Access Science: calling all citizen scientists

Contact us at science@irishtimes.com or on Twitter @dickahlstrom with your scientific input, observations and questions you would like answered

Would you like to control a robotic telescope sitting on a rooftop in California? Would you like to help track an invasive shrew as it spreads across the countryside? Or would you like to be involved in studies tracking how climate change is altering our seasons?

Today sees the start of a new section on the science page, Access Science, in which non-scientists and amateur scientists are asked to take over, where the discoveries you make and the information you record contribute in a real way to the advancement of knowledge.

The arrival of Twitter, Facebook and other social medias has supported the growing involvement of real people in real scientific studies.

Citizen Science will encourage people to get involved and will announce new opportunities to participate. It will deliver results from crowd-sourced studies and will include your views and opinions.

And your views will sustain the network and provide fresh ideas that will open up science for young and old. And if you have a burning science question, our panel of experts will try to answer it for you.

Citizen Science will appear on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month and will give you the opportunity to contribute to science coverage in The Irish Times.

Contact us by email at science@irishtimes.com or by Twitter @dickahlstrom

CORK STUDENTS GET CHANCE TO STARGAZE IN SAN FRANCISCO

Schools are being given an early chance to scan the night skies using a robotic telescope sitting on the roof of a primary school outside San Francisco. This access is part of Project Tara, an initiative launched today by CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork.

The telescope and its dome were installed in California because of the time difference, says Frances McCarthy, who is involved in education and outreach activities at the observatory. “When it is 10am in Cork, it is 2am and completely dark in San Francisco,” she says. “It allows the kids to get access to night skies.”

Students who come to the observatory are in full control of the telescope and can watch and listen as it opens its doors and turns to view objects.

The system has been working on a pilot basis so far with primary and secondary school groups and an adult group, says McCarthy. The activity reflects the science curriculum at both school levels, but there is also the inspirational aspect of encouraging the students to study science, she says.

The instrument sits atop the Ormondale Elementary School in California, and although its students can’t benefit from night-time observations, Cork provided them with a solar telescope for daytime viewing.

The plan is to set up matching facilities in other locations, so Ormondale will get its chance, says observatory manager Clair McSweeney. “We are pitching this to the world. Ideally we would like a telescope on every roof,” she says. The plan is to develop the next one in India at Fergusson College, an affiliate of the University of Pune.

ASK US ANYTHING: READER QUESTIONS

  • Question: How many species do we share planet Earth with? Mark Costello
  • Answer: This is a very challenging question. If you include all life it could range from 10 to 100 million species, with only a fraction of these known to science. One study suggested there were 8.7 million species of eukaryotes, species like us that have cells that include a nucleus. There are at least 5,000 species of mammals, 10,000 species of birds and two to 30 million species of insects. But there are also an estimated two million prokaryotes: single-celled organisms that lack a nucleus. And this does not include viruses, which may number as high as 10 to the power of 30. Unfortunatley, we have no precise answer to this question. James McInerney, NUI Maynooth and Nicola Marples, TCD with Dick Ahlstrom