Thursday, January 26, 2006

Distributed staring

You know the distributed computing projects? People all around the net can contribute some of their computers' unused processing power to searching for extra-terrestrial radio signals or modelling complex proteins, just to mention two of the more well-known projects. Typically, you install a screen saver that starts crunching numbers for the project every time your computer goes idle.

Now, NASA is preparing to use the distributed global participation model to process the sample collection gels from the Stardust mission: you know, the comet tail thing. But this time, it's not computing power they want: they need eyesight and brain power!

Apparently, there are no image analysis algorithms good enough to distinguish between random noise and cracks in the aerogel on one hand, and grains of interstellar dust and their impact tunnels on the other. But with a few minutes' training, any kid can do this easily and accurately. So the Stardust people are photographing the dust collection gels bit by bit through a microscope to send the pics around volunteers on the net. If enough people report a dust particle on a particular photograph, then bingo.

Here's a webcam showing the clean room where the sample gels are kept and studied. And here's where you sign up for staring duty!

[Via Go digital. More blog entries about , , , , ; , , .]


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