Help Map the Red Planet with NASA’s Be a Martian Citizen Science Initiative!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | April 2, 2014 9:58 am

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Did you know that the famed inventor Nikola Tesla once thought he had observed radio communications from Mars? He wasn’t the only one to be fascinated by the red planet. Mars has held our attention for over a century. And ever since the Mariner 4 spacecraft sent in 1965 suggested the presence of water on Mars, the idea that it was or is habitable to living forms has gained increasing credibility. In fact, the “Are we all Martians?” piece in Discover’s June print edition explores recent findings from Mars exploration that have led some scientists to propose that life may have originated not on Earth, but on Mars!

The basis of much of our research on Mars including the one described above is generated by NASA’s Mars exploration project. It currently includes three spacecraft orbiting Mars and the two active Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and Curiosity that are roaming the Martian surface. These spacecraft generate extraordinary amounts of really useful data that help us understand our neighbor in the solar system.

Analyzing all that data is no mean feat, even for NASA. So they’ve called upon the collective efforts of citizen scientists like you and me to help them perform the task. Through the Be a Martian project, NASA has designed an interactive online environment in which citizen scientists young and old can share the excitement of exploration and discovery while contributing to a truly remarkable citizen science endeavor. The project is easily accessible using a desktop or using the Be a Martian mobile app.

Not only is this a great citizen science project, it is also well suited for classroom based education. It meets many common core and next gen standards for students from first grade all the way to high school. (If you’re a parent or an educator looking to use this as a teaching tool, I definitely encourage you to check out this fantastic blog post by SciStarter’s Karen McDonald!)

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Once you reach the project home page, you can gain entry in one of two ways. You can either create an account giving you ‘Virtual Martian Citizenship’ (which saves your missions and can help you track your progress) or begin participating without an account using an Anonymous Tourist Visa. If you’re 13 years or under, a parent or guardian will need to verify your account for you.

Upon gaining access, you will be taken to the citizenship hall. The hall hosts the citizen science lab, an atlas of Mars and videos about Mars exploration among other really cool content. The ‘Map Room’ is your very own citizen science laboratory and consists of three major projects.

  • Map Mars, in which you will be asked to align images on the surface of Mars to create high resolution maps
  • Count Craters, which as the name suggests is an interactive game in which you count craters on Mars. Crater counts can help estimate the age of different surfaces on Mars
  • Tag Mars, in which you describe features that you see in pictures taken by the Mars rover and help enhance the Mars image database

The projects are all easy to use and have useful links and videos that guide you through in case you need help. For every task you complete, you get 100 Reputation Points to add to your coffers. You can earn badges for reaching certain milestones like completing 10 sets of images. To put it simply, the more you play, the more you earn!

Be a Martian is part of SciStarter’s citizen science database. If you haven’t already, sign up with SciStarter and become a part of the global citizen science movement. You can receive updates about new and exciting citizen science projects that we find and support! (Signing up for SciStarter is optional. You can use the link on the project page to go directly to the NASA website without signing up. However, I encourage you to join us because together, we can grow and improve the citizen science experience!)

So are you ready to be a Martian? Here’s a quick guide to get you started!

  1. Check out the Be a Martian project page on SciStarter
  2. Fill out the brief sign up form on the project home page and get yourself a Martian citizenship. Or start exploring using an Anonymous Tourist Visa.
  3. If you’re the kind who likes to be prepared, watch videos about Mars exploration in the ‘Two Moons Theater’ project and familiarize yourself with the geographic layout using the ‘Tourist Mars Atlas’. If you’re the kind who likes to jump into action straightaway go to Step 4!
  4. Enter the ‘Map Room’ citizen science lab and watch the introductory video describing the project. Then choose an activity.
  5. Found something you like? Start exploring! Map yourself some terrain, count some craters or tag some Martian images.
  6. The fun has just begun! Become a Martian citizen science expert by building up your reputation points and earning badges. Remember that you can save your work only if you create a login to become a Martian citizen.
  7. (Optional but definitely recommended) Tell us how it worked out. Give us a shout out on Twitter or Facebook!

Image Credit: NASA


Arvind Suresh graduated with his MS in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh. Before that, he received his Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera. He dedicates this post in particular to the memory of his grandmother. www.suresharvind.com|Twitter: @suresh_arvind| Linkedin

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  • Natasha Wadlington

    This is an awesome article. I’ll be sure to share it and would participate in the project.

    • http://www.suresharvind.com Arvind Suresh

      Thank you Natasha!

    • Arvind Suresh

      Thanks Natasha! It’s a great project and I had lots of fun writing about it. Let me know your thoughts and feedback when you participate!

  • Juan Mario Inca

    Really interesting Arvind, thanks​!​

    I think that you would be really interested in some of the most cutting-edge research that I have come across explaining crowds, open innovation, and citizen science.​

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1919614

    And you may also enjoy this blog about the same too:
    https://thecrowdsociety.jux.com/

    Powerful stuff, no?

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Citizen Science Salon, brought to you by SciStarter, is where science enthusiasts can join forces with top researchers. We'll feature weekly collaborative, crowdsourced, and DIY research projects that relate to what you're reading about in Discover, so you can take science into your own hands. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

About Arvind Suresh (Editor)

Arvind Suresh graduated has a Master's degree in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh and a Bachelors degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera.

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