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Crowd-sourcing amateurs as good as NASA scientists at spotting moon craters

Congrats, crowd-sourced crater counters: The work you're doing for NASA is just as important, and skilled, as what would be done by professional crater counters with multiple years of experience in the field.

First off, yes, there are such a thing as "professional crater counters." And yes, the work they do is actually quite important: Counting craters on a planetary object, like the Earth's Moon, allows scientists to gain a better understanding of the early lives of said celestial bodies.

"Craters on the moon are important to scientists because they are a record of the cosmic mayhem that went on during the early formation of our solar system," said University of Colorado Boulder research scientist Tim Robbins, in a press release issued by the university.

"The early solar system bombardment recorded on the lunar surface allows scientists to look backward in time to see the conditions early Earth likely endured. As scientists, we not only want to know what events happened, but when."

Robbins led the University of Colorado Boulder's study into the efficiency of crowd-sourced crater mapping on the moon versus expert crater counters. In it, the work of eight pros was compared against a group of thousands of amateurs that counted craters via the science-themed, crowd-source gathering place "CosmoQuest".

Both the experts and the amateurs were asked to count craters totaling 18 or more pixels in size from an area of around 1.4 square miles on the moon. This total space was split into a number of images (thankfully), and the real-life size of the craters that everyone would be searching for would start at a diameter of around 35 feet or so.

The results? When both groups' results were averaged together, they ended up being statistically similar.

"The results from the study were very reassuring to us," Robbins said. "Without this first step of verifying the accuracy of volunteer crater counters, there would be no point in continuing the project. Our study results mean we can now use the power of crowdsourcing to gather more data than we ever thought possible before."

Now, were CosmoQuest to turn crater-counting into a game of sorts with some kind of real-life reward (Amazon gift card? Free copy of the new Neil deGrasse Tyson-hosted 'Cosmos' show? Coupon for a free bag of astronaut ice cream?), we be totally on board for a bit of extra moon-mapping on the side.

Still, at least those logging into CosmoQuest to perform the work gratis can take solace knowing that they're every bit as skilled at their jobs as those in the big leagues.

"Our view now is to let the scientists focus on the science, and willing volunteers can do crowdsourcing work by marking craters -- even if they do it at night while watching television," Robbins said.