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How to be a planetary scientist–and a Martian too. For free.

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Want to live on Mars and even study it as a scientist? Then move to this amazing new Web site

Drawing on observations from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Mars missions, the “Be a Martian” Web site is designed to help the public to participate as citizen scientists to improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet, according to NASA. The site was put together by NASA and Microsoft and is just opened.

Among the possibilities, NASA says, participants will be able to explore details of the solar system’s grandest canyon, which resides on Mars. Users can call up images in the Valles Marineris canyon before moving on to chart the entire Red Planet. The collaboration of thousands of participants could assist scientists in producing far better maps, smoother zoom-in views, and make for easier interpretation of Martian surface changes, the agency says.

By counting craters, the public also may help scientists determine the relative ages of small regions on Mars. In the past, counting Martian craters has posed a challenge because of the vast numbers involved. By contributing, Web site users will win game points assigned to a robotic animal avatar they select.

And if you’re a software developer, you can win prizes for creating tools that provide access to and analysis of hundreds of thousands of Mars images for online, classroom and Mars mission team use.

It’s not clear to me whether doing this stuff will actually help NASA out–although in these parsimonious days, who knows, maybe your contributions will actually count. And even if they don’t count, this site is just incredibly cool.

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