Want some help scanning the skies over outback Australia for shooting stars? Crowdsource it! And while you’re at it, educate the crowd. That’s the bright idea behind Curtin University’s Fireballs in the Sky project.
This project will include ordinary people in the research process, improving their scientific literacy and especially their understanding of planetary research.
The long-term aim of the project is to bring citizen scientists, particularly in remote locations in Western and South Australia, into the Desert Fireball Network – an international scientific collaboration that uses a network of cameras in outback Australia to photograph the fall of meteorites, greatly increasing the chances of finding and recovering them for further investigation.
Meteorites generate a fireball as they fall through Earth’s atmosphere. By making networked observations of the fireball, scientists are able to triangulate its trajectory. This can help them determine both where it lands and where it came from in the solar system.
“This is not something we’re doing just for the sake of engagement,” says Gemma Mullaney, Geoscience Outreach Officer at Curtin University.
“It’s about giving the public access to something not normally accessible – the workings of a real, legitimate research project.”
The foundation stage of the project is well underway, with a website up and running and a smartphone application close to completion. The app will help citizen scientists log observation times and GPS locations.
In 2014, the website will allow the public to participate by inputting their own data for the meteorites they observe. People will also be able to see images from the network’s cameras and read results and blogs from the field, seeing the research project as it happens, contributing to it, and experiencing the highs (and the occasional lows) that are part and parcel of scientific endeavour. They may even be involved in meteorite retrieval.
In the meantime, Gemma and her colleagues are engaging with the community by participating in existing events and festivals, such as Curtin University’s annual Astrofest.
“We’ve been able to take advantage of events that are already happening and learn from them,” says Gemma. “In the next stage, we’ll start making our own!”
Visit the Fireballs in the Sky website.