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Sun Microsystems Space NASA Science

Scientists Need Volunteers To Look At the Sun 110

Posted by Soulskill
from the ow-that-hurts-it's-a-trap dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that Royal Observatory's 'Solar Stormwatch' needs volunteers to help scientists spot Sun storms — known as coronal mass ejections — before they cause damage on Earth. 'When you look up at the Sun obviously it's too bright to look at properly,' says Dr. Marek Kukula of the Royal Observatory, but 'with special instruments and telescopes you can see there's all sorts of stuff going on.' NASA already monitors the Sun using two 'STEREO' spacecraft that produce 3D images of earth's nearest star, which can show the trajectory of these explosions. However, the sheer amount of data means NASA's scientists are unable to analyze the data as closely as they need — which is where the world's Internet population comes in. After a brief tutorial, users get access to the actual 3-D images taken by the STEREO spacecraft. If a user believes they have spotted the beginnings of a solar storm, they can bring it to the attention of scientists. 'Every little bit counts,' says Kukula. 'I've spoken to the scientists involved and they all agree that even if you log-on and just do it for a few hours, get bored and never touch it again it's all really useful — and helps them to do their work.'"
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Scientists Need Volunteers To Look At the Sun

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  • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Friday March 12, 2010 @05:57PM (#31457310) Homepage Journal

    Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun.

    (But Mama, that's where the fun is!)

  • Great name, Solar Stormwatch! It sounds like they should get uniforms.

    I think Solar Weather@HOME would have been cheerier.

  • sunspots (Score:5, Funny)

    by nemeosis (259734) on Friday March 12, 2010 @05:57PM (#31457328)

    "Scientists Need Volunteers To Look At the Sun"

    There's a spot burning a hole in my eye from just reading that title..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2010 @06:06PM (#31457458)

    O.K. I'll take the night watch.

  • Lifted from SNL transcripts --

    Grumpy Old Man: I'm oooooold! And I'm not happy! And I don't like things ... In my day, there was only one show in town -- it was called "Stare at the sun!" . ... it was and we liked it!

  • Coronal mass ejections? I think I saw a clip of that on redtube.com.
  • Do not look at sun with remaining eye!

  • by JSBiff (87824) on Friday March 12, 2010 @06:13PM (#31457540) Journal

    I wonder, instead of having humans analyzing these things forever, could they use the interactions with humans to 'train' some sort of visual analysis algorithm so that it learns how to identify the 'interesting' images? Then, in the future, maybe a computer can alert Nasa scientists of particularly 'interesting' images for them to manually analyze, while no longer needing public 'screening' by humans?

    • by moteyalpha (1228680) on Friday March 12, 2010 @06:25PM (#31457694) Homepage Journal
      That is what I thought of immediately, but then they are not rocket scientists, oh wait...
    • by graft (556969)
      I assume that they'd prefer to do this, but a supervised learning method that builds a classifier function requires that you have a training set that is already classified - a set of images that contain storms and a set of images that don't contain storms. My guess is, since this system just went online and started generating images, they don't really have a huge number of examples to draw from. And the data is pretty noisy, as you can see, so training a machine to be reliable would probably require a large
    • by k2dbk (724898)
      In addition to the tutorials available on the site, there are a number of interviews with the scientists where they explain specifically they wants humans to look at the images. In fact, they want multiple people to look at each set of images to try to get a more objective opinion.
  • link... (Score:1, Redundant)

    http://solarstormwatch.com/ [solarstormwatch.com] slashdotted...
  • by reginaldo (1412879) on Friday March 12, 2010 @06:16PM (#31457600)
    "After a brief tutorial, users get access to the actual 3-D images taken by the STEREO spacecraft"

    Sweet! Do they send me complimentary solarstormwatch 3D viewing glasses, or do I need to use the ones I stole from Avatar?
  • Next they will need meta meta moderators to sift through all the phony reports of sun spots.
    Actually this could be contracted out to /. -for a fee- as they have experience.
  • If the problem is just the volume of data and not the lack of a good algorithm to do the detection wouldn't it be smart to go the folding@home/seti@home route and just throw massive numbers of donated CPU cycles at the problem?
  • How come I suspect that the Royal Observatory is going to be inundated with false positives, claiming, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

    However, this might be cool if they throw in a pair of 3D glasses . . .

    . . . and a NASA secret decoder ring, so that you can snoop on what their other satellites and thingies are up to.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Friday March 12, 2010 @06:26PM (#31457706)

    Any coronal ejection EMP pointed at us will arrive just at the time we see it giving us a warning time of a day, perhaps.

    But what could we DO about it?

    Here's a quote from one Mr. Carrington (http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/06may_carringtonflare.htm) from the last time this happened in 1859:

    On that morning, he was capturing the likeness of an enormous group of sunspots. Suddenly, before his eyes, two brilliant beads of blinding white light appeared over the sunspots, intensified rapidly, and became kidney-shaped. Realizing that he was witnessing something unprecedented and "being somewhat flurried by the surprise," Carrington later wrote, "I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me. On returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled." He and his witness watched the white spots contract to mere pinpoints and disappear.

    It was 11:23 AM. Only five minutes had passed.

    Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.

    Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

    • ;-)

      Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire.

      *nix running on telegraphs?!?!
      That explains the printer is on fire message!

      Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

      Is there anything *nix cannot do? ;-)

      All joking aside, I imagine that was quite an interesting experience.
      Something similar occurring today would likely cause a huge mess.

      But what could we DO about it?

      Maybe install a global Big Red Button®?
      Short of that(and to be more realistic), we should start planning for controlled shutdowns and disconnections to weather the storm.
      I'm sure that wouldn't prevent all damage, would be a big can of worms, etc., but it may

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by T Murphy (1054674)
      I should hope we have some ability to mitigate damage by disconnecting or shutting off equipment and using shielding, but even just knowing what will be destroyed and when can be useful. If there is reason to believe, for example, the computers in cars would get fried and make cars unusable, it would be good to know that before the highway at rush hour becomes a 5 mile long parking lot. Kind of like how better tornado detection doesn't do much to reduce property damage, but has greatly reduced fatalities.
      • by EkriirkE (1075937)
        I'd assume the protections there are for lightning strikes would work on transmission lines during such an incident, and metal-paneled cars may have a chance w/ the Faraday cage effect?
        • by T Murphy (1054674)
          I would be interested if someone better informed could clarify, but I am assuming there are important differences in lighting-proofing something and protecting it against large induced currents. I don't doubt there is a lot of overlap, though.
      • "Before the highway at rush hour becomes a 5 mile long parking lot."
        You've never been to L.A., have you?
    • by lawpoop (604919)

      Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.

      Say that an event like this were to happen, say, in the year 2012, just as Wired told us.

      What would that look like? With the world electrical grid shorting out, and people going outside and looking up into the sky, and seeing a giant aurora snaking its way [hickerphoto.com] across the celestial dome... what would that look like? Oh, I don't know, maybe a giant rainbow serpent in the sky, a Quetzalcoatl if you will, returning, as he promised, in 2012, the transition from the 4th to the 5th Mayan ages?

      ;D

    • But what could we DO about it?

      We could upload commands to our orbiting spacecraft to go into safe mode and shut down sensitive electronics and what not. Most modern spacecraft are designed with a safe mode that can be triggered manually just for cases involving heavy solar activity. Believe it or not, those of us on the spacecraft industry do plan ahead from time to time.

  • Well, I was going to go analyze some images right now, but it seems the page won't load.....

    ....guess I'll just bookmark this one for later...

    ...deletion from list of unused bookmarks.
  • Probably is easier/cheaper to build AIs smart enough for recognizing patterns that should be evident for half-blind volunteers, than building artificial eyes for them after several get damaged vision. Shit (and retinal burns) happens.
  • "How to save the Earth via the World Wide Web"

    When I first read it; I scoffed ... but the more I thought about it, the more I now know it's true. Here's a simple test:

    From the perspective of the "little man"
    - Reports surface scorching Sun vomit approaching earth
    - Report received
    - Man eventually fries

    From the perspective of Dr. Strangelove
    - Receives report
    - Replies: Thank you (bye)
    - Closes hatch
    - Proceeds to repopulate the Earth with super models

    (Insert song here: "We'll Meet Again" by Vera Lynn)

  • You know, if you stare at it head-on it'll burn your eyes out. But it's hard not to. I once took a pair of binoculars and stared at the Sun for over an hour. Curiosity I guess...
    Taken from one of the best SNL skits [fandome.com]

  • Maybe they just need help with logging in. http://www.dilbert.com/strips/comic/2007-11-16/ [dilbert.com]
  • That's funny. I thought a coronal mass ejection was what happened after I ate at Chipotle. I've not had a lot of luck getting volunteers to watch that.
    • That's funny. I thought a coronal mass ejection was what happened after I ate at Chipotle. I've not had a lot of luck getting volunteers to watch that.

      Well, you obviously didn't post it on the Internet, then.

    • My roommate saw this headline and laughed, "It's a good thing only smart people read that site."
  • by MSDos-486 (779223) on Friday March 12, 2010 @07:34PM (#31458588)
    What happens when the Oracle System's Star goes Supernova ? Is it going to SPARC?...Is Coffee going to be supplied?...I haven't read much of the comments, but am I the only one to notice the subject icon on this story is the wrong Sun.
    • by Jahf (21968)

      You are definitely not the only one. Says something about the state of Sun's visibility these days, eh? Youngsters.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Good lord, has that Ellison fellow gone out and purchased the real sun now? Will he buy the moon next?

  • Can the editors PLEASE fix the icons? This isn't Sun Microsystems. This is about a star. This is as bad as Enlightenment being used to refer to metaphysics rather than an old window manager.

  • Can anybody tell me why they put sun microsystem logo in this article?
  • The picture on this story is Sun's symbol, not a picture of 'the sun'. Nice badonkadonk, by the way.
  • This reminds me of Amazon Mechanical Turk [wikipedia.org], which crowdsources people to do tasks which computers have trouble doing. It has been used to attempt to find people like Steve Fosset using satellite images and asking people to go through them. The search was unsuccessful though.
  • "Sunspots...cast a glare in my eyes."
  • by mikael (484) on Friday March 12, 2010 @09:04PM (#31459814)

    Am I missing something, but the article seems to be using the Oracle|Sun logo, while this is an astronomy discussion of the Sun.

    • Probably the last time they'll get to use it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ari_j (90255)
      Slashdot editors not understanding the sections well enough to separate the concepts they represent from the words in a story is not a new phenomenon. There was at least one completely non-computer-related article in the Enlightenment section a few years ago, although I can't remember enough details to tell the full story. The point is just that these darn kids need to get off my lawn or, at the very least, learn the right way to play lawn darts while they're on it.
  • "CRAP! I got a coronal mass ejection right in the eye!"

  • This is why the OS needs to support animated wall paper. Then you can have your desktop continually updated with images of the sun. If even just the folks at NASA did this it might provide adequate monitoring for 8 hours a day. A screen saver could be nice too - I wonder which would get seen more often...
  • you'll get Armageddon to bear your name, or that of your wife [imdb.com]. ;-)

    even if you log-on and just do it for a few hours, get bored and never touch it again it's all really useful

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