Citizen scientists who are interested in the Moon can find a wide range of activities. Whatever your level of ability, resources, and interest, there is a citizen-science activity you can participate in.

Moon Zoo

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is now in orbit around the Moon, returning images of the lunar surface in unprecedented detail. Through the Moon Zoo website, you can learn how to interpret LRO images, have the images delivered to your computer, and become part of the LRO team. Moon Zoo provides two activities, Crater Survey and Boulder Wars.


Moon Mappers

Moon Mappers is another site where citizen scientists are helping identify craters in LRO data. Moon Mappers has a man-versus-machine competition, where you pit your crater-matching skills against computer algorithms. The results of your work will be used by computer scientists to improve the crater-matching algorithms. This provides you with an opportunity to contribute to machine learning as well as lunar science.


Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project

If you’re interested in a more self-directed project, NASA’s Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project has created a portal and tools you can use to search, view, and analyze lunar images and other digital products. The LMMP provides a one-stop shop for lunar data. Using the LMMP web portal, you can download and overlay the latest LRO data including surface imagery, altimetry, spectral reflectance, temperature, and lighting data. You can also access data from past US missions (Apollo, Lunar Orbiter, Lunar Prospector, and Clementine) and foreign missions (Kaguya and Chandrayaan).

Available data includes image mosaics, digital elevation models, gravity models, local hazard assessment maps of slope, surface roughness, crater and boulder distribution, and resource maps such as soil maturity, hydrogen abundance, and other elemental abundances.

LLMP also provides two tools for visualization, manipulation, and analysis of data. Lunar Mapper is a light weight, web-based geographic analysis client. ILIADS (Integrated Lunar Information Architecture for Decision Support application) is a desktop geospatial information system.

Citizen-science projects can use LLMP data in many ways. Some of the possibilities include evaluation and selection of potential landing sites for future missions, design and placement of landers and bases, design of rovers, development of terrain-relative navigation systems, assessment and planning of scientific traverses, scientific analysis and discovery, and integration of lunar data into classroom activities and educational curriculum.

Lunar Meteoroid Impact Observation, Transient Phenomena, and Topographical Studies

If you have access to a telescope with a diameter of 8 inches or larger, you can join the Lunar Meteoroid Impact Observation Program, which is run by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office and the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers. The Lunar Meteoroid Impact Observation Program observes and records flashes from meteoroid impacts on the surface of the Moon. Impact events have played a dominant role in the formation of the Moon’s surface and are believed to be sources for the tenuous lunar atmosphere and lunar dust environment.

The Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers was founded in 1947 to foster collaboration between professional and amateur astronomers. ALPO collects and coordinates amateur observations of planets, their satellites, comets, and meteors.

In addition to the Lunar Meteoroid Impact Observation Program, ALPO’s Lunar Section has two other programs. The Lunar Transient Phenomenon Program looks for  mysterious short-lived changes in the Moon’s appearance such as lights, glows, mists, and obscurations. The Topographic Studies and Selected Areas Program studies bright and banded craters, dark haloed craters, bright rays, surface swellings known as lunar domes, and changes in the albedo of selected features.

For join one of these programs, contact the ALPO Lunar Section.


The MoonKAM project, administered by Sally Ride Science, is a citizen-science program aimed at middle-school students. Young citizen scientists can photograph the Moon using digital cameras aboard NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar orbiters.

Each of the two GRAIL probes, dubbed Ebb and Flow, carries four MoonKAM cameras. Three cameras with wide-angle lenses look forward, backward, and down. One camera with a telephoto lens looks down. The MoonKAM project, which began March 12, allows fifth-to-eighth-grade students to select target areas and request MoonKAM images of those areas using a web browser interface. The mission has now been extended.

Details on the MoonKAM project are available here. Interested schools can register here.


Lunar Nanosats

Hardware hackers who are looking for an ambitious project might consider building their own lunar orbiter. Technology has advanced so rapidly that building small satellites is well within the range of skilled hobbyists. Getting the satellite into lunar orbit remains a challenge, but new propulsion systems may change that.
Anyone who’s interests run along those lines might want to attend the annual Interplantetary CubeSat Workshop.

Google Lunar X-Prize

Those looking for a greater challenge might want to enter the Google Lunar X-Prize competition, a $30-million challenge where teams compete to land a rover on the Moon and achieve specified science goals. More than 30 teams have already signed up.

Space Adventures lunar mission

The most ambitious citizen-science project, certainly, would involve sending humans to the Moon. This is also within reach, if you have the budget for it. Space Adventures is offering a commercial lunar mission. The mission profile calls for a Russian Soyuz capsule to dock with an upper stage in Earth orbit, then use the upper stage engine to leave orbit on a free-return trajectory to the Moon. The Soviet Union demonstrated the ability of Soyuz capsules to perform circumlunar missions during the Cold War Moon race. Those test flights were unmanned, though. To start work on the lunar mission, Space Adventures needs two paying customers. (The third Soyuz seat would be occupied by a Russian cosmonaut pilot.) The cost is $100 million per seat, and Space Adventures has already booked one seat.
SpaceX plans to offer similar flights with its Dragon capsule and Falcon Heavy rocket, but it will be a few more years before SpaceX is ready.
Written by Astro1 on April 9th, 2012 , Astronomy, Lunar Science, Nanosatellites, Space Adventures, SpaceX Tags:

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