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Stellar Citizen Science June 23, 2009

Posted by Sarah in astro 2.0, new astronomy.
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Historical eclipse measurements of epsilon Aurigae

Historical eclipse measurements of epsilon Aurigae

Over at Professor Astronomy, Kurtis recently talked about an excellent citizen science project to light on the nature of mysterious variable star epsilon Aurigae. For almost 200 years, this run-of-the-mill star has been seen to dim periodically. This is not particularly remarkable in se – many stars dim at regular intervals, typically every few days, due to a companion star or planet passing in front of it. But in the case of epsilon Aurigae, the dip in its lightcurve occurs every 27 years and lasts several hundred days – around 2 years! The eclipse lightcurve (above) also shows that the dip contains quite a few bumps. So whatever movement is causing the eclipse is very very slow, and some interaction between the two bodies appears to be going on.  (more…)

It’s all happening at the ‘Zoo February 17, 2009

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Someone told me
It’s all happening at the Zoo.

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TED Prize: Searching for life in the Universe February 15, 2009

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One of the winners of the annual TED prize, announced at the organisation’s annual conference in Long Beach last week, is astronomer Dr. Jill Tarter, Director of the SETI Institute in California. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a kind of super-club of creative minds from those fields set up in 1984 who meet a few times  year to discuss Big Ideas.

There’s a lot of lofty rhetoric involved and they could easily be accused of being a kind of elitist international country club for geeks. But I think there’s more to it: talks from the TED conference are made freely available at their website for everyone to watch and there is some genuinely good stuff there: originality,creativity, and an awareness of and concern for global issues. TED talks have been viewed online more than 100 million times and translated into 25 languages. Many of TED’s ‘Brain Trustees’ have impressive track records in turning innovative ideas into success -Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Craig Venter, Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins are just a few of the names on their list.

The TED prizes are awarded annually to three of these creative minds, who get a $100,000 cheque and $1 million in support funding, as well as opportunity to tap the networks and resources of the powerful TED community, to help realise “One Wish to Change the World”. Dr. Tarter’s wish for changing our world is to “ empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.”

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Big Science January 15, 2009

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In the New York Times this week, biologist Aaron Hirsh wrote  a very interesting column on the idea of Big Science. He argues that the most successful scientists of the 21st century so far are administrators – those who are good at herding people and resources. He pinpoints a shift in the way science is actually being done:

Across many different fields, new data are generated by a smaller and smaller number of bigger and bigger projects. And with this process of centralization come changes in what scientists measure — and even in what scientists are.

This idea of centralisation is of course not new. Particularly in experimental particle physics, large collider projects such as CERN have long been the norm, and papers written by one or just a few authors are virtually unheard of. While in some fields the increasing centralisation is unavoidable and essential for continuing progress, this way of working has drawbacks.

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Citizen Geology: Earthquake-spotting @ home October 29, 2008

Posted by Sarah in science.
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Earthquake in Reno, Nevada in April this year, as detected by traditional earthquake sensors (black) and by laptops participating in QCN (blue).

Earthquake in Reno, Nevada in April this year, as detected by traditional earthquake sensors (black) and by laptops participating in QCN (blue).

Citizen science is a term loosely used to describe scientific research projects that use resources offered by the general public, without specific training, often enabled by the internet. The SETI@home initiative was one of the first high profile projects in astronomy to use computing power in the homes of non-scientists to process large volumes of data; more recently the Galaxy Zoo project enlisted volunteers to help with the identification of galaxy shapes.

Now geology has also joined the fray of citizen science with the Quake-Catcher Network, led by scientists from Stanford University and UC Riverside. Using the same BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing) infrastructure that enabled SETI@home, it links thousands of laptop and desktop computers around the world to help gather data from earthquakes, as they occur.

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