The internet has become a priceless tool for the citizen-science movement, in which private citizens all over the world can make meaningful contributions to science.
With as little as a computer and some curiosity, you can help scientists determine targets for space telescopes, or look for signs of life on Kepler planets. Some projects, like the famous SETI@home application, simply use your computer's down-time to sift through vast quantities of data — no user input required. Others, like GalaxyZoo, ask you to look at pictures and classify objects based on shape or size.
For more advanced projects including those requiring more powerful telescopes, CCD cameras, or greater technical expertise, check our our list of amateur research programs.
With the wealth of projects out there, there is sure to be something that's a good fit for you.
Here is a list of some of the projects we find most interesting. This list was last updated on July 27, 2012.
Agent Exoplanet: Search for exoplanets using data from the Las Cumbres Observatory in California.
Be A Martian: Get a passport to Mars and help NASA identify and measure craters, mountains, and other Martian features.
Citizen Sky: Help gather information on the eclipsing binary variable star epsilon Aurigae.
Constellation: Let scientists use the spare time on your computer to do calculations for aerospace simulations.
Cosmology@Home: Distributed-computing project that tests theories about the genesis of the universe.
Einstein@Home: Free time on your computer can help astrophysicists find weak pulsar signals in data from LIGO.
GalaxyZoo: Classify galaxies based on shape, using imagery taken from the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Great World-Wide Star Count: Annual international star-counting event that tracks light pollution in your neighborhood.
HiWish: Make suggeestions to scientists at the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment about what Mars features to photograph next.
Ice Investigators: Help determine the New Horizons spacecraft's final target in the Kuiper Belt.
Mapper: Help NASA scientists learn more about where to look for life on Mars by studying lakes in British Columbia.
MeteorCounter: App for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that lets you count and categorize shooting stars.
The Milky Way Project: Find "dust bubbles" in the Milky Way to help scientists learn about star formation and galactic evolution.
Moon Mappers: Help researchers tag craters on the moon, helping with several science missions.
MoonZoo: Help classify the surface of the moon using imagery from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Planet Hunters: Search for planets orbiting extra-solar stars by examining stars' light curves.
RadioJOVE: Buy amateur radio kits and learn how to analyze radio emissions from Jupiter, the Sun, and the Milky Way.
SCOPE: Be the first to measure and classify an uncategorized star.
SETI@home: Let scientists use your computer's free time to look for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence in radio signals.
SETLive: Use data from the Allen Telescope Array to search for signs of life on planets found by the Kepler mission.
Solar Storm Watch: Watch for solar storms in data coming from the STEREO sun-monitoring satellites.
Stardust@home: Help locate tiny particles of interstellar dust that the Stardust spacecraft picked up from the comet Wild 2 in 2004.
TheSkyNet: Put your computer's idle time to use looking through radio-wave data from distant stars and galaxies.
TomatoSphere: Student-targeted project seeking to help scientists understand some of the issues related to long-term space travel.