NET NEWS: Crater Raters

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Science  26 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5504, pp. 559
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5504.559a

Here's a way to mark the year 2001 (cue bombastic music) and take part in space exploration without leaving your desk. You can become a “clickworker” who helps scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in California identify martian craters. After completing the site's short tutorial, you're ready to scrutinize photos snapped by the Viking orbiters in the 1970s and early 1980s and classify the circles you spot as fresh, degraded, or “ghost.”

Crater data could help answer questions such as how fast the surface of Mars ages and what causes it to change. But scientists and grad students now spend many tedious months classifying the splotches. The Clickworkers pilot project should show the level of interest in this kind of work and whether people with minimal training can perform it accurately, says NASA knowledge engineer Bob Kanefsky.

So far, so good: Since its 17 November launch, Mars Clickworkers has chalked up more than 200,000 crater identifications and 60,000 gradings. And collectively, the amateurs seem to be doing almost as well at crater identification as expert planetary geologists, Kanefsky says. If that continues, the project may expand to newer, higher resolution images from the Mars Global Surveyor.

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