.  That's all there is to it!
The beauty of this project is that it not only lets you work with important scientific data from the last century, but it brings that data to life with the exciting voyages taken to collect it.  So we get to enjoy citizen science from a whole new perspective. 

Isn't it fun to see things with fresh eyes?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Catching a Fallen Star!

We've all seen meteors flash across the sky.  It's an awe-inspiring sight to watch as an ancient rock ends its billion-mile journey in our atmosphere.  But have you ever actually found one after it fell?!?!

Last week LifesLittleMysteries published an article on "How to Find a Meteorite in 5 Steps".  It's a quick and simple guide, much like the "Getting Started is Easy" steps we provide for projects on this site.  It's also a great reminder that interesting science remains available to anyone, you just have to know where, and how, to look.   You might even earn some money doing it.  As we learn in the article:

Go ahead and put it on your mantle, but please take a moment to share news of your find with scientists. Though thousands of meteorites have been catalogued already, each new one is a fresh data point, and could contain a key to one of the many unanswered questions about the solar system's formation and evolution....If you need further incentive for finding something that was forged at the birth of our sun and contains secrets about the nature of our solar system, there's this: Space rocks are worth as much as $1,000 per gram.

So what are you waiting for...get hunting!

I should also note that this is exactly the type of article highlighted on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.  This one was too good to pass up and got posted here.  But most don't.  Instead I focus on citizen science project descriptions, opinion pieces, and larger articles in this blog and leave the smaller items for my social media sites.  So don't just read both!  Sign up now and donit miss a thing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Find Beautiful but Overlooked Hubble Pictures

Thanks for being patient as I recharged the old batteries.  Now I'm back from vacation tanned and rested. So it's time to continue the OpenScientist journey...because citizen science keeps moving forward.

Starting simple, today I'm looking at a new contest from NASA and the European Space Agency.  They want our help combing through millions of archived Hubble Telescope pictures to find the most breath-taking, iconic pictures possible.  Sure thousands have been published in the telescope's 25 year history.  But there are many hidden treasures that have not been publicized and are waiting for us to discover them.

There are actually two parts to the contest: the first is searching through the archive for interesting pictures.  Although you can make a few artistic changes to them (like cropping the edges or increasing the contrast) you are mainly submitting the raw image as your contest entry.  The second version asks contestants to alter the images using any photo-manipulation software they wish.  So you can just do a scan for cool photos and submit as is, or let your creativity run wild.

Winners of this contest receive the main prize of seeing their pictures prominently publicized by ESA and NASA.  But adding spice to this dish, the winner of the contests can win an iPod Touch, iPad, and other items.  So what are you waiting for?

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the Hidden Treasures web site to learn more about the telescope and read the contest rules.
  • Read instructions on how to participate in both the Hidden Treasures 2012 Contest and Hidden Treasures 2012 Image Processing Contest.
  • Watch tutorials on searching the Hubble archive here.
  • Once you've found an interesting image, play around with the image a bit by adjusting the sky darkness, lightening or darkening the image, and cropping it in an interesting way.  It's just a minor amount (outside of the image processing contest) but can really make the image pop.
  • Once it's set, save it by clicking the floppy disk icon.  This will add it to a public Flickr account for  the world to see.  Just make sure to add the image's name and the URL where it is located in the archive so everyone else (including the judges) can find it.
  • That's it!
I think you'll find this a fun and interesting project just by itself.  The iPod and iPad prizes are just bonuses.  But even more, I hope you have fun searching an existing archive of real-world NASA data for your own important discoveries.  There is a world of new information that professional scientists have only begun to crack.  They make the data available to's up to us to use it.