In previous postings (Zooniverse and SOHO Comets ) I’ve given several examples of how you can use your personal computer to “do some real science.” Today, I’ll present yet another opportunity to make a contribution to scientific knowledge by introducing you to the Mars Exploration Program , or “MEP.”
The MEP web site, which is jointly maintained by NASA and the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory , is a collection of data that has been accumulated over the years by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Rover Missions . Once you’ve has a chance to visit the just-mentioned web sites, I’m sure that you will be amazed at the sheer amount of data that has yet to receive more than a cursory evaluation. This is where you and your personal computer enter the picture.
When you click the “Participate ” link, which you will find in the right upper quadrant of the MEP home page you will arrive at the Citizenship Hall page, which is the gateway to the “Citizen Science” pages. On the Citizenship Hall page you will be presented several options.
Map Room (“Find Your Inner Explorer, Help Map Mars”): This is the page that links you to the “real science” projects, such as:
1.Map Mars : In this section, you can “match” images taken during previous Mars missions with those taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to help produce the best maps ever of a planet other than Earth itself.
2. Count Craters : This section is devoted to the task of literally counting the number, and size, of craters on a section of the Martian surface. It may sound dull, but such information is vital in determining the relative age of surface features.
3.Tag Mars : One of the newer science activities, this section asks you to look at pictures taken by the Mars Rovers and report what you see. Since there are over 250,000 images yet to be cataloged, you will see some pretty astounding images if you join this project.
Send Your Name to Mars : This page is neither scientific or instructive, but it does provide a nice ego boost by allowing you to have your name included on a microchip that will travel aboard the next unmanned mission to Mars. You can’t fault NASA for using a decent PR campaign.
Send a Postcard to Spirit : OK, you know and I know that a robot on Mars isn’t going to read a postcard. If you are a teacher that wants a “hook” that will get your elementary school kids interested in science or space exploration, try to find something easier than this.
Mars for Kids : The links on this page lead to activities that are designed to hold the attention of the typical elementary school-age child.
Mars for Students : Similar to the above, but targeted at the middle and high school levels.
Mars for Educators : This page links you to other NASA sites that are targeted toward teachers and education professionals. In all honesty, this is the page that will appeal to most visitors.
To summarize, in addition to containing just about everything the typical Internet user could possibly want to know about the Red Planet, the Mars Science Laboratory pages are well-designed and quite easy to navigate In fact, this site could easily serve as an example of how an interactive web site should be put together. Those wishing to use their home computers for something more productive than e-mail and You Tube music videos should take a few minutes to visit this site.