Space buffs take note: A science project called MAPPER is seeking citizen researchers to help aide in the search for off-world life on planets like our close neighbour, Mars.
Before you get all up in a tizzy about controlling a bot that's millions of miles away on the Red Planet however, be warned. This particular project is more of a foundation-laying one that involves video feeds from DeepWorker bots that currently comb the depths of two Canadian lakes. In a report over at Universe Today, we learn that there are some very special formations in these lake beds that could assist scientists with future Mars-based exploratory efforts:
Since 2008, the Pavilion Lake Research Project has used DeepWorker submersible vehicles to investigate the underwater environment of two lakes in Canada (Pavilion and Kelly). With the MAPPER project, citizen scientists can work with NASA scientists and explore the lake bottoms from the view of a DeepWorker pilot.
The project team's main area of focus are freshwater carbonate formations known as microbialites. By studying microbialites that thrive in Pavilion and Kelly Lake, the scientists will gain a better understanding of how the formations develop. Through a greater understanding of the carbonate formations, the team believes they will gain deeper insights into where signs of life may be found on Mars and beyond.
So it's a start. It's also very game-like, with a web interface and "achievements" that users can unlock depending on the volume and value of their observations. There are literally hundreds of thousands of images to look through and analyse, and the MAPPER folks are hoping a community model, much like the protein folding one on the PS3, will help catalogue the data more quickly.
Plus, you have to admit that in the future a "You've just unlocked the 'Discovered Paradigm-Shifting New Life Form On Mars While In Your Underwear' achievement" has a certain kooky charm to it, right? Right.