October 2, 2012 7:01 pm

How would you like to help map the Moon or Vesta?

A composite image of the asteroid, Vesta, taken by the Dawn spacecraft

Mappers needed! You’ll use real images of the asteroid Vesta, like this composite taken by the Dawn spacecraft.
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS, DLR, IDA

How would you like to help map the Moon or Vesta?

Or maybe you’re interested in helping pick out a Kuiper Belt Object for detailed inspection by NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft?

Science fiction? Wish fulfillment? Fantasy? Alternate Reality Game?

No, my friends, this is real reality.

In Moon Mappers, you’ll use images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Narrow Angle Cameras to map small craters on the Moon’s surface that have never been catalogued before.

In Vesta Mappers, you’ll be among the first people to access high-resolution images of Vesta taken by the Dawn spacecraft! You can assist Dawn mission scientists in identifying craters, boulders, and other features.

Finally, in Ice Investigators, you’ll join the search for the perfect KBO (Kuiper Belt Object) for the New Horizons Mission to investigate after it leaves Pluto.

You can do it all on CosmoQuest, a website that describes itself as “The place where you map other worlds, explore our universe, & contribute to science.” CosmoQuest has three projects that you can get involved with for free, and frankly, they need your brains (in a non-zombie sort of way).

You may be familiar with CosmoQuest if you’ve ever attended a Virtual Star Party. (I often hang out there for StarTalk Radio on Sunday nights.) CosmoQuest runs them along with host Fraser Cain. In fact, CosmoQuest is produced in association with Fraser Cain’s Universe Today, Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy, the Planetary Society (Bill Nye, CEO), Astronomers Without Borders, and a host of other excellent organizations. (By the way, the actual producers of the site are the STEM Center at SIUE & Astrosphere New Media.)

Now I know what some of you are thinking. Who wants to spend hours and hours pouring over actual images from our solar system, helping NASA and JPL and possibly contributing to the future of space exploration? After all, there’s probably a repeat of Honey Boo Boo or Jersey Shore that you can watch. And if there’s not, there’s always Angry Birds Space to satisfy your cosmic cravings.

But if that isn’t you, head on over to CosmoQuest.org and jump right in.

The universe beckons.

That’s it for now.

Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons

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