Grab Your Smartphone And Become A Citizen Scientist For NASA

NASA's new app, the Globe Observer, will allow users to collect observations of clouds, and engage in a little citizen science. Image: NASA GLOBE Observer

It’s long been humanity’s dream to do something useful with our smartphones. Sure, we can take selfies, and post pictures of our meals, but true smartphone greatness has eluded us. Until now, that is.

Thanks to NASA, we can now do some citizen science with our ubiquitous devices.

For over 20 years, and in schools in over 110 countries, NASA’s Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program has helped students understand their local environment in a global context. Now NASA has released the GLOBE Observer app, which allows users to capture images of clouds in their local environment, and share them with scientists studying the Earth’s climate.

“With the launch of GLOBE Observer, the GLOBE program is expanding beyond the classroom to invite everyone to become a citizen Earth scientist,” said Holli Riebeek Kohl, NASA lead of GLOBE Observer. The app will initially be used to capture cloud observations and images because they’re such an important part of the global climate system. But eventually, GLOBE Observer will also be used to observe land cover, and to identify types of mosquito larvae.

GLOBE has two purposes. One is to collect solid scientific data, the other is to increase users’ awareness of their own environments. “Once you collect environmental observations with the app, they are sent to the GLOBE data and information system for use by scientists and students studying the Earth,” said Kohl. “You can also use these observations for your own investigations and interact with a vibrant community of individuals from around the world who care about Earth system science and our global environment.”

Clouds are a dynamic part of the Earth’s climate system. Depending on their type, their altitude, and even the size of their water droplets, they either trap heat in the atmosphere, or reflect sunlight back into space. We have satellites to observe and study clouds, but they have their limitations. An army of citizen scientists observing their local cloud population will add a lot to the efforts of the satellites.

“Clouds are one of the most important factors in understanding how climate is changing now and how it’s going to change in the future,” Kohl said. “NASA studies clouds from satellites that provide either a top view or a vertical slice of the clouds. The ground-up view from citizen scientists is valuable in validating and understanding the satellite observations. It also provides a more complete picture of clouds around the world.”

The observations collected by GLOBE users could end up as part of NASA's Earth Observatory, which tracks the cloud fraction around the world. Image: NASA/NASA Earth Observation.
The observations collected by GLOBE users could end up as part of NASA’s Earth Observatory, which tracks the cloud fraction around the world. Image: NASA/NASA Earth Observation.

The GLOBE team has issued a challenge to any interested citizen scientists who want to use the app. Over the next two weeks, the team is hoping that users will make ground observations of clouds at the same time as a cloud-observing satellite passes overhead. “We really encourage all citizen scientists to look up in the sky and take observations while the satellites are passing over through Sept. 14,” said Kohl.

The app makes this easy to do. It informs users when a satellite will be passing overhead, so we can do a quick observation at that time. We can also use Facebook or Twitter to view daily maps of the satellite’s path.

“Ground measurements are critical to validate measurements taken from space through remote sensing,” said Erika Podest, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who is working with GLOBE data. “There are some places in the world where we have no ground data, so citizen scientists can greatly contribute to advancing our knowledge this important part of the Earth system.”

The app itself seems pretty straightforward. I checked for upcoming satellite flyovers and was notified of 6 flyovers that day. It’s pretty quick and easy to step outside and take an observation at one of those times.

I did a quick observation from the street in front of my house and it took about 2 minutes. To identify cloud types, you just match what you see with in-app photos of the different types of clouds. Then you estimate the percentage of cloud cover, or specify if the sky is obscured by blowing snow, or fog, or something else. You can also add pictures, and the app guides you in aiming the camera properly.

The GLOBE Observer app is easy to use, and kind of fun. It’s simple enough to fit a quick cloud observation in between selfies and meal pictures.

Download it and try it out.

You can download the IOS version from the App Store, and the Android version from Google Play.

Be Part of the First Mission to Pluto with the Free Interactive ‘Pluto Safari’ App

If you’re like us, you’ve been following the news closely as the New Horizons mission speeds towards Pluto. Want to follow it even closer? Check out the free Pluto Safari app now available from the developers that brought us the award winning astronomy app ‘SkySafari 4.’ It is available in both iOS and Android.

The fully interactive Pluto Safari provides a countdown in time and distance for when New Horizons will reach Pluto on July 14, 2015. It will also give you the latest position of New Horizons and Pluto, providing 3-D views of the Solar System and the Pluto system, as well as 3-D models of the spacecraft. By using the Time Controls, you can run through the mission, backwards or forwards, to see the mission step-by-step. Just so you don’t get lost in time and space, the status bar always displays the current date, time and location.

Views of Pluto Safari on iPads. Image via Simulation Curriculum.
Views of Pluto Safari on iPads. Image via Simulation Curriculum.

The app will also show you where Pluto is located in the sky from your location. Who doesn’t want to look up in the exact spot where Pluto is, knowing that New Horizons is there too? But the app allows you to do even more: the simulator provides an accurate depiction of the sky, and you can touch and drag to change the direction you are looking, and zoom in and out to adjust your field of view.

Pedro Braganca from Simulation Curriculum, the company that developed the app told Universe Today that the info on the app will be updated throughout the mission as new data becomes available. Simulation Curriculum created the 3D model of the spacecraft, but the surface texture maps for Pluto and Charon were created by Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute.

“The maps are both scientifically accurate (from Hubble data) and aesthetically pleasing,” Braganca said via email. “Obviously we’ll replace these textures with the ‘real’ Pluto map whenever that gets released post-flyby.”

Pluto Safari on Android devices. Image via Simulation Curriculum.
Pluto Safari on Android devices. Image via Simulation Curriculum.

If you’re newbie and only now hearing about the New Horizons mission, you can go back in time to review the mission since it launched on January 19, 2006, and explore all the mission milestones in the interactive Solar System Simulator. There’s also a detailed multimedia guide to Pluto and its history.

Want to give a piece of your mind to the IAU for the controversial demotion Pluto to a dwarf planet? The app has a “poll” that also allows you to weigh in on Pluto’s planet status.

You’ll also get alerts to the latest news from New Horizons on the milestones, data, and discoveries.

Pluto Safari' has interactive educational activities. Image via Simulation Curriculum.
Pluto Safari’ has interactive educational activities. Image via Simulation Curriculum.
Additionally, Pluto Safari has interactive educational information for all ages.

Braganca shared an interesting story about they worked with JPL to get even intricate details in the app correct.

“On the orbital/trajectory data side, when we were developing the simulation of the Pluto-New Horizons encounter, we were unable to show New Horizons passing through Pluto’s shadow,” he said via email. “Our calculations appeared to be correct, and we were using the latest position data available for Pluto/NH from JPL Horizons – so it was a bit of a mystery. To help us figure this out, we contacted Jon Giorgini, Senior Analyst at JPL. Jon confirmed that the latest New Horizons maneuver was not yet modeled in the spacecraft reference trajectory. There was also a couple thousand km uncertainty in the Pluto system barycentric position, as determined from the ground. Jon updated the JPL Horizon data to the latest available information and we were then in close agreement with the Pluto-encounter with the new values.”

PlutoAd

You can use the app from the desktop on your computer if want a larger view than on your phone by going to the app’s website, PlutoSafari.com.

To download Pluto Safari for iOS 7 and later, click here.

To download Pluto Safari for Android 4.1 and later, click here.

As New Horizons gets ever-closer to Pluto, Pluto Safari provides a great way to feel like part of the mission.

“The New Horizons Pluto flyby is a rare chance for science to touch the general public,” said Braganca. “With a free app, we’re capturing a new generation at this teachable moment. The Voyager missions of the 1980s inspired engineers who went on to develop today’s mobile technologies. Who knows we might inspire today’s young learners to accomplish 30 years from now?”

App Review: Earth or Not Earth

The folks at Cosmoquest have released a cool new citizen science app for Android! “Earth or Not Earth” allows players to test their knowledge of Earth, as well as learn more about the fascinating geology of the rocky worlds in our solar system. You can also challenge your friends on Facebook to beat your scores, thanks to the Facebook integration feature.

“Earth or Not Earth” was developed by Southern Illinois University graduate student and Cosmoquest developer Joseph Moore. Moore designed “Earth or Not Earth,” and included two additional game features: “Matching” and “Pick 2.” The images used in “Earth or Not Earth” are public domain, and are sourced primarily from NASA planetary science missions, with more images to be added to the app in the future.

The app does cost $1.99 USD, and the Proceeds from “Earth or Not Earth” help fund the programmers at Cosmoquest, as well as citizen science programs, educational programs, and future mobile apps.

"Earth or Not Earth" Main Menu - Click to embiggen
“Earth or Not Earth” main menu – Click to embiggen.
Image Credit: Cosmoquest
The user interface for “Earth or Not Earth” is pretty straightforward. After installing the app, the initial screen will prompt users to login with their Cosmoquest credentials (or create a new account). While some may see this as an annoyance, a Cosmoquest account allows access to many of the other citizen science projects Cosmoquest offers, such as Moon Mappers, Asteroid Mappers, and others.

After logging in, users are able to select one of several game-play options.

Players can start with the “Learn” section, which allows users to learn more about the rocky worlds in our solar system. Additionally, users can learn about geologic features such as craters, volcanism, fault lines, and even man-made surface alterations.

After learning about the processes that shape and alter rocky worlds in our solar system, users can test their knowledge with the “Earth or Not Earth”, “Matching”, or “Pick Two” mini-games.

Earth or Not Earth? Click to embiggen. Image Credit: Cosmoquest
Earth or Not Earth?
Click to embiggen.
Image Credit: Cosmoquest
“Earth or Not Earth” Displays images from various NASA planetary missions. The goal for the player is to determine if the image is of Earth, or Not. For those looking for a greater challenge, the “Matching” minigame provides an image that players must try to match to a rocky world, or a planetary geology process.

The most challenging mini-game in “Earth or Not Earth” is “Pick Two”, where players select two images that belong to the same world out of several shown on screen. With some images being in color, and others in black and white, players must rely on the knowledge gained from the “Learn” feature to make educated deductions about which images belong to which world.

Fans of planetary science will find “Earth or Not Earth” a challenging, yet entertaining and educational gaming experience. Gameplay is quick, and makes for a nice break between meetings, or something to pass the time while waiting to catch the bus.

“Earth or Not Earth” is available from the Google Play store at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.cosmoquest.earthnotearth If you’d like to learn more about how the app was developed, Cosmoquest has a blog post available at: http://cosmoquest.org/blog/2013/12/got-earth/

Giveaway: Sky Live for iOS5 and Up

A new app called “Sky Live” was just released  from Vito Technologies and it will save you countless planning hours in your stargazing agendas. Vito Technologies, through a super-secret process, has discovered a way to give users a sky watching forecast anywhere in the world for up to 7 days in advance.

Were you planning a camping trip to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower? Is Venus going to be in the perfect spot in the sky to pull out your telescope and have a sky watching party? Sky watching is heavily dependant upon weather conditions and all that careful party planning is out the window when a bank of clouds settles in.

Universe Today and Vito Technologies is giving away 10 free copies of this app. How do you enter your name for this “appy” goodness?

In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Monday, October 7, 2013. We’ll send you a confirmation email, so you’ll need to click that to be entered into the drawing.

More info on this app from the Publisher:

What it does: The main screen gives you one number: let’s say 78%.

Same as Fahrenheit degrees in weather, this percentage gives you at-a-glance info on how good tonight is for stargazing. The number is calculated with a special formula that takes into account things like is there anything interesting in the sky tonight, how cloudy, how bright is the Moon, etc.

Why it is different:

The formula for our Stargazing Index is superbly original and highly confidential. Combined with stunning space images, we hope this will be the most beautiful and accurate stargazing forecast on the AppStore.

Highlights:

– New app from the developers of Apple Design Award winning stargazing app with over 7 mln users

– Designed specifically for iOS7 (but will work on everything starting with iOS 5): blur and parallax, stunning graphics

– Detailed info on stargazing conditions for any location in the world for seven days ahead

vito2

– Moon phases

– Rise, set, culmination/azimuth for the most important objects: the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and the International Space Station

– Cloudiness

– Weather forecast

– Light pollution

– The International Space Station position over the map

– ISS crew data

New Android App Makes it Easier to Use Your Phone While Stargazing

Ever have to take a call while stargazing, or do you use astronomical apps on your phone, only to have the white screen ruin your night vision? A new app called Sunset is a screen filter that essentially adds a dimmed red-color filter onto an Android device’s screen so you can use your smartphone during those extra dark moments and not lose your dark-adapted night-vision.

The app’s description says it best:

Sunset is a screen filter adds an additional layer of dimming color to help soothe your eyes during those extra dark hours. Perfect for astronomers/stargazers looking to preserve their night vision, late night smartphone users, and movie theater texters. Sunset goes darker than Android’s brightness settings to provide your eyes with that extra layer of comfort.

Sunset is easy to use, too. Just select a color theme, choose the maximum intensity, and hit start. The color themes are specifically designed to help your eyes in different environments, as there are several other color options.

The Sunset app is just 99 cents, USD, but the app’s creator Rohan Puri will send a refund to the first 20 Universe Today readers who buy this app. Just send your e-mail via Direct Message on Twitter to @RohanSPuri after your purchase, and you will receive a full refund.


You can find Sunset at the Google Play Store

Thanks to Rohan for sharing this app with Universe Today and our readers!

Giveaway – Sky Guide App for your iOS device.

“What is that constellation up there – it is right on the tip of my tongue,” is not something you will be saying if you win one of 10 free copies of this app for your iOS device. We are so excited to be working with Fifth Star Labs to bring this promotion to Universe Today.

Simply aim your iPhone or iPad at the sky to identify stars, planets, galaxies and more. Sky Guide lets you experience the wonders of the night in ways you’ve only dreamed of. Now available as a universal app for iPhone and iPad.

In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Tuesday, May 14, 2013. We’ll send you a confirmation email, so you’ll need to click that to be entered into the drawing.

Price – In case you don’t want to wait to see if you win!!

$0.99 for a limited time through the iTunes Store

Features
– Elegant and simple: Unobtrusive controls and gestures free up the screen for the best sky view yet.
– Realistic: Composed of over 37,000 real photographs, Sky Guide shows millions of stars, not just a few thousand simulated points.
– Rich content: Loads of stunning Retina-quality graphics and original artwork.
– Soudscape: Designed by Mat Jarvis, an electronic composer featured in the award-winning soundtrack for the game Osmos. Stars have sounds based on their temperature and size.
– Useful anywhere: Works even without a GPS or data signal. Built in access to hundreds of cross linked articles no matter where you are.
– HDR brightness gestures: Dynamically control how bright the sky is to match your surroundings.Sky Guide by Fifth Star Labs 2

About Nick Risinger
Nick Risinger is a photographer and designer living in Seattle, Washington. His work has received honors from the Advanced Imaging Conference, the Cartography and Geographic Information Society, and will be featured at the top of the Royal Hotel Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He has made appearances on Wired, BBC Horizon, and Public Radio International’s The World.

About Chris Laurel
Chris Laurel is a software developer from Seattle specializing in interactive 3D graphics. He is the creator of Celestia, a popular open source application for astronomical visualization. Chris has worked at Microsoft and NVIDIA, and has consulted for NASA and the the European Space Agency.

About Fifth Star Labs
Fifth Star Labs is a software development company that creates apps for science education and discovery. We blend design with technical expertise to fashion software that is beautiful, intuitive, and illuminating.

Giveaway: Pocket Universe App for Your iOS Device

The name says it all – Pocket Universe answers every question you have and never knew you had about the great beyond – astronomically speaking. Pocket Universe also has a feature that speaks to the trivial in me – the need to fill my brain with interesting factoids that I can regale my friends with at parties.

Universe Today and Craic Design are giving away 10 free copies of Pocket Universe to our readers.

If you don’t want to wait for the win; you can purchase this app through the iTunes Store.

This giveaway will run for a week starting today, so get your entries in! How?

In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Tuesday, May 7, 2013. We’ll send you a confirmation email, so you’ll need to click that to be entered into the drawing.

Here are some words from John Kennedy, developer of Pocket Universe:011_pocket_universe

Pocket Universe is one of those apps that re-affirms your belief in modern technology. Take it outside on a dark, cloudless night, hold it up at the sky, and you’ll get a real-time 3D rendered view of the heavens – complete with star and planet names, constellation images, as well as bright satellites, comets and more. If you ever wanted to know what it was you were looking at, this is the app for you. To help with new stargazers, there is also information on what you should be looking out for every month, and a list of interesting things visible on that very night. The app will also pop-up reminders when something interesting is happen – a meteor shower perhaps, or a flypast of the International Space Station – so you don’t miss out.

 

 

Giveaway: Luminos App For Your iOS Device

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to stand on the surface of Mars, or stare up at one of Saturn’s rings from the mountains of Titan? The Luminos App by Wobbleworks affords you the opportunity to give your friends a guided tour of the universe from the convenience of your iOS device. You can examine deep space objects, track satellites and fast forward or reverse time to understand the orbit of planets around the sun. If disaster movies don’t scare your pants off, you can view Near Earth Asteroids to see how many near misses the Earth has every year!

Wobbleworks provides an excellent user guide to this app complete with pictures and tutorials on how to create your own Observation Lists, log the date and time that a celestial body was viewed and keep track of satellites. It is really quite interesting to note the pass of the International Space Station.

Wobbleworks and Universe Today are giving away 10 free copies of Luminos!

This Giveaway is Now Closed

This giveaway will run for a week starting today, so get your entries in! How?

In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Thursday, May 2, 2013. We’ll send you a confirmation email, so you’ll need to click that to be entered into the drawing.

Words from Brian Albers – Luminos Developer:Luminos 1

Luminos, Astronomy for iOS, combines powerful features like telescope mount control, satellite tracking, and a five thousand year eclipse catalog with fun activities such as landing on remote bodies and tracking orbits in accelerated time. The Luminos data set includes two and a half million stars, tens of thousands of small bodies, up-to-date planet and moon surface features, and more. The design of the app emphasizes highly-tuned performance, with detailed models and an interface designed to maximize your view of the sky.
Luminos includes built-in help and online video tutorials, and keeps a frequent update schedule with new features introduced regularly. More information is at http://wobbleworks.com

Want To Live On Mars Time? There’s An App For That

Screenview from Mars Clock, available from the Apple Store, that displays Mars time.

You’ve listened to all of JPL’s Curiosity telecons, you can recite the nail-biting sequence of events during MSL’s “Seven Minutes of Terror,” and you’ve devoured thousands of pixels of image data beamed back to Earth. But are you ready to live on Mars time? With a couple of well-timed apps from Google Play and Apple’s app store, you can.

MarsClock, available for Android devices at Google play is a free app written by Scott Maxwell, rover driver for Curiosity. The app, which has been downloaded between 1,000 and 5,000 times, lets you see times for all three of NASA’s Mars Rovers, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. The app allows the user to set single alarms or alarms that repeat every sol. A sol is a full Martian day which is about 24 hours, 39 minutes in Earth time.

Perhaps you shun Android devices for your Apple device whether it’s an iPhone, iPad or iPod. Never fear, you too can be everyone’s favorite Martian living on Mars time. Mars Clock, by SunlightAndTime, is a 99-cent app that displays Mars time and a host of other Mars time goodies. Features include local mean solar time for the rover, coordinated Mars time, sunrise and sunset times for the Curiosity landing site (I think this might be the coolest feature), current season, a countdown to landing feature (which is counting up since MSL landed on Mars on August 5th), current Earth time, a distance calculator between the Earth and Mars and radio communications delay estimate.

While it might be hard to add 40 minutes to your day to live as a Martian or as the JPL team that operates the Curiosity rover, these apps sure do make it more fun.

Venus Transit — There’s an App for That!

Transit of Venus by NASA's TRACE spacecraft Image credit: NASA/LMSAL

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There have been only six Venus transits since the invention of the telescope in the early 17th century. It was not until 1761 that the transit of Venus on June 6th was observed as part of the first ever international scientific observation project, instigated by Edmond Halley. Astronomers across the globe viewed the transit and the differences in their observations were used to triangulate the distance to Venus and, using Kepler’s laws, the distance to the Sun, the other planets and the size of the Solar System. Though the method used has not changed in the 251 years since, the equipment most certainly has.

For this transit, we have technology on our side.

In previous Venus Transits, expeditions were sent out far and wide and the 1761 transit was eventually recorded by 120 individual astronomers from 62 locations across Europe, America, Asia and Africa. They used only the simple telescopes of the day, fitted with dense filters, a pendulum clock to time the transit and quadrants to determine their exact latitude and local time. It is hardly surprising that their observations varied widely. Their calculations put the Sun’s distance between 130 and 158 million kilometres.

Transits happen in pairs. After 121 years a transit occurs followed 8 years later by another, then 105 years pass before the next pair and then the pattern repeats. Prior to the transit of 2004 the most recent transit was in 1882. There were none during the whole of the 20th century! We now approach the last chance to view a transit in our lifetime, the next will not occur until 2117.

Luckily, we’ve got some newly developed technology to help make this the most-observed transit ever!

Astronomers Without Borders are part of the Transit of Venus Project to get as many people around the world to observe the transit and to participate in a collective experiment to measure the Sun’s distance. To this end they have produced the Venus Transit phone app, available to download free for both iTunes and Android. Once downloaded you can start to practice timing the interior contacts of ingress and egress using a simulation of the transit. This is not as easy as it seems, as the black drop effect makes precise timing tricky so practice is definitely recommended. The app will tell you how far out you are so that you can perfect your timing and it will also predict times of contact based on your location together with times of sunrise and sunset.

On the day of the transit, the app will record the exact GPS time and your location, which is sent to the global database. Afterwards you can access your data on the website’s map to edit your entry, and upload descriptions, text, images, or movies and view other entries as well. This transit will be visible over most of the Earth except for parts of West Africa and most of South America, so download, get practicing and become part of a once in a lifetime, global citizen science experiment!

Find out more at Transit of Venus