STEM & Citizen Science

Physics & Astronomy

Citizen science or citizen astronomy, a term that is often used by astronomers and physicists, is rapidly expanding and evolving field.  There have been various research projects that benefited from members of the public and focused on furthering the scientific research in the stellar, extragalactic, and planetary sciences.  Astronomers believe the most productive citizen astronomy projects involve close collaboration between professionals and amateurs and occupy scientific niches that are not easily filled by great observations or machine learning methods.  It is through these projects that amateur astronomers are eager and motivated to serve the scientific research process as well as their own interest in astronomy.  This is the reason researchers expect the participation and productivity in citizen astronomy to increase and engage citizens in more advanced analyses and facilitate citizen-led enquiry through professional tools designed with citizens in mind. 


One of the largest collections of citizen science projects is the Zooinverse, which was a derivative of the Galaxy Zoo project initiated in 2007.  The idea behind Galaxy Zoo was to engage citizen scientists in examining almost a million galaxies contained within the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) to create simple classifications for each object from their visual appearance as spiral or elliptical.  These morphological classifications provided researchers important statistical insights regarding the dynamical stats, angular momenta, and star-formation properties of galaxies, which greatly aid researchers in understanding galaxy formation and evolution, the effects of environment, and fundamental cosmology.  Selecting galaxies by appearance rather than other characteristics such as color, brightness, etc. establishes a specific sample for different types of ensuing studies.  Public response was extremely positive and gathered over 60 million classifications.  Several new research investigations were created as a result, and many papers published.

Other astronomically related projects that were designed in response to the Zooniverse project is the Milky Way Project.  The Milky Way project required visually scrutinizing infrared images of the Milky Way galaxy to identify bubbles of material and contribute to the understanding of star formation environments and stellar collapse. In addition, Solar Storm Watch, required participants to spot explosions on the Sun and track them across space to Earth.  Also, Galaxy Zoo Mergers required participants to select simulated models that best matched images of real merging galaxies.

The projects available through Zooninverse are classified by level of training.  Projects are classified as simple to more complicated and provide citizen science participants the knowledge to complete the project while simultaneously advancing their own understanding and expertise. For the most part, projects in Zooninverse are not dependent upon location which allows participants to complete their analysis from wherever they may be.

Christian, Carol.  “Citizen Science: Contributions to Astronomy Research.” arXiv, Feb. 2012.

Darch, P. “Managing the Public to Manage Data: Citizen Science and Astronomy.” International Journal of Digital Curation, 2014, 9, 25.

Grandin, M. “Small-Scale Optical Atmospheric Emissions Discovered Using Citizen Science Photography.” AGU Advances, 2020, 1.

Marshall, P.; Lintott, C.; Fletcher, L. “Ideas for Citizen Science in Astronomy.” Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2015, 53, 247.

Odenwald, S. “A Citation Study of Citizen Science Projects in Space Science and Astronomy.” Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 2018, 3, 5.

Price, A.; Lee, H. “Changes in Participants Scientific Attitudes and Epistemological Beliefs During An Astronomical Citizen Science Project.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 2013, 50, 773.

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