Moon Craters: Volunteers' Mapping as Reliable as Scientists', Study Says

Wednesday, 26 Mar 2014 05:09 PM

By Jonna Lorenz

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Trained volunteers can map craters on the moon just as well as professional researchers, a new study shows, bolstering data that can help shed light on the history of the solar system.

The work of trained volunteers is repeated several times to ensure accuracy and used in scientific studies, reports.

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“We now have evidence that we can use the power of crowdsourcing to gather more reliable data from the moon than we ever thought was possible before," Stuart Robbins, a research scientist at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said in a statement.

Robbins led a study, published March 4, that compared the work of CosmoQuest volunteers to that of scientists. CosmoQuest is an organization that has amateurs identify craters on celestial objects, including the moon, Mercury, and the protoplanet Vesta.

Participants of the study were asked to identify craters at least about 35 feet in diameter in pictures of a 1.4-square-mile area taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

According to the study, published in the journal Icarus, some professionals counted twice as many craters as others. With enough people counting, the similarity of responses improves the data, according to

"We're usually trying to understand whether a feature is a million, 100 million or a billion years old. Even if you are off by a factor of two in your counts, it's not going to change your understanding of the history," postdoctoral research associate Kelsi Singer told

Large crater-mapping projects can take a couple of months.

"We have way too many craters to possibly map them ourselves," Singer said.

And pattern-recognition software isn’t reliable, according to the report.

"But people are good at finding circles," Singer said. "Even if the crater is half gone, our brains fill in the rest of the circle."

A video posted on YouTube explains the results of the study.

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