Stuck inside this winter? Try an at-home citizen science project

Researchers need help looking for solar jets, transcribing weather logs, finding frogs and more

Solar plasma jet

In the Solar Jet Hunter project, citizen scientists search for jets of plasma erupting from the sun in images like this one, taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.


For many of us, it’s the height of winter, with harsh weather and the pandemic keeping us inside. If you’re looking for a new way to pass the time, why not help science?

Researchers from a range of disciplines rely on the power of crowdsourcing to collect and analyze data. From transcribing weather logs dating back to the Victorian era to classifying African animals caught by camera traps, here are just a few ways to put your free time to good use.

Solar Jet Hunter

AIM: Build a database of solar jets

HOW TO HELP: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, has been monitoring the sun’s activity for more than a decade. Studying the sun’s outbursts, including the narrow jets of plasma that erupt from the surface, will help scientists better understand space weather and crack solar mysteries (SN: 12/15/21). But first, researchers need to find those jets. That’s where you and other armchair astronomers come in. Just go online, review sequences of SDO images, determine if solar jets are visible and document details about the events. In addition to helping scientists study the sun, the dataset could help create a computer program that could speed up future solar jet identifications.

Weather Rescue At Sea

AIM: Extend the climate record further back in time

HOW TO HELP: To put today’s climate change into perspective, scientists need a long-running record of global temperatures. That record is pretty good for the 20th century, but becomes spottier in the 19th century. To fill in the gaps, researchers are digitizing weather logbooks from ships that sailed in the mid-1800s. Anyone with an internet connection (and willing to read old-timey cursive handwriting) can help transcribe the wealth of data locked away in these books.

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network

AIM: Improve the quality of precipitation data

HOW TO HELP: Because rain and snowfall are so variable over even short distances, the best way to accurately assess precipitation is to get as many on-the-ground measurements as possible. That’s the aim of this network of volunteers across the United States, Canada and the Bahamas who make daily precipitation measurements in their backyards. With a project-approved rain gauge and some online training, you can collect data that’s useful to everyone from farmers and city managers to the National Weather Service.

Frog Find

AIM: Monitor threatened frogs

HOW TO HELP: To keep tabs on frog species vulnerable to extinction, scientists in Australia have deployed acoustic monitoring devices in several of the country’s national parks. Researchers are seeking volunteers to listen in on hours of recordings. Just hop online, review a field guide of frog calls and start identifying amphibians in audio clips.

Prickly Pear Project Kenya

AIM: Assess the impacts of an invasive plant

HOW TO HELP: Invasive prickly pear cacti are spreading throughout East Africa. To learn how the plants may be altering the behavior of native wildlife, ecologists set up camera traps in Kenya. Citizen scientists can help document what’s present in more than 100,000 photos. After taking an online tutorial, you can catalog everything from the aardvarks to the zebras that you see.

Finding Rico

AIM: Identify genius dogs

HOW TO HELP: In 2004, researchers introduced the world to Rico, a border collie that recognized about 200 spoken words (SN: 6/9/04). Now, scientists are looking for more high-vocabulary dogs to study canine intelligence and language skills. If your pooch seems to know at least 20 objects by name, the team wants to hear from you.

Erin Wayman is the managing editor for print and longform content at Science News. She has a master’s degree in biological anthropology from the University of California, Davis and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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