Even though NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has already departed Vesta and is on its way to its next target, there is still a lot of science to be done with the pictures it took during its year-long survey of the asteroid. NASA is now seeking the help of citizen scientists to map the craters on Vesta’s surface in an effort to speed up the study. It’s called Asteroid Mappers, and not only does it sound like an old Atari game, but it’s your first chance to contribute to the Dawn mission.
Many online citizen science projects use older NASA data to explore and study, but what makes Asteroid Mappers so special is that it gives you the chance to go through fairly recent and unreleased pics of the Dawn mission. This means that you could conceivably be the first person outside of NASA to see some of these pictures if you choose to join in Dawn’s mission to explore the asteroid belt. According to Universe Today, the project’s purpose is to identify craters, boulders, and other features on the asteroid’s surface. By helping to map these new pics of Vesta you will be playing an active role in Dawn’s mission and helping the mission scientists better understand its surface features.
The Dawn spacecraft just recently left Vesta on its two-and-a-half year journey to Ceres, the biggest object in the asteroid belt. It is Dawn’s mission to study both Vesta and Ceres in an effort to find more out about the conditions of the early solar system. It is hoped that the mission will give us a greater understanding of the process that formed the planets, as well as giving us a strong indication of what stopped some of the proto-planets from reaching bigger sizes. When Dawn arrives at Ceres it will be the first space probe to ever orbit two different objects in the solar system.
If seeing unreleased pics of an asteroid aren’t enough to get you in the citizen science business, then think about this: the feature you help map on Vesta’s surface might even help NASA prepare for our first manned trip to an asteroid. So, if you’ve got some time to kill on your lunch break, why not help a scientist out?