Join the 32-Hour Hangout-A-Thon for Space Education and Outreach

In the latest budget proposal for NASA, it appears as though one of NASA’s jewels — education and pubic outreach – is going to take a huge hit. The proposal seeks to slash NASA’s education budget by about a third, going from $137 million to $94 million. Also proposed is an initiative to combine (and in effect, water down) what NASA does by consolidating different educational efforts across the nation.

The American Astronomical Society issued a statement saying that the proposed cuts “would dismantle some of the nation’s most inspiring and successful STEM education assets.”

Dr. Pamela Gay, who heads up a big educational and citizen science effort with Cosmoquest, has written passionately about how these proposed cuts as well as the current sequestration of US governmental agencies will affect not only her work with education and citizen science, but educational programs for schools and universities across the US. Additionally, people who work in these areas face job losses.

So faced with funding cuts, the Cosmoquest team has decided to try an old-fashioned tele-thon (remember Jerry Lewis and his MDA telethons every year?) using new technology.

On June 15-16, Pamela Gay and Nicole Gugliucci are hosting a 32-hour Google Hangout on Air – a Hangout-a-thon – to raise money to support public engagement in science.

It starts at Noon EDT, 16:00 UTC on June 15, 2013 and will feature guests like Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer), NASA scientists and educators, the cast of Beyond the Wall, Mat Kaplan from Planetary Radio, and our very own Fraser Cain. Yours truly might make an appearance as well, beaming in from the middle of nowhere in Minnesota.

A complete schedule of guests and events can be found here.
Facebook Event Page

If you aren’t able to donate money, Pamela has written a great post about all the different things you can do to help.

As the CosmoQuest team said, they want to make sure astronomy education survives and remains strong. “While one team, and one telethon can’t fix everything, they hope this event can raise awareness, while protected one small corner of astronomy research and education.”

Education and technology are so important for our world’s future; if you can support this effort in any way, it would be greatly appreciated.

You can make a donation (tax deductible in the US where laws allow) through PayPal here.

The main G+ page for the Hangout-A-Thon

Two New Online Astronomy Courses from CosmoQuest

Want to learn more about our Universe or refresh your astronomical knowledge? Cosmoquest has two new online astronomy classes, and they are a great opportunity expand your horizons! The two classes are “The Sun and Stellar Evolution” (April 15 – May 8, 2013) and “Introduction to Cosmology” (April 23 – May 16, 2013) Cosmoquest offers the convenience of an online class along with live (and lively!) interaction with your instructor and a small group astronomy enthusiasts like yourself. The lectures are held in Google+ Hangouts, with course assignments and homework assigned via Moodle.

The instructors are likely well-known to UT readers. Research assistant and blogger Ray Sanders (Dear Astronomer and UT) will be teaching the stellar evolution class and astronomer and writer Dr. Matthew Francis will be leading the cosmology course.

The cost for the class is $240, and the class is limited to 8 participants, with the possibility for an additional 5 participants. Both instructors say no prior knowledge of cosmology or astronomy is needed. There will be a little math, but it will be on the high school algebra level. Concepts will be heavily emphasized.

Here are the descriptions for each class:

Stellar Evolution:

The Sun is a fascinating topic of study, which allows solar astronomers to better understand the physical processes in other stars. During this 4-week / 8-session course, we’ll explore the Sun and Solar Evolution from an astronomer’s point of view. Our course
will begin with an overview of the Sun, and solar phenomenon. We’ll also explore how stars are formed, their lifecycles, and the
incredible events that occur when stars reach the end of their lives. The course will culminate with students doing a short presentation on a topic related to the Sun or Stellar Evolution.

Introduction to Cosmology:

Cosmology is the study of the structure, contents, and evolution of the Universe as a whole. But what do cosmologists really study? In this 8-session course, we’ll look at cosmology from an astronomy point of view: taking what seems like too big of a subject and showing how we can indeed study the Universe scientifically. The starting point is the smallest chunk of the Universe that is representative of everything we can see: the Cosmic Box.

Class level: No prior knowledge of cosmology or astronomy is needed. There will be a little math, but it will be on the high school algebra level: the manipulation of ratios and use of some important equations. The emphasis is on concepts!

More information and signup instructions can be found here at Cosmoquest.

New Online Astronomy Course from CosmoQuest

For those of you who’d like to brush up on your Astronomy knowledge, or never took Astronomy 102, CosmoQuest has a new online course offering for you!

Following the success of the initial 101-level course (CQX 001: Solar System Science), the newest course offering is “CQX 003: Galaxies and Galaxy Clusters”. Just like the previous course offering, CQX003 is an 8-session, 4-week course, which will explore galaxies, galaxy clusters, and brief introduction to cosmology.

“Planets are cool and all, but I’m an extragalactic girl at heart. There is just NO comparison for studying the way that billions of stars interact in some of the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe.” said Nicole Gugliucci (CosmoQuest) via the CosmoQuest Blog. “This class will cover all of that as well as what active galaxies are all about, another one of my favorite subjects. Then it will round up with a brief introduction to cosmology which is truly the study of EVERYTHING.”

Once again, the course will be a hybrid online course with lectures taking place via Google+ hangouts, with course assignments and homework assigned via Moodle. The instructor will once again be yours truly, Ray Sanders. For those not familiar with me, I’m a research assistant at Arizona State University, and have written for Universe Today in the past. I also blog when I have time over at “Dear Astronomer”.

In addition to my lectures, there may also be “guest” appearances from astronomers Dr. Pamela Gay, and Dr. Nicole Gugliucci.

“I love my solar system and its amazing planets and moons, but this class will give you a chance to expand your understanding beyond the solar system and explore the limits of what we know about the universe.” adds Georgia Bracey (CosmoQuest). “Beginning back when the idea of other galaxies was still a matter of debate, you’ll journey forward to examine our present-day understanding of how galaxies are formed and evolve, including a look at some of the hot topics in astronomy like dark matter, dark energy, active galactic nuclei, and the geometry of the universe.”

CosmoQuest has additional courses in the works for students interested in Cosmology, Data Reduction, Geology/Planetary Science, and more.

The cost for the class is $240, and the class is limited to 8 participants, with the possibility for an additional 5 participants. CQX003: Galaxies and Galaxy Clusters begins on November 26th 2012. More information, and a sign up link is at:

Don’t miss this opportunity to combine the convenience of an online class with the lively interaction of a small group of astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts!

Join the Million Crater Challenge

Like a challenge? Right now you can join in a contest to mark a million craters, as part of the Moon Mappers project. “Our challenge to you is to try and observe 1 million craters on the Moon before the full Moon again rises in the evening sky on May 5,” said Dr. Pamela Gay, who leads the Cosmoquest program of citizen science project. “Help us ‘illuminate’ the Moon with new scientific discoveries one crater at a time.”

As an enticement to join in, there are prizes!

There will be prizes for the ten CosmoQuest community members who make the observations closest to each interval of 100,000, and for 10 additional randomly selected community members who participate in this challenge. Prizes include Surly Amy pendants, Astrosphere posters, and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter lithographs.

Are there a million craters on the Moon? Dr. Gay said that with LRO, craters the size on 1 meter can be seen. But for Moon Mappers, participants are asked to identify craters nine meters in diameter. “There are literally millions of craters at that size,” she said.

Moon Mappers is not only fun, but your contributions help build a new scientific understanding of the Moon. The Moon Mappers team has already published their first scientific paper based on the work done by citizen scientists, so help them keep going to discover as much as we can about the Moon.

Check out Moon Mappers!

Moon Mappers! Contribute to Lunar Science

Want to contribute to lunar science? The MoonMappers citizen science project is now live at, and you can become part of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s science team by exploring high-resolution Lunar images and mapping out scientifically interesting features. MoonMappers has been in a testing phase since January, and during the beta period, early participants marked over 150,000 craters and more than 4,000 other interesting features. With your help, scientists will be able to better determine ages of different regions, find historic spikes in the impact rate, determine lunar regolith depth and what may lie under the crust, and make conclusions about the physics of giant explosions on the Moon’s surface.

“Craters can reveal all sorts of different properties about the Moon and planetary surfaces in general,” said project co-science lead Stuart Robbins, from the Southwest Research Institute.
Continue reading “Moon Mappers! Contribute to Lunar Science”

CosmoQuest: Taking Citizen Science to the Next Level

“X” marks the spot for a new place for Citizen Science on the web. It’s called CosmoQuest and the collaborators of this new website invite you to come visit and do more than just click your mouse. Besides contributing to real science for NASA space missions, there are also places to learn, converse, hang out and socialize.

“We’re building a community that recreates an academic and research facility,” said Pamela Gay, from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, who is familiar to listeners of Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy, and readers of her blog StarStryder. “We’ll be doing open science in an open-source way.”

Universe Today is one of the partners for CosmoQuest, along with Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy and the BAUT Forum (Bad Astronomy Universe Today forum) that Fraser Cain and Phil created for online discussion.

“Fraser and Phil successfully built a community within the BAUT Forum, and we see many of the same people there that are subscribers to our podcasts,” said Pamela. “One of the ideas behind CosmoQuest was to see if we could take this community of people that are interested in content and transform them into a community of people who are not just reading about or listening to astronomy and commenting on our feeds, but are also actively engaged in doing astronomy and science and want to learn more.”

Our readers have probably noticed –and hopefully participated in or watched — the new Weekly Space Hangouts that cover the news of the week, and the live telescope feeds that Fraser has been doing with amateur astronomers from around the world. This is all stems from CosmoQuest, and the CosmoQuest website will be the place where you can find all the feeds for the Hangouts and livestream star parties, and soon you’ll be able to sign up to get email notifications of these upcoming events. There will also be podcast feeds, a blog, an events calendar, and a forum. Later, there will be free (and premium) online classes, lectures, and other ways to participate and learn more about astronomy.

“We’ve got amateur astronomers out there who are doing amazing observations with their telescopes,” Fraser said. “We’ll be able to share tips and observing techniques, as well as exposing more people to the night sky. There will also be talks by scientists and experts in the field. In a way, this will be a way for those interested in astronomy to participate and learn without having to pay $1,000 a credit to get an advanced degree.”

But Citizen Science is the major part of CosmoQuest. “We know that the general public who are interested in science can contribute to science in meaningful ways,” said Pamela. “We’re building tools to bring researchers together with the public.”

CosmoQuest’s first project, which is currently in beta, is called Moon Mappers, which uses data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Screenshot from the Moon Mappers tutorial

“Right now in beta, we have full functionality of two interface tasks,” said Stuart Robbins from the University of Colorado Boulder, a co-lead for the Moon Mappers science team. “There are ‘Simply Craters’ and ‘Man vs. Machine.’ In the former, users are asked to draw a circle to trace out a crater. They click in the center of the crater, drag outwards, and release. They can also flag features that they think are interesting to point out to the science team. Man vs. Machine is the same thing, except I’ve run an automated crater detection algorithm to find craters in the image already. We ask users to correct ones it got wrong, remove ones it marked as craters that aren’t, and add craters it missed. We’re trying to study a few things with that interface, including whether it saves time and how we can improve our algorithms.”

The goal of Moon Mappers is to find the most effective and accurate way to map the Moon.

“Do we have people do it all by themselves? Do we have people modify the outputs of crater-finding algorithms (which we know are only accurate to 80% or better)? Under what lighting conditions are both humans and software most accurate in what they do?” Pamela said. “We’re looking at how we can most effectively map the Moon as quickly as possible through a combination of humans and computers using NASA imagery from LRO.”

In beta, they want to find any problems with the interface.

“What we really need are people who don’t know the project to come in and actually use it and point out what we may have missed in terms of functionality, bugs, or other things,” said Stuart. “For example, when we first went live on January 9, there was a user in the Forum discussion, Justin (“Briliu”) who made several interface change suggestions. We’ve made them all.”

They also want to make sure that the tutorials to train the Citizen Scientists works well, which will help in creating future programs, which will include data from the Dawn mission, MESSENGER, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Pamela and Stuart both have ample experience in leading Citizen Science projects, as Pamela has been with the Zooniverse project for several years, specifically Moon Zoo, as has Stuart.

“One of the advantages of Moon Mappers is that because we are a much smaller and more open community we are willing to say yes to almost anything that we have the ability to construct,” said Pamela. “One of our biggest differences from Zooniverse is our intent to go open source with all of our code. This means that in those instances when we can’t help someone, we can say. ‘here is our code, we’ll help you get started.'”

CosmoQuest has already posted the code for their Google Hangout On Air + Twitter social media mashup.

Pamela added that CosmoQuest will differentiate itself by stressing community-building and learning.

Community partners for CosmoQuest include The Planetary Society, Astronomers Without Borders, the Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics and educational partners are the Ward Bleecher Planetarium, Swinburne Astronomy Online and the Galileo Teacher Training Program.

Check out CosmoQuest and Moon Mappers.