About 20 years ago, I contributed a few extra cycles of my home computer to the SETI@Home project. When my PC was idle, it would spend a little bit of processing power helping to analyze radio telescope data in the search for extraterrestrial life. It was an early experience with citizen science, essentially crowd-sourcing scientific research, with mass contributions made more viable by the proliferation of computers and Internet connectivity.
Fast-forward to today. The near ubiquity of GPS-enabled mobile phones has enabled new opportunities to crowdsource citizen science, some more arcane even than searching for ET. Check out SciStarter for a database of opportunities. Today, I downloaded Dark Sky Meter, an app that lets me contribute to the monitoring of light pollution. Unfortunately, it’s an overcast sky tonight, but light pollution is something worth addressing. Check out Ian Cheney’s documentary, The City Dark, if you’re interested in learning more. (The link is here, if I can’t get the embed code to work.) I’ll be pointing my iPhone at the night sky as soon as the weather clears.