Citizen Scientists Prove Their Worth At Counting Lunar Craters
March 14, 2014

Citizen Scientists Count Lunar Craters

[ Watch the Video: Crater Identification Variability Using Citizen Scientists ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Citizen scientists are just as good as real scientists when it comes to identifying craters on the moon, according to researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Researchers asked volunteers to count a particular patch of surface on the Moon using NASA images to identify craters and compared their results with professional crater counters. They discovered that it doesn’t take years of experience to be good at counting craters.

“The new research points out that crowdsourcing is a viable way to do planetary science,” Research Scientist Stuart Robbins of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, who led the study, said in a statement.

The study involved eight professional planetary crater counters who had a range of five to 50 years of experience in this field. They compared the professionals’ ability to count craters with several thousand amateur crater counters from every corner of the globe.

“What we can say is that a very large group of volunteers was able to chart these features on the moon just as well as professional researchers,” Robbins said. “More importantly, we now have evidence that we can use the power of crowdsourcing to gather more reliable data from the moon than we ever thought was possible before.”

Images in the study were obtained by a camera onboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched in 2009. The pictures featured small portions of the moon and the volunteers were asked to identify craters in the images that were at least 18 or more pixels, which is a crater that is about 35 feet.

The researchers found that even the total craters counted by experts in a single image varied by as much as 100 percent. However, when taking the average done by the group, the population of craters found by the experts and citizen scientists were statistically similar.

Robbins said the citizen scientists in this project are helping professionals explore the lunar surface, including spotting hazards and safe havens for future missions.

“The results from the study were very reassuring to us,” he said. “Without this first step of verifying the accuracy of volunteer crater counters, there would be no point in continuing the project. Our study results mean we can now use the power of crowdsourcing to gather more data than we ever thought possible before.”

The researchers reported their crater counting study in the journal Icarus earlier this month.