Citizen scientists sought for project to age the surface of Mars

02 Apr 2015 15:43:40.803

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A new web-based citizen science initiative is offering members of the public the chance to take part in research that could help to transform our understanding of the planet Mars.

The citizen scientists will be asked to use Planet Four: Craters to analyse the latest satellite imagery of the Martian surface to mark the position of craters, which will help to inform future missions to the Red Planet.

Planet Four: Craters is the product of a two-year collaboration between Adler’s Planetarium’s Zooniverse Team and researchers at The University of Nottingham’s Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training.

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Visitors to the site at will use one of several different interface designs and will be able to give their thoughts and opinions on the pros and cons of each through an online questionnaire. The feedback will help to improve the design of future versions of Planet Four and many other citizen science projects.

“Planet Four: Craters is exciting because it not only allows members of the public to directly contribute to planetary research in a very real way, but also lets them tell us what they like and dislike about the interface, so that we can improve their experience in the future,” said James Sprinks, PhD candidate at Horizon and Lead of the Planet Four: Craters project. 

“With public participation in this research, not only can anyone actively contribute to science, but hopefully they may learn a little bit about the planet Mars, and get to see amazing images of the surface in the process.”

The Zooniverse, a project led by the Adler Planetarium and the University of Oxford, is the world’s leading — and largest — citizen science platform, which has engaged more than one million online volunteers as active scientists on more than 30 science projects.

Planet Four: Craters has been developed by James as part of his studies at the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training, an innovative PhD programme based around the digital economy which combines a PhD research project with training in interdisciplinary research innovation skills.

Visitors to the user-friendly site are taken to one of the interfaces, shown a satellite image of the Martian surface and asked to mark the outline of any craters they can spot using a set of drawing tools supplied. At any point on the site they can click on a link to the online questionnaire to share their thoughts and opinions to help make future Zooniverse projects easier to use.

By knowing the size and number of craters on an area of the Martian surface, scientists can work out its age. Assuming a brand new surface has zero craters, and estimating the rate at which impact craters are formed over time, they can work out how long it has taken for the number of marked craters found by the public to appear, and therefore determine the age of the surface.

Knowing the age of the surface could allow scientists to more accurately estimate the planet’s seismic activity which could in turn help to calibrate instrumentation on space probes and manned missions to Mars in the future.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers, in the top 10 for student experience according to the Times Higher Education and winner of ‘Research Project of the Year’ at the THE Awards 2014. It is ranked in the world’s top one per cent of universities by the QS World University Rankings, and 8th in the UK by research power according to REF 2014.

The University of Nottingham in Malaysia (UNMC) is holding events throughout 2015 to celebrate 15 years as a pioneer of transnational education. Based in Semenyih, UMNC was established as the UK's first overseas campus in Malaysia and one of the first world-wide.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from James Sprinks at the Horizon Doctoral Training Centre, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)7774 000 156,

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