Australian citizen scientists are helping to catch shooting stars in the vast skies of outback Australia and to track the impact of climate change on species in our warming oceans.
Curtin University’s Fireballs in the Sky project invites people to use a smartphone app to record and submit the time, location, trajectory and appearance of meteors they spot.
By triangulating these reports with observations from an array of cameras in remote Western and South Australia, scientists can try to determine where the meteorite may have come from and where it landed.
The participants get to experience the highs (and occasional lows) of scientific endeavour, as well as learning about planetary science.
“It’s about giving the public access to something not normally accessible—the workings of a real, legitimate research project,” says Gemma Mullaney, Geoscience Outreach Officer at Curtin University.
Meanwhile, marine biologists working on the Range Extension Database and Mapping project—or ‘Redmap’—are tracking shifts in species distributions using photographs taken by divers and fishers. Redmap was inspired by a finding that 80 per cent of Tasmanian rock lobster fishers didn’t consider climate change a problem, despite observing its effects on the marine environment.
“The public often don’t get the science of climate change modelling,” says Gretta Pecl, Redmap founder and senior research fellow at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania.
“But people understand the simple idea that fish that prefer warmer waters might move farther south if the oceans are warming.”
The involvement of citizen scientists enables the project to cover a huge area, and helps identify and prioritise locations and species for future research. The two projects are amongst some 63 backed by Inspiring Australia.