Feature | April 11, 2018

Citizen Scientists

Lauren Farmer, a citizen scientist in Canberra, Australia, who collects Earth science data through the GLOBE Observer Program, helped obtain the program’s most northerly observation at the Geographic North Pole.

Lauren Farmer, a citizen scientist in Canberra, Australia, collects Earth science data through the GLOBE Observer Program. During the last Arctic summer, she helped obtain the program’s most northerly observation at the geographic North Pole. (Image Courtesy of Lauren Farmer)

By Elizabeth Landau

Do-it-Yourself Science: Because We Are All Explorers

In the mornings, Sylvia Beer sits at the desktop computer in her living room with a cup of coffee and looks for ridges on Mars. Her town of Wodonga, Australia, gets so hot that in summer she begins scanning Mars images at 4 a.m., when she takes medication for Parkinson’s disease. The condition sometimes affects her memory and movement she uses a cane or walker to get around, and can’t walk as far as she’d like but her passion for learning about space has not suffered.

Fernando ridge
Citizen scientists using Planet Four: Ridges look for networks of polygonal ridges like these, seen by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

“It’s been since I was about 5 years old. It’s been in my blood since then,” said Beer, now 61. “Just the wonderment and trying to understand how everything goes together and works I just love it.”

Beer is one of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide participating in “citizen science” initiatives using NASA data that allow anyone, regardless of education or background, to collaborate in real scientific research. Many enthusiastic amateurs have day jobs as wide ranging as making furniture, teaching and leading cruises in the Arctic and Antarctica. And the projects they collaborate on make valuable discoveries: networks of ridges on Mars, a meteor impact on Jupiter and even previously unknown systems of planets orbiting other stars, known as exoplanets.

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Making a Mark on History

Citizen Scientists of History

Meet some amateur scientists who made a mark on history

Anna Atkin

Anna Atkin
Anna Atkin

Capturing the scientific process in photographs started with Anna Atkins. She was a 19th century English botanist who laid the groundwork for scientific books illustrated with photography.

She created cyanotypes, images made by placing objects directly onto light-sensitive paper. Using this method, Atkins captured the plants and algae she was studying in the form of beautiful silhouettes that provided a detailed and accurate representation of their form. Some consider her Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions the first example of a book that uses photographs as illustrations.

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Five Extraordinary Citizen Science Discoveries

Citizen Science Opportunities at NASA

Citizen Science Opportunities

The following is a partial list of citizen scientist projects that involve NASA personnel.


Process and discuss images from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, currently orbiting Jupiter:

Planet Four: Ridges

Help scientists explore the surface of Mars:

GLOBE Observer

Collect environmental observations of clouds and mosquitoes:


Help scientists by collecting observations of aurorae:

Backyard Worlds: Planet 9

Search data for exotic objects such as brown dwarfs and the possible Planet 9:

Disk Detective

Search for debris disks around stars:

Project Panoptes

Find out how to build low-cost, robotic telescopes to find transiting exoplanets:

Landslide Reporter

A project to build open global landslide data for science and decision-making.

NASA Solve

A one-stop-shop website for opportunities to participate in challenges, prize competitions, and citizen science activities that develop solutions for problems related to NASA’s mission.

More About Citizen Science Projects at NASA