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NASA needs your help

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When was the first time you remember being told that those puffy little clouds on otherwise sunny days are called cumulus clouds? Do you recall the names of other types of clouds? It may be time to brush up, put your cloud knowledge to use, and in the process, help NASA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (NASA GLOBE) Clouds: Spring Cloud Observations Data Challenge starts Thursday, March 15, and runs through April 15.

cloudy beach

What kind of clouds are those? Is the sky completely covered by clouds? Brush up on your skills and and answer these questions for NASA. Photo credit: Niki Morock

The challenge is open to educators, students, and the general public, which means anyone can participate! The only technology required is access to the GLOBE Program’s data entry options online or the GLOBE Observer App, which is free in the App Store. The rest depends on some basic knowledge of clouds, your own eyes and an unobstructed view of the sky.

I downloaded the GLOBE Observer App today. It was free and easy to set up. You only need five to ten minutes to register and read the instructions once you are logged in. There are step-by-step directions on how to make an observation available on the GLOBE website here.

By participating as a citizen scientist, you are helping “scientists better understand satellite data of our atmosphere.” In other words, you are providing ground evidence to corroborate what the satellite appears to be seeing.

Why is it needed? Satellites see more than just clouds. For example, they can see ice and snow on the surface and smoke. Sometimes, those things look very different from clouds and sometimes they look similar. By collecting data from ground-level observers, scientists add to their understanding of how the satellite sees the clouds and the world below them. The better that understanding is, the better our now-casting and forecasting becomes. The improved knowledge will also help tweak the technology as we put more satellites into orbit.

Don’t worry if you don’t remember the difference between a cirrus cloud and a cumulonimbus cloud. There are tutorials on the GLOBE site, as well as tips and tricks for making a good cloud and sky observation. You don’t need a meteorology degree to be a cloud observer.

Personally, I will do what I can to participate, but in my day-to-day routine, most of my sky views are obstructed. I work in downtown Wake Forest and live on a wooded lot. Still, if the GLOBE Observer app alerts me that a satellite is about to fly over and I am somewhere with a good view of the sky, I will definitely submit an observation. Every little bit of additional, accurate data helps.