Astronomy amateurs are apparently as good as the professionals when it comes to determining the exact crater count on the moon, according to a study led by Stuart Robbins of the University of Colorado in Boulder. Robbins wanted to see if crowdsourced, amateur crater counters are as effective in counting the moon’s craters as those who made a profession out of studying the moon.
ComsoQuest, a 2-year-old crowdsourcing site that, after a brief training session, allows interested astronomy amateurs to look at lunar craters, has proven to be as effective as professionals in counting the numbers of lunar craters, according to Robbins’ study. The efforts of thousands were pitted against eight professionals, and while individual success rates varied across the crowdsourced scientists, aggregate results indicated a virtual tie between the two groups.
ComsoQuest is a crowdsourced site developed by the University of Southern Illinois in Edwardsville, and it has partnered with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera in order to allow anyone interested in getting up close and personal with the moon to do so. CosmoQuest is designed as a way to re-ignite interest in science among youth, but it seems children of all ages were interested in the site’s mission.
Robbins, the study’s lead author, says he wanted to ensure that the efforts involved in seeing amateur crater counters determine the lunar crater count were indeed valid, and while there was as much as a 35 percent variance from one amateur’s success in identifying lunar craters to the other, the aggregate results that put the astronomy amateurs in a dead heat with the pros were very reassuring to the study authors. Robbins says that the results validate that crowdsourced amateur scientists could be valid contributors to everyday science, and is very excited by the results.
According to Dr. Pamela L. Gay, the scientist predominantly behind CosmoQuest, efforts to involve amateur astronomers in the field have been ongoing since the 1800s. It has been believed for some time that astronomy, being such a vast field of interest, could see its science involved quite a bit by the involvement of amateurs, and now with CosmoQuest, it seems that amateurs can go a long way towards improving the science involved. Gay says that involving amateurs in the scientific process, at least as far as the gathering of research goes, helps science advance more quickly and with greater frequency.
Regardless of how far the involvement of amateur astronomers ultimately goes, it seems that astronomy amateurs are as equally skilled as the professionals when it comes to counting lunar craters. Slate’s Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait, who has used CosmoQuest a number of times, says he finds the process of looking for lunar craters addictive and easy to get drawn into on a regular basis. The study authors were pleased that the crowdsourced scientists were essentially as successful as the professional astronomers in determining lunar crater count, as it validated their intent in creating CosmoQuest and other crowdsourced scientific sites. As news about CosmQuest continues to spread about the success of the crowdsourced amateurs, the scientists involved in the study hope they will see greater numbers become amateur astronomers as well.
By Christina St-Jean
Northern Voices Online