Recent Posts

Can You Spot a City?

320px-Earth_at_NightThe researchers at the Extragalactic Astrophysics and Astronomical Instrumentation Group at the Universidad Coplutense de Madrid need your help to georeference the position of cities that appear in ISS images.

According to Jose Gomez Castano, the “Lost at Night” project is part of a study of light pollution and the energy consumption derived from it.

“We use images taken from the International Space Station as part of our investigations, provided by Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA-Johnson Space Center,” says Castano. “To compare the images with the different light sources on the earth, we need to know the city’s location. Due to the large number of images, we need your help. Some of these pictures are from unknown locations for us, and it is very difficult to identify them in the pictures. However, a lot of people around the world will know the cities. We need you to identify the cities and connect them with their position point on the map.”

When you participate, the ISS image will be loaded in the left panel, and a map will appear at the right. You will be able to zoom in and out, drag, and rotate the image if that helps you identify what you’re seeing. If you think you know the city, click on the map to identify its position. You can then save and move on. If the picture stumps you, you can simply click on “Don’t Know.”

You can also get more information by reviewing the ISS picture data provided, or call on your friends by sharing the image on Twitter.




Are you up for a challenge?

challengeMany of the citizen science projects covered on this site are designed to allow anyone to participate. This week, I have one that is designed to pique the interest of those of you in IT: the computer scientists, the developers, and the people who like to think in terms of big data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.

In the Climate Resilience Data Challenge, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) want to know how you want to access the boat-loads of data they have available. They are offering cash prizes in this challenge.

“We need tools that utilize big data to help our local communities improve climate resilience, save our ecosystems, and prepare for climate change,” say challenge organizers. “We have climate data that is free and accessible, but much of it is not available through web services.”

In this “ideation” phase, the agencies involved want to know what data infrastructure you need and how you would use it infrastructure to create services and apps. What would you do if you didn’t need to download code or data? Which data sources would you use?

“With growing climate risk, it is evermore necessary to grow innovative capacity for resilience and adaptation. Using open climate data, imagine the possibilities of new applications that could fuel climate resilience efforts for communities and ecosystems as well as empower people to make smart decisions for the future. NASA and USGS invite you to take a step toward resilience by imagining solutions to our planet’s complex climate risks.”

Registration opens on Monday, December 15th. You can learn more about the individual parts of the challenge by clicking the links at the bottom of the Challenge page. Meanwhile, take a moment to check out some of the other open innovation challenges at the TopCoder site.

The Mysterious Rakali


A bitty rakali. (Photo credit JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s your excuse to go and visit Australia: The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) needs your help to learn more about a shy and little known water rat called the rakali.

The WWF and the Western Australia Department of Parks and Wildlife have launched a citizen science effort called “The Rakali Community” to collect more information about the rodent, in order to better understand where they live, and how populations might be faring.

“Rakali are mysterious, shy creatures, so it can be difficult to study them,” said WWF spokesperson Dr Sabrina Trocini, in a release on the WWF website.

Ralaki have webbed feet, broad noses, and dark fur on their backs. They have thick tails that are usually tipped with white fur, and lighter fur on their bellies.

Typically active around sunset, evidence for ralaki in the area can also be spotted by keeping a sharp eye out for footprints, tail trails, or the debris they leave behind after a feast of shellfish and aquatic insects. They live next to both fresh and salt bodies of water.

To help with this project, send your rakali sighting data via e-mail, including location details and/or photos to [email protected] or phone 08 6231 0223.

Featured video: SETI Talks About Citizen Science


Moderated by Dane Glasgow, this five-member panel discusses SETI and citizen science.

It’s a fair question: why do I do citizen science?

Bobcat-DSC_9312-copy-2-300x203A guest post by Sharman Apt Russell

Citizen science enlarges my world. When I am in the mood, I classify galaxies at the online site Galaxy Zoo, looking at images from the Hubbell Space Telescope or Sloan Sky Digital Survey. In summer, once again I will be looking for tiger beetles along the banks of the Gila River as part of a personal research project under the mentorship of two entomologists, David Pearson and Barry Knisley, co-authors of The Field Guide to Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. My task is to fill in a small blank spot on the world map of tiger beetles: the larval biology of the Western red-bellied tiger beetle, a ferocious predator about a third of an inch long. Citizen science gives me this breadth of scale—from the vastness of galaxies hundreds of thousands of light years away to the micro-world of insects with their skittering movements in the sand and surreal, scary mouthparts and iridescent colors seen under the microscope.

This winter, for the New Mexico Site Steward program,  I will check for damage to certain archeological sites in the Gila National Forest, picking up and feeling the texture of pot shards decorated with fine lines of black on white, feeling connected to women who lived here and made these pots a thousand years ago. On other weekends, I go hiking in the national forest to help New Mexico Wilderness Alliance inventory possible new wilderness areas. New wilderness! The hope of keeping this forest healthy and wild for generations to come… Citizen science gives me this depth of time, a relationship with the distant past and the far future.

citizen scienceCitizen science also introduces me to new communities. Sometimes I accompany the local tracking team for Sky Island Alliance’s Wildlife Linkages as they look for tracks in arroyos near my home: the tangible presence of bears and mountain lions, foxes and coatis, coyote and deer. A few years ago, when I worked with a group of five bird-banders for MAPS or Monitoring Avian Population Survey, I held in my hands the delicate beauty of a vermillion fly-catcher or yellow chat or Lucy’s warbler. These friends, human and nonhuman, remain part of my life. For the national Nature’s Notebook program, I monitor the growth of desert willow, four-wing saltbush, honey mesquite, and yucca in my back yard. I’ve come to know these plants well, becoming surprisingly enamored of saltbush: the way tiny bladders on these leaves store and release salt as an antifreeze that keeps the bush green through cold months, the abundance of fine pollen on the male catkins and the brown papery four-winged seeds that eventually cover the female plant, seeds once ground by Native Americans into flour and still eaten today by birds, mammals, and my neighbor’s goat.

Citizen science engages me with a world that offers me constant gifts: a monarch butterfly, its wings a brilliant orange and black like a stained-glass window; the print of a bobcat short-tailed, delicately-spotted, tufted-ear, and perhaps close by; the crunchy sweet beans on a thorny mesquite. Those gifts were always there, always offered up, but I didn’t always notice them.

 Of course, citizen science also means that I can be a small part of protecting this world, tracking the diversity and abundance of native species, monitoring the spread of invasive plants and animals, and documenting the effects of climate change. That’s all to the collective good and fosters the optimism that comes with taking action—the faith we need to face the future.

But really, I know, I do citizen science because it makes me happy. I do it for these gifts, for this beauty, for this excuse to go out walking with my friends.

sharman_apt_russellScience and nature writer Sharman Apt Russell celebrates citizen science in the pine forests and Chihuahuan desert of southwestern New Mexico where she teaches writing at Western New Mexico University, Silver City, NM as well as Antioch University in Los Angeles. Her ten published books include Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World (Oregon State University Press, 2014), An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect (Perseus Books, 2003), and Anatomy of a Rose: The Secret Life of Flowers (Perseus Books, 2001). Her work has been translated into a dozen languages and her awards include a Rockefeller Fellowship, Pushcart Prize, and the Writers at Work Award. For more information, go to

Get more projects like this
in your inbox.

Join more than 10,000 followers - subscribe now!