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NASA Needs Your Help Identifying Martian Clouds

A mesospheric cloud seen from the ground by NASA's Curiosity rover.
A mesospheric cloud seen from the ground by NASA’s Curiosity rover. NASA

Planetary scientists have their heads in the clouds. And I mean that in a good way—scientists are identifying Martian clouds to better understand the Red Planet’s atmosphere. But with over 15 years of data to sort through, NASA needs some help from volunteers.

As explained by scientist Marek Slipski (via Wired), the Martian atmosphere is surprisingly cloudy. Some of the planet’s clouds are full of icy-cold H2O, while others contain even colder CO2 (dry ice). Studying these clouds could teach us more about weather patterns and seasons on Mars, or even explain the absence of water from the Martian surface.

An instrument called the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS) has collected atmospheric data on Mars since 2007. But this raw data is a little too complicated for algorithms, which is why NASA scientists have opened a Cloudspotting on Mars campaign. Essentially, volunteers will look at visual representations of Martian data to identify mesospheric clouds.

A heat map used to identify clouds on Mars.
A heat map used to identify clouds on Mars. The faint arc on the left is a cloud. NASA

This visualized data isn’t for the faint of heart—it’s a bunch of white splotches on a black background. Large arcs of blue or white indicate a possible cloud, and NASA wants volunteers to highlight these arcs by hand.

There’s about four months of data in the Cloudspotting on Mars project. Volunteers will look at four photos for every dataset, each with varying contrast and color to help any clouds stand out. And to curb human error, each dataset needs to be verified by 20 volunteers before it’s accepted by NASA.

Once NASA has a bunch of crowdsourced data, it will try to build an algorithm that automatically identifies clouds in these datasets. Going the whole way by hand would take decades, according to Marek Slipski.

If you want to help NASA find Martian clouds, go sign up for the Cloudspotting on Mars project. It’s hosted on Zooniverse, a platform dedicated to crowdsourced projects.

Source: NASA via Wired

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is the News Editor for Review Geek, where he covers breaking stories and manages the news team. He joined Life Savvy Media as a freelance writer in 2018 and has experience in a number of topics, including mobile hardware, audio, and IoT. Read Full Bio »