Gazing at the clouds from a patch of grass isn't just a pleasant way to spend the first weeks of spring—for anyone with a smartphone, it could be a way to gather important data for NASA. As the seasons transition from one to the next, the clouds will be changing too, and the space agency, in collaboration with the GLOBE Observer Program, is calling on citizen scientists to document them.
GLOBE Observer is an "international network of citizen scientists and scientists working together to learn more about our shared environment and changing climate," its website explains. Between March 15 and April 15, anyone with the GLOBE Observer app (download it here) can snap and submit up to 10 cloud observations per day. The photos may be used in research conducted by NASA scientists, and participants who send in the most observations by the end of the campaign will receive a shout-out from NASA in a video shared on the GLOBE program's website and social media.
NASA won't be relying solely on observations from the public for their cloud studies: Rather, they plan to use photos taken on the ground by citizen scientists to confirm their equipment is working correctly. The Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System, or CERES, consists of six instruments orbiting the Earth and capturing images of clouds from above. But the clouds that are recorded with this technology aren't always clear, and something that isn't a cloud at all, like a patch of snow, can sometimes be mistaken for one.
By comparing ambiguous satellite images to amateur photos taken at the same time from the spot in question, scientists can make more accurate calls. And participants don't need to be experts at identifying clouds to support the mission. After downloading the app, you can find cloud-gazing tips from GLOBE Clouds project lead Marilé Colón Robles here.