NASA wants you to be an image detective!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

NASA image search
NASA needs your help, and you can even earn badges as an image detective!

Calling all future astronauts and space scientists! NASA has asked the public to help them sort through over 1.8 million photos taken over the past few decades, from the Mercury missions of the 1960s all the way to the most recent International Space Station shots. Made available via The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, NASA says that even with high-tech computer software, there’s no way they’d be able to organize all these spectacular images without human help.

NASA hopes that by opening up their treasure trove of planets, starry skies, and scenic Earth panoramas, they can use your help in discovering ways to “save energy, contribute to better human health and safety and improve our understanding of atmospheric chemistry.” See, before 2003, night images from the space station were often blurry, since it moves at speeds of around 17,500 mph. Imagine trying to take a family photo moving that fast!

The Complutense University of Madrid is leading efforts to bring people together in unlocking the mysteries of these images. “Without the help of citizens, it is almost impossible to use these images scientifically,” explains Alejandro Sanchez, a graduate student at Complutense. “Algorithms cannot distinguish between stars, cities and other objects, such as the Moon. Humans are much more efficient for complex image analysis.”

Okay, so what if you’re not a super space geek? No problem! If it’s a picture of dark skies, you just need to help them be filed into categories like cities, stars, or other objects, and if it’s an image of Earth, you can use your knowledge of local geography to figure out what city the camera is pointing at! So far, hundreds of volunteers have contributed by classifying about 20,000 photos, but that’s a long ways off from the almost 2 million images left.

Images courtesy of NASA.