It’s a pretty big sky – even when we’ve narrowed it down to eight planets instead of nine (I still miss you, Pluto). There are a number of programs out there that are working to chart the numerous objects that are floating around in the black, but one of them is Zooniverse’s Ice Hunter project. The Zooniverse Ice Hunter page allows people to sign in and view images from the New Horizons spacecraft as it continues its journey to Pluto (set to occur July, 2015) and then mark the objects that are viewed in those images (asteroids, KBOs, cosmic rays). To date, the Zooniverse crowd has completed marking up nearly 5 million images with just over 3 million remaining (and more to come). As a result, Zooniverse has found over 1 million objects in space with more marked for review and follow-up.
“We’re flying by a new kind of planet and we’ll be making the most distant encounters with planetary bodies in the history of space exploration,” says Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of the Southwest Research Institute, “We hope the public will be excited to join in with us and with Zooniverse to make a little history of their own by discovering our next flyby target after Pluto.”
If that’s not enough for your inner astronomer, however, you can always visit Spacehack.org which has a list of forums, competitions, and crowdsourcing tasks that are part of various space exploration initiatives. My personal favorite is the setiQuest project which invites visitors to join into the search for other intelligent forms of life. setiQuest is reaching out to a very specific community of data parsers and engineers, however, so I show my support simply by donating to their SETIStars program (their crowdfunding initiative with 18 days left to earn the remaining $100,000 necessary).
Where else might these quests lead us? What space exploration project seems the most interesting to you? Should such highly specific and specialized information be available to just anyone (read: me)? How can you contribute to the final frontier?