2,348 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
The 2012 MacArthur fellows were recently announced, recognizing some of the brightest minds humanity has to offer. One of the 23 fellows is Olivier Guyon, an optical physicist and astronomer who, according to his bio, designs “telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation that play a critical role in the search for Earth-like planets outside our solar system."
It turns out that aside from building innovative telescopes, Guyon plans to use some of his fellowship funds to crowdsource planet hunting.
“One direction that… the fellowship is going to, I hope, help me push [into] is involving the public and amateur astronomers in the search and discovery of exoplanets,” Guyon said in a video discussing his fellowship, referring to extrasolar planets. “In the last two years, I’ve been working on how to make this technique affordable and easy for amateur astronomers, schools, and the general public, to actually implement in their back yard. I’m really hoping that in the next few years, I can help others to use the technique to discover planets and to engage the public and amateur astronomers into actual scientific research.”
The plan is to have amateur astronomers with quality cameras go out and take pictures of the night sky. Using specially crafted software, even Cannon DSLR pictures can identify stars' luminosity. Monitoring stars' brightness over time is key to finding new planets because when a star appears duller, it can mean that a planet is passing in front of it. Guyon plans to create an open-source database with this information, making it easier to identify which stars dim at regular intervals, implying that planets are orbiting around them.
While the idea may not seem like the sexiest application of crowdsourcing, we’ve seen initiatives like this succeed in the past. Think, for example, of Galaxy Zoo, which asks users to identify the shapes of galaxies. And the excitement around the Curiosity Mars rover, which helped launch a number of space-related crowdfunding campaigns, showed that people are genuinely interested in contributing to science. The hardest part for Guyon figures to be getting users to contribute on a regular basis, something he could incentivize by inviting the top submitters to tour his lab, for example.
Don’t be surprised if Guyon can pull off a successful crowdsourcing initiative around planet hunting. He certainly has the intellectual clout to make it work -- MacArthur Fellowships aren’t called ‘genius grants’ for nothing, after all.