If you’re like us, you humbly assume that scientists are obviously better than you at making scientific observations. However, a new study has revealed that when it comes to counting craters on alien landscapes, Joe Schmoe might be just as competent as Dr. Joe Schmoe. A recent study from Colorado University-Boulder suggests that citizen scientists might be just as proficient at doing inventory on craters as their professional counterparts.
Stuart Robbins, a research scientist at CU Boulder, led this study by using the citizen science website CosmoQuest. CosmoQuest boasts an interface that allows interested parties to access data gathered by various NASA space craft. Specifically, it allows users to explore in detail the surfaces of Vesta, Mercury, and our moon.
Robbins first set a group of pros to task, having them all count craters on the same given area. The first thing he found was that even these experts didn’t all agree on what was and wasn’t a crater. Stranger still, after putting a handful of amateurs on the job, he found that these nobodies actually identified the craters with even higher accuracy! Go us!
Counting craters isn’t just a way for citizen scientists to feel like part of the party – it’s important to understanding the history of planets and moons. Unlike Earth, the moon hasn’t experienced many surface-altering periods of geologic transformation. This means that a higher density of craters in a given area might mean a longer period of time for which it’s been getting peppered with space rocks. In this way, a given area of the moon’s surface could potentially be aged by how many craters it has.
With an estimated 500 million craters visible on the moon’s surface, there’s still plenty of work to do if you feel up to the challenge. And don’t forget Vesta and Mercury – there are plenty of CosmoQuest hours to be logged counting craters on their surfaces as well. You don’t want the fine photographic work of the Dawn and MESSENGER space crafts to go to waste now, do you?
What other of scientific processes could conceivably be expedited by crowdsourcing efforts? Does the apparent subjectivity of the expert crater counting session make you worry about other scientific conclusions we take at face value? Tell us in the comment section below!