They are among us. Observing. Experimenting. They may be your friends and neighbors. They are in the long tail of science. They are… Citizen-Scientists.
A couple of weeks ago, amateur astronomers charted the once-every-hundred-years-or-so transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. In anticipation, California software maker Esri created and released a smartphone app that allowed people to capture their observations of the rare event. The app also uploaded the data to Esri’s online map in real time. From it, they garnered data on observation points and times as well as some really cool photos of the event.
It’s a great example of Citizen Science, defined as any kind of scientific research done by non-professional scientists. The people at Esri are certainly professional software developers, but with their smartphone app, they were able to tap into the motivations and purposes of hobbyist-astronomers everywhere. The app gave zealous skywatchers a great excuse to have a lot of fun with their hobby and at the same time contribute to the growing body of knowledge about our solar system.