2012-03-27

Co.Exist

MoonMapper Lets You Explore The Moon's Surface

Don’t think Newt Gingrich’s moon colony is ever going to get off the ground? You can still take a visual trip to the moon, and help scientists out in the process.

Unless you have a couple hundred thousand dollars to throw around, you probably won’t be traveling to space anytime soon. But you can still explore the moon, courtesy of MoonMappers, a project from CosmoQuest that lets anyone with an Internet connection map the moon’s craters.

The project, which uses moon images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, asks users to identify craters on the planet’s surface in the hopes of learning more about lunar soil, erosion processes, materials that may potentially be just under the surface, and more. There are two tools that "citizen scientists" can use: Simply Craters, which asks people to mark craters and interesting images, and Man vs. Machine, which pits human crater-finding skills against an algorithm (and asks users to point out when the algorithm is wrong so it can learn from its mistakes).

Since launching a beta version of the tools in January, participants have found over 400,000 craters and 4,000 other notable features on the moon. The jury is still out on whether humans are better than machines at identifying craters. But machines have about a 70% success rate, so there is plenty of room for humans to improve.

The tools are surprisingly easy to use, even if you have no scientific background. See all the craters in this image? You just mark them with a green circle (like I did on the bottom right) and then click "Done Working" to be taken to the next moon image. If you’re lucky, you might find something else interesting, like hardware from a lunar lander.

If moon exploration isn’t your thing, CosmoQuest plans to make its MoonMappers software open source by the summer. Once that happens, CosmoQuest hopes that scientists will take it upon themselves to use the software for exploring the ocean and other places where a bit of human detective work would pay off.

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