The L.A. Times had an interesting article about how a pair of ‘citizen scientists’ discovered a planet with four suns.  I would say that a more accurate term for the pair would be ‘citizen data miners’, because essentially the astronomy community crowd sources data mining by providing reams of data for anyone to examine.

It seemed timely for me, following a seminar at the UCLA Center for Applied Statistics by Kiri Wagstaff on automated procedures for discovering interesting features in large data sets. Kiri’s working on algorithms that use the pixels of photos (such as those produced by the Mars Rover) as data, and flag unusual features so that scientists can examine.  Basically, the algorithms weed out things scientists already know and try to present them with the unknown.

The data behind the “four suns” discovery comes from Planet Hunters--definitely worth a visit.   A parent website, zooniverse, offers opportunities to collect data, for example by transcribing historical ship logs for use in climate modeling. Who knows, you might make a discovery!

What  crowd-sourcing projects would you like to see to benefit statistics?