The latest in scienceby Anjana Ahuja / July 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Anyone can count birds. And so, in 1900, the Audubon Society inaugurated the Christmas Bird Count, which now asks people to record the number and species of birds they spied over the holiday period. The annual American twitcher tally is now the oldest known citizen science project; more recent projects include SETI@home, which allows you to download a screensaver that uses a computer’s idle time to search for alien signals. Such is the blossoming of amateur enthusiasm that Cornell University has organised a conference on Public Participation in Scientific Research on 4th and 5th August in Oregon to advance citizen science in other fields such as molecular biology.
A Nasa rover named Curiosity will touch down in the Gale Crater on Mars in the early hours of 6th August. The two-year mission, costing a total of $2.5bn, aims to discover whether the Red Planet could have once hosted microbial life. The one-ton rover will test a new landing method: instead of bouncing down on airbags, Curiosity will be deployed from its mother ship using a rocket-powered sky crane, which will lower it down on cables, and then crash land elsewhere. Nasa engineers refer to Curiosity’s short descent as “seven minutes of terror.”