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Over the last few years scientists have designed iPhone and Android applications allowing uses to record, identify, and learn about the natural world around them. They are simple to learn and fun to use. But most of all, they help improve our scientific knowledge.
- Watch for Meteors with NASA: MeteorCounter tracks and reports meteors whenever, and wherever, they are spotted. And it performs this job very well. When you spot one streaking through the sky just open the application, identify the part of the sky you say it in, and use the "piano-key" interface to report its magnitude (brightness). Time, date, and location information are automatically provided by the application itself. This application can also alert you to upcoming meteor showers in your area, collect more detailed trajectory data from advanced users, and record audio of the event with additional information.
- Classify Galaxies Spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope: Last year we first looked at the GalaxyZoo: Hubble project from the Zooniverse. Building on this success, the researchers have launched their own GalaxyZoo mobile application for Android and iPhone. The app displays Hubble images of far-away galaxies (amazing in their own right) and asks participants to various key features of each. By cataloging images researchers can build a better "family photo album" and make important discoveries about their development.
- Capture the June 5, 2012 Transit of Venus: 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. The VenusTransit mobile app let's users across the Globe report their observations to scientists, and provides a simulation game to practice watching a transit.
- Track Seasonal Plant Changes and Wildlife Sightings: The Nature's Notebook app helps track phenology changes (such as plant budding and leaf changes) across the seasons. Just find a local observation site (such as your backyard) where you will observe plants for at least a few minutes a week. Then identify a few key plants and sign up for the Nature's Notebook program; the app will guide you through pointed questions about the expected changes in each plant and record your findings. You can also track wildlife moving through the area as well.
- Monitor Local Creeks and Streams: CreekWatch helps you analyze water levels and tracks the rise and fall of individual creeks, helping scientists understand local rainfall and the potential for soil runoff. It also tracks general pollution levels and indicates the creeks overall health. So not only does it help ecology researchers but also urban planners and farmers that rely on clean water for their livelihood.
- Record Animal Encounters ProjectNOAH lets users track wildlife by taking pictures of specific animals, writing notes on the species along with the habitat they were found in and the geographic location, and uploading to the central system. If you can't identify the species you've spotted you can also ask the citizen science community to help classify it for you. Once properly classified you can learn much more about that animal and its habitat. To encourage participation users are awarded "Mission Badges" for completing certain animal spotting goals.
- Log Birdwatching Encounters: WildLab-Bird doesn't just record your birding encounters for science, but it's a very helpful identification tool for your own birdwatching needs. There are a number of iPhone and Android birdwatching apps built around the EBird program which helps birdwatchers log and follow the birds they spot. But this is one of my favorites.
- Save Wildlife by Tracking Roadkill: SplatterSpotter asks participants to users to report any roadkill they find on their travels. This may seem morbid, gross, or just a little bit weird. But over a million animals are killed each year threatening endangered species, harming the natural balance between predator and prey, and increasing vehicle accidents and human injuries. It's simple to learn and only takes a minute to use. They just need your help.
- Record Wildlife Encounters: WildObs is a great tool for recording wildlife encounters and helping users identify the individual species they find. Once an animal is spotted, use the app to describe the encounter, take a picture, and record the time/date the sighting occurred. The app shares the information with interested scientists and you can share it automatically on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.
- Learn and Investigate Climate Change: In Temperature Blast citizen scientists collect live and archived Weatherbug data from select stations in the Baltimore region to compare temperatures and log this data for scientists. Scientists at the Baltimore Ecosystem Study then use this data to test models of temperature patterns across the city to aid in urban planning. Although based at the Maryland Science Center and focusing on Baltimore-area data, it is available nationwide and the science it teaches is universal.
Of course this is just a sample of the citizen science phone applications waiting for you. They are free, fun, and guaranteed to fascinate. So what are you waiting for? Start downloading them now!