Here's a way to mark the year 2001--and take part in your own space odyssey--without leaving your desk. At a new Web site, you can become a "clickworker" who helps planetary scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. After completing the site's short tutorial, you're ready to scrutinize decades-old photos snapped by the Viking orbiters and classify martian craters as fresh, degraded, or "ghost."
Crater data could help answer questions such as how fast the surface of Mars ages and what causes it to change. But scientists and grad students now spend many tedious months classifying the splotches. The Clickworkers pilot project should show the level of interest in this kind of work and whether people with minimal training can perform it accurately, says NASA knowledge engineer Bob Kanefsky.
So far, so good: Since its 17 November launch, Mars Clickworkers has chalked up more than 200,000 crater identifications. And collectively, the amateurs seem to be doing almost as well at crater identification as expert planetary geologists, Kanefsky says. If that continues, the project may expand to newer, higher resolution images from the Mars Global Surveyor.