The Stars Our (Internet) Destination

September 15, 2010
By Henry Kenyon

Throughout time, humans have explored their surroundings, crossing oceans and landmasses in pursuit of knowledge and glory. This thirst for knowledge also turned eyes skyward, causing the curious to try to understand the vastness of existence around the planet Earth. As technology advanced, the desire to venture into the cosmos became increasingly possible, until man walked on the moon and equipment traveled much farther away. Fortunately for those who are still on terra firma, gathering information about the universe is much easier than launching on a rocket ship. People can learn and discover more about deep space through adventures in cyberspace without the need for oxygen tanks or special suits.


Zooniverse is a chance for everyone to get in on the space exploration action. The website is home to five astronomy citizen science projects that are produced, maintained and developed by the Citizen Science Alliance. This alliance is a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators that works with volunteers to help professionals deal with the astronomical levels of available space data. Amateur astronomers who want to participate in the analysis and discussion can create an account that will access all of the projects in Zooniverse and keep track of what users already have contributed. The five current live projects are: Moon Zoo, a chance to explore the moon in unprecedented detail using images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter; Galaxy Zoo: Hubble, a way for the public to help astronomers determine how galaxies form and evolve by classifying their shape; Solar Stormwatch, an effort focused on spotting solar explosions and tracking them to Earth; Galaxy Zoo: Mergers, an opportunity to assist astronomers in understanding merging galaxies; and Galaxy Zoo: Supernovae, a chance to find an exploding star. More than 300,000 amateur astronomers already are taking advantage of the projects to work with professionals around the world.

This site is dedicated to studying life throughout space for everyone from scientists to government officials to the general public. Astrobiology focuses on the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe including searching for habitable environments in the Earth's solar system and habitable planets beyond. Part of NASA's Astrobiology program, the site includes information on NASA's missions as well as other news and journal pieces and links to more detailed information. Visitors can even "Ask an Astrobiologist" a question if they fail to find the answer anywhere on the site. Space junkies might want to spend some extra time poking around the rest of the NASA site to find information about other initiatives and projects.

Visitors can use the detailed star map on the homepage of this site to search for celestial bodies. When the cursor comes in contact with certain objects, dialogue boxes appear that provide information. A menu on the right side of the page hosts information about "Attractive Spots in the Universe." Users can click on an item for more information and pictures. The "Getting Started" section explains the features of the site and how to use them so people can get the most out of their visit. The "News@Sky" link brings up another star chart, but this one has little icons representing various news outlets. Placing the cursor on an icon causes a dialogue box with headlines to appear. "The Collection" link takes users to a photo gallery of celestial objects organized by category. Visitors also can create accounts that enable them to contribute to the site's forum.

Interactive Mars Habitat
Wonder what life for humans would be like if they lived on Mars? Visitors to this site can learn more about Earth's neighbor as well as the types of technologies necessary for humans to inhabit it. Controls at the bottom of the graphic pane allow users to explore the Red Planet, the "Home Base," rovers and a greenhouse. In addition, the site features an overview of a simulated mission to and facts about Mars.

Amazing Space
This site mixes interactive activities and facts to help teach the public about space, especially building on discoveries by Hubble. Much of the material is focused for the everyday person to learn more, but teachers can take advantage of special resources developed for them. For all the students on the receiving end of space assignments, the site also has a "Homework Help" section. Skywatchers will want to take advantage of the "Tonight's Night Sky" videos-available in several formats-to learn what celestial objects can be found and how to identify them during the current date range in the Northern Hemisphere.

These sites are not affiliated with AFCEA or SIGNAL Magazine, and we are not responsible for the content or quality of the products offered. When visiting new Web sites, please use proper Internet security procedures.

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