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New game ‘Trace It’ released along with more ‘Spot’ data

The long-awaited new game ‘Trace it’ is released today and represents a rolling up of the metaphorical sleeves as we seriously get into analysing the data from the NASA STEREO mission. Thanks to all your efforts with the ‘Spot’ game we have now identified the solar storms in the STEREO HI data up to February 2010. In ‘Trace it’, we use the information you gave us about the start time of these storms and mark these times on a more abstract data product that solar scientists call j-maps (the reasons are somewhat convoluted but we like to think ours are named after Jackie who is the person responsible for creating them).

Trace it example three - after

In these plots we have taken slices through a sequence of images and stacked them to produce a collage of distances versus time for each storm, which appears as gently curling lines on each j-map. We do this because the edges of storms are sometimes difficult to pick out in the images but the human brain is very good at picking out lines in an image. In ‘Trace it’ we ask you to mark points along each storm track. By running your points through our analysis programs here at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, we will be able to calculate a more precise speed and direction for each storm. Once you have become used to this new way of looking at the data, we want to move on to viewing the real-time data in the same way, and then the fun really begins ūüôā

Don’t think we’ve finished with the ‘Spot’ game though, we have uploaded all the movies since February 2010 and, as you will have seen in the fuzzy real-time data, there have been quite a few new storms lately. You may have thought it was insanely active already but the Sun is only just beginning to wake up so hang on, it’s going to be an interesting ride and we need you more than ever if we are going to keep up!

Thanks again for your efforts so far,


My solar stormwatch

Now that many of you have been tracking solar storms for some time, we are starting to build up enough data to identify some storms from the large numbers of people identifying them. If your estimates have agreed with others, you should now have these events listed in the ‘My Solar Stormwatch’ area of your user account along with the names of all the other zooites that agreed with you. As we identify more storms we will be asking you to investigate each one in more detail in future games but in the meantime, allow yourself the self-indulgence of sitting back with a warm satisfied feeling that you are doing well or maybe even indulge in a virtual group-hug (amongst consenting zooites of course!). Whether you are included in a group or not, don’t stop clicking just yet though. If you are now a seasoned tracker or coming to the site for the very first time, there are still plenty of events out there that need more clicks before they can be positively identified. Thanks to your hard work and enthusiasm, we’re really starting to see some results!


We get a radical perspective when you work as a collective.

Thanks to everyone for their efforts so far. Now that we have had a significant number of storms tracked, we can start looking at the data in order to see how we are progressing but please carry on tracking those storms! I’ll let you know as soon as anything interesting turns up. I’ve been really impressed by the care, commitment and enthusiasm, especially on the solar stormwatch forum where any number of interesting discussions have broken out. So if you’ve a burning question you would like answered, or just wanted to drop by to say ‘hi’ there are threads from comets to force-shields, doughnuts to cat’s eyes as well as some fabulous stormwatch inspired art (my favourite so far being the homage to Andy Warhol). In my experience, there’s no such thing as a stupid question and the Zooniverse seems to be a place where innocent enquiries lead to real scientific discoveries that would otherwise be missed.


Solar Stormwatch is go!

Day 1 of solar stormwatch! A warm welcome to everyone, from the seasoned zooites who helped us test the beta version to those of you who have just found us! The NASA STEREO mission was launched in 2006 and we have been viewing the Sun ever since from two (almost) identical spacecraft, one drifting ahead of the Earth (we call this STEREO Ahead or STEREO A) and the other drifting behind the Earth (you guessed it, STEREO Behind or STEREO B). These spacecraft give us a unique view of the Sun and solar wind and we would like you to help us scrutinise the many thousands of images we have taken so that we can learn more about solar storms and anything else that you happen to see.

We have now added all the data from the STEREO mission so far and will continue to add it as it comes back from the spacecraft. So, if it’s raining, snowing or even dark, come on in and see what the Sun is doing! You’ll be helping us to understand our nearest star. How cool is that?


Nearly there…

Thanks to everyone who has helped us with the testing of the Solar Stormwatch site over the last few weeks. With your help we are now almost ready to release the final version, where you will be able to look at all the STEREO data. We have been analysing your¬†estimates of solar storm speeds and¬†positions and for those storms that we¬†have already studied in detail,¬†we know that the interface is working and¬†I’m very excited about this as it means that we can now extend our analysis to many more storms.¬†

I¬†am excited enough about the storms¬†and certainly wasn’t anticipating a totally unexpected discovery – the occurrence of many more dust tracks in the data than we had previously identified. This is fabulous stuff. Once we have¬†scrutinised the whole data set, this will tell us about the distribution of dust around the Sun in more detail than we would previously have been able to achieve from our images. See the detailed discussion on the solarstormwatch forum for more information.

I continue to be amazed by the scientific possibilities that are unleashed by the dedication of zooites and can’t wait to see what else we can discover together.

Solar Stormwatch needs you!

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Solar Stormwatch needs you! It is now over three years since the launch of the NASA STEREO satellites and in this time they have taken many hundreds of thousands of images of our nearest star. My colleagues and I have been valiantly scrutinising these images for signs of solar activity and, more importantly, for solar storms that are heading towards the Earth. Each storm contains around a billion tons of hot solar gases travelling at a million miles an hour and their passage represents a severe radiation hazard to both spacecraft and astronauts.

Tracking these storms through space is very important if we are to provide a space weather forecast for satellite operators and astronauts and the STEREO mission is demonstrating that this can now be done. STEREO is a science mission however, and our efforts are concentrated on figuring out what has happened after the event, much in the same way that forensic scientists piece together a crime from the clues that are left behind. We simply don’t have the resource to be looking at the data in real-time to provide an up-to-date forecast of solar conditions. We need your help.

The Galaxy Zoo volunteers have already shown the power of motivated communities to provide valuable scientific scrutiny to overwhelming amounts of scientific data. We would like to tap into your amazing enthusiasm to help us piece together the stories of past storms and, once you have got your eye in, to scrutinise the real-time data in order to provide real-time alerts to those in the direct firing line, such as the crew of the International Space Station.

My team and I have only managed to study a handful of events so far. With your help, we can analyse many more events and do so in a way that is free of the subjective bias introduced by one person sat in his office making arbitrary decisions. That one person is me, and I need your help! Together we can use STEREO images to learn what it takes to make an accurate forecast of space weather conditions. Space exploration will always be a risky business but with an accurate space-weather forecast, astronauts will have one less thing to be worrying about as they leave the relative safety of Earth orbit and start to explore our solar system.

Chris Davis