First, yes, at a very basic level, they do the same thing – identify craters on the Moon. This is because craters are a basic and fundamental tool in planetary science. We use craters to do everything from estimating how old a surface is to seeing what’s under the surface and calculating how thick the crust of the object is. We can use them to understand a lot of the basic physics of the cratering process to understand how the brain identifies things versus a computer.
In that respect, both projects are using the same tools, but that’s where the similarities stop. It’s very much like two different people buying microphones (microphones being craters in this example), but then using them to do completely different things like recording a podcast versus having open mike night at the local club. They’re both using the same tool, and they may have even bought the same brand of tool from the same store, but they’re using that tool in different ways.
Besides using craters, Moon Zoo is looking at constraining the thickness of the lunar regolith (the “soil”), mapping the distribution of boulders across the surface, and identifying and cataloging unusual geologic features. Our starting projects for Moon Mappers are very different. We are looking at refining the crater densities at the Apollo landing sites to help constrain lunar chronology (the timeline of when things happen), and exploring cryptomaria (buried lava planes) and the mysterious Mafic Mound region within the South Pole-Aitken Basin.
Most importantly, we’re looking initially at how we identify craters so that we can plan better in the future while we’re still getting science results. For example, the Man vs. Machine interface is not just identifying craters for our science questions that require the building of a crater catalog. We’re also studying how to fine-tune the crater detection algorithm we’re using and whether it’s faster to use this kind of interface or do everything on your own.
Early on, we are also trying to determine what sun angles are best for identifying craters and if there are systematic differences we can model if we don’t have that ideal angle.We presented our first results from MoonMappers last March at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, and you can check out the results and the poster we presented.
In terms of the people involved, the people in charge, the education and outreach, and the programming teams are based out of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) and run by Pamela Gay (“starstryder” on the forums). The main science team is composed of myself (Stuart Robbins, or “astrostu” on the forums) out of Colorado, USA, and Irene Antonenko (“IreneAnt” on the forums) out of Toronto, Canada. We are both planetary scientists, and where Irene has been studying the Moon for several years, I’m coming to it from studying Mars for the last six. You can find out more about us at the We Are CosmoQuest page.
And so you can see that, while these two projects may look similar in terms of task – we both ask you to identify small lunar craters – we’re trying to learn about different aspects of the Moon.