Archive | June 2011

First scientific results submitted for publication – circular storms

Finally, a little after 1 year from the launch of SSW, we are finding ourselves in the exciting position of having lots of interesting science data to revel in.

I began my first study by looking into the details of the circular storm thread. At first, I thought about drawing circles on top of each frame in the same manner as the initial example shown in my blog. But the shear large number of events that were being identified made this too difficult. So in the spirit of finding a method of analysis that can be repeated quickly and easily for all of the new storms being seen, I started to use the tracks found in J-maps.

I thought that if the front and back edges of these ideal circular storms can be identified with a dark cavity in the middle, then each storm would display 2 tracks in the J-maps. This means that if I measure the distance between each track then I can measure the size of the storm continuously as it moves away from the Sun. Also, if I measure the angle between the top edge – Sun – bottom edge then I can get an estimate of the vertical height of the storm continuously. These two pieces of information allowed me to experiment with 4 of the storms identified in the forum within the circular storm thread.

Below is a picture I created that shows the estimated shape of the storm as it moves away from the sun. The blue shaded region is the average estimated size from the 4 storms analysed. The red shape is an average estimate made from hundreds of storms- but to do this requires mixing statistical estimates from cameras close to the Sun and 1D measurements made when a storm travels over a spacecraft (in situ observations). Below, the Sun is shown as 5 times the real size for clarity, and the axes are shown in solar radii (Rs). Earth is nominally positioned at 215 Rs.

I have now submitted these results for publication, so I would like to thank you for all the effort and hard work that you have put into getting this project off the ground. So if you havent already done so, you still have time to register yourself as officially contributing to the work here !!! 🙂

Well like Chris said in his blog earlier, I’m now off to analyse all the lovely science data from the trace-it tasks. So with a bit of luck you guys will start to hear more regular updates as the science team start ploughing through the results.

Well done everyone and keep up with all the work, as we could not have done it without you.

Neel

HI ho, HI ho, it’s off to work we go!

We’ve been meeting with various people lately who are all interested in using your data analysis in their research. As a result, I thought I’d update you on our plans.

Firstly, thanks to everyone who has been contributing to the real-time forecasting of space-weather events. With the spacecraft now heading towards the far side of the Sun from the Earth, I don’t know how much longer we will be able to forecast Earth-impacting storms so it’s great that we are able to hone our prediction skills while we can! This is all very useful information and will provide valuable insight into designing the follow-on solar missions that will attempt to provide on-going space-weather forecasts. In order to assess how successful we have been with our real-time forecasts, researchers at Imperial College in London will be scrutinising your clicks and comparing our predictions with those from the higher resolution science data. The real-time beacon is much lower in resolution than the science data (used in the trace-it and spot games) and we want to know if that affects our ability to make accurate forecasts. If it does, that is a strong argument to improve the resolution of future real-time space-weather missions. If not, then we can save money by sticking with what we have! Either way, we want to learn what we can from your analysis of the STEREO real-time data.

In addition to the real-time analysis, Neel Savani, one of our Stormwatch regulars, is going to analyse the science data from trace-it and produce some catalogues of the storms we have seen so far. With all your efforts, we should be able to not only provide estimates of speeds and directions but also look at how each storm expands as it travels out from the Sun.

… and what about the dust impacts? I hear you cry. Well, that paper is very close to being submitted but we’re still trying to understand exactly what’s going on there. I will be sure to let you know as soon as we find out!

Meantime, it looks like Neel could win the race for the fist stormwatch paper to be submitted. those of you who have been looking at the forum will have seen that Neel set up a mini-project asking you to look out for perfectly circular storms. Well, it seems he’s been busy preparing a publication on that too.

I haven’t mentioned some of the games here but don’t think that means we’re not using the data from them. We’re just starting to pick through the mountain of information. We’ll get to the others in good time.

In the next few months, we will see the fruits of your labours being put out to the sceintific community for scrutiny. Thank you all so much for your efforts, however much you have been able to do. It’s all much appreciated and we couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Chris.

Science in tents – Cheltenham Sci Fest 2011

I’m just back from 2 days at Cheltenham Science Festival helping to promote Solar Stormwatch and the rest of the Zooniverse with Chris and Steve from the Solar Stormwatch team.

I went prepared with a list of Zooniverse projects to give out and paper models of the STEREO spacecraft. Had to do an emergency repair just outside Birmingham when the S-wave antennae fell off but they more or less survived the journey.

With the help from staff at RAL (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) and The Royal Observatory Greenwich, Solar Stormwatch had a presence on all 6 days of the festival.

 

Me and Steve re-creating the STEREO mission

Our stall was in the Talking Point tent which was a venue for people who had just been to one of the talks to meet up afterwards for Q&A sessions. This was good and bad. Good because this meant we had a regular influx of people and bad because we couldn’t talk to anyone ourselves while the Q&A sessions were happening. However, they tended to happen mid-afternoon so we did have most of the day to lure people into the tent.

The Talking Point and festival goers

The Sun put on a well-timed display on Tuesday with a massive solar flare and CME which was a useful talking point and one of the RAL posters was ideal to show off the Sun.

Solar Flare!

We tried different approaches standing at the door of the tent. Steve’s opener was “Do you have a computer at home?” Chris went with “ Would you like to help us do some science?” I tried “Would you like to help save the Earth?” All of these questions worked to a degree. People listened as we explained how Zooniverse and Solar Stormwatch worked and some of them were aware of the recent CME. The demonstrations of Solar Stormwatch produced lots of satisfying oohs and ahhs as the storms burst out across the screen. People seemed genuinely interested and promised to visit the Zooniverse soon. Solar Stormwatch, Moon Zoo and Old Weather in particular were well received.

Over the 2 days I was there we must have spoken to around 80 people including someone whose father had helped map the Moon for early robotic missions, a huge Patrick Moore fan and a Brian Cox impersonator.

I was very pleased to see an astronomy trail at the festival which lots of groups of school kids were taking part in. There was a slight error in the Sun-Moon distance on the Moon poster but hopefully the teachers spotted it.

Cick the picture for a bigger version

Cheltenham offered a good variety of science – an eclectic mix of serious and fun science with a healthy amount of explosions and smoke coming from some of the tents. Highlights included snail racing in the BBC science Zone, a cold front demo from Reading University using different coloured hot and cold water and a means of getting DNA from soil microbes.

And finally, for those on the forum wondering if there was cake……

Of course there was!


Jules is a volunteer moderator for the Solar Stormwatch forum.

A bit of Citizen Science Communication

If somebody asks you if you’d like to go down to London Town to tell people about how great Citizen Science is there really is only one answer. So I found myself booking yet another London-bound train this time to attend the British Science Association’s Science Communication Conference

The Venue – King’s Place


As this was a science communicators conference there was a mix of educators, writers, media people, organisational representatives and students amongst the attendees.

I was on a panel with Chris Davis, project scientist for the STEREO Heliospheric Imagers and Solar Stormwatch science team guru and Marek Kukula, the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Karen Bultitude from the University of the West of England Science Communication department chaired and introduced our session which was held in one of the concert halls. Apparently the hall sits on rubber springs to ensure it is acoustically separate from the outside world. I didn’t notice the springs but it had the look of a breakfast TV set with an audience. Cosy.

Me, Karen, Marek and Chris on the sofa


Our session was: “Citizen Science: public participation in research.”  We had an hour and a half to talk about the role Citizen Science can play in science communication and data sifting. We were each given a slot to talk about different aspects of Citizen Science.

Very briefly our message was:

  • The digital age is producing data faster than researchers can keep up with it.
  • Design the right interface and the public will be happy to help out.
  • Given good instructions the public can classify things just as accurately as “professionals.”
  • It’s an inspiring concept and a great way to get people interested in science.

Marek was first up and spoke about the creation of the Zooniverse, from it’s early days after a conversation in a pub to the current 8 live projects and 400,000 registered volunteers.

Chris was next on how Solar Stormwatch came to be part of the Zooniverse. He was discussing the huge amount of data that the STEREO mission was producing with Chris Lintott and wondering how it was all going to be analysed and before long another zooniverse project was born. As a result Chris said he was delighted to suddenly have 12,000 research assistants.

I was there to explain why I started taking part in Citizen Science and what I get out of it. There’s more about me here  but my story is simple. I’m a latecomer to science after not studying it at school. The Apollo missions sparked a life-long interest in astronomy and astronomy was what I was hoping to get more involved in when, by chance, I found stardust@home and then Galaxy Zoo. I was in the right place at the right time. Science, it seemed, wanted volunteers to help out. Volunteers like me. Being involved in Citizen Science really has made a difference. It’s given me the confidence and motivation to start studying again and I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to several conferences like this one where I hope some of my enthusiasm rubs off. I can’t help thinking that if Zooniverse-style Citizen Science had been around when I was at school my story would have been very different.

Then we highlighted 3 citizen science projects: Solar Stormwatch, Moon Zoo and the UK Ladybird Survey.

The UK Ladybird Survey


The question and answer session produced some good questions covering all aspects of Citizen Science.

  • Are volunteers classifications accurate (yes, for Galaxy Zoo we are at least on a par with experts)
  • What do you do about rogue classifiers (crowdsourcing has built in error correction)
  • How are papers based on Citizen Science treated (just as rigorously as any others)
  • How do we recruit volunteers (conventional and social media)
  • How many people taking part visit the forum (not enough!!)
  • And a couple of people asked how they could start their own Citizen Science project

Someone also asked if volunteers should be involved in leading the research. My response was that I’m quite happy being led – being one of Chris’ 12,000 research assistants – but liked the fact that the data was made available so that anyone had the opportunity to do their own research if they wanted to.

The live audience participation in Moon Zoo Boulder Wars was a success.

There is a  Twitter storyfy of Day 2 here or you can search the hashtag #SCC2011.

The conference tweet tag cloud by @andrea_fallas

We had lots of guests on both the Solar Stormwatch and Moon Zoo forums that night. I just hope some of them stay to see what all the fuss is about.


Jules is a volunteer moderator for the Solar Stormwatch and Moon Zoo forums