Turning Amateur APOD Images into Scientific Papers

Research the universe. Expand humanity's knowledge.
User avatar
RJN
Baffled Boffin
Posts: 1570
Joined: Sat Jul 24, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: Michigan Tech

Turning Amateur APOD Images into Scientific Papers

Post by RJN » Thu May 06, 2010 3:45 pm

Sometimes, an amateur image posted to APOD may be unusual enough to advance science. In some of these cases, the APODees who ponder that APOD or the Asteriskians who participate in the discussion of that APOD may be particularly well situated to create a scientific paper that is more in the mainstream method of advancing science then just commenting on the Asterisk.

I believe that a case like this has come up recently with the APOD on the fogbow and/or glory: APOD (here: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap100504.html) and Asterisk discussion (here: http://asterisk.apod.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=19273). First off, I have seen no image like it, not on APOD, Wikipedia, or Les Cowley's site. The image seems to have numerous supernumeraries for a fogbow, more than I have yet seen. At the least, the image is useful as a demonstration of a well known phenomena. At the best, the supernumeraries stretch existing physical models to explain them, possibly better illuminating these physical models.

Since this is not my subspecialty, I may be wrong (again) here, but sometimes my strange brand of optimism is rewarded. Let's assume this APOD can anchor a paper, how might it be best to proceed? At this point I will say that almost anyone with an interest in science can help in some way, no matter their age or formal education.

The first step would be to do a literature search to see if this APOD really pictures something scientifically useful. This search should be of the formal published literature in rainbows, fogbows, and glories. If it is found that the picture is uninteresting scientifically, then the project should stop. If not, relevant papers should be recorded and used in the new paper's introduction, at the least.

The next step might be to download Les Cowley's scientific program on atmospheric optics named IRIS found here: http://www.atoptics.co.uk/droplets/iris.htm. This is freely available here but seems to require a linux or unix based operating system to run. One might run Cowley's program repeatedly trying to duplicate the APOD fogbow pattern as best as possible. This may mean creating a distribution of droplet sizes (hopefully just a program option) that best matches the APOD. I might guess that these cloud drops are large and relatively uniformly sized, but the program will know better. Scientific conclusions would be drawn here.

At this point a paper might be hashed out. Everyone involved in creating the image, the research, the code, and the paper should be considered for the author list. An abstract is written summarizing the image and results. An introductory section is written summarizing past work in the field and listing what steps were taken in this research effort. The next section might discuss the physics of fogbows and glories (some physics expertise is needed for this section) and what types of images might help advance present knowledge. The next section might display and discuss the APOD image, with attribution, and discuss how this image might be important for better physical understanding of fogbows and glories. The next section might report the results of Cowley's computer code and what was learned from it, discussing what the image really shows and what the likely particle distribution in the cloud was. The next section might speculate on what future images be sought that might shed even more light on how fogbows and/or glories are formed. The last section summarizes the results. References are then given.

Now this is an ambitious effort and may never be done for this or any APOD image. Conversely, some group or groups may decide to just go off and do this themselves, with or without knowing about this Post. That would be OK. Still, this case brought to my mind again the possibility that Citizen Science can start right here with APOD, with APOD images possibly being used to formally advance scientific knowledge.

- RJN

User avatar
owlice
Guardian of the Codes
Posts: 8372
Joined: Wed Aug 04, 2004 4:18 pm
Location: Washington, DC

Re: Turning Amateur APOD Images into Scientific Papers

Post by owlice » Thu May 06, 2010 4:11 pm

I don't know that I'd necessarily consider this photographer an amateur, given that he is studying the field and have already coauthored a number of papers. (But what do I know?!) He had identified this image as a fogbow; here is another (very cool!) image he provided at the time he sent the one chosen for APOD (which appeared in Asterisk last month), and there are one or two more I can post this evening, if anyone would find that helpful/interesting. I wrote to him last night asking him for more information and hope to hear back from him.
A closed mouth gathers no foot.

User avatar
RJN
Baffled Boffin
Posts: 1570
Joined: Sat Jul 24, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: Michigan Tech

Re: Turning Amateur APOD Images into Scientific Papers

Post by RJN » Thu May 06, 2010 6:48 pm

Yes, this photographer is a professional astronomer. I did not mean to insult him. Surely many APOD images are taken by professionals, some in the line of their profession. Many of these, particularly astronomy images, are already intended for research. Other images, though, taken by professionals or amateurs, may not further the intended research agenda but just look really cool. I guess that some of these images may end up being useful for research possibly in a subfield different from the research specialty of the photographer. In retrospect, it is some of these APOD images that might have good "serendipitous science" value.

Although his online CV does not indicate a current professional interest in atmospheric optics, perhaps he might be interested in leading an effort to investigate the serendipitous science value of his image(s) anyway.

- RJN

User avatar
owlice
Guardian of the Codes
Posts: 8372
Joined: Wed Aug 04, 2004 4:18 pm
Location: Washington, DC

Re: Turning Amateur APOD Images into Scientific Papers

Post by owlice » Thu May 06, 2010 6:54 pm

It would be very cool if that were the case! If I hear back from him, I'll point him to your excellent post!
A closed mouth gathers no foot.

alex.tudorica
Ensign
Posts: 11
Joined: Fri May 07, 2010 8:27 am
Location: Bonn, Germany

Re: Turning Amateur APOD Images into Scientific Papers

Post by alex.tudorica » Fri May 07, 2010 7:25 pm

I think it would be quite interesting to do a little research if something is unusual/unexplained in my images. Mr. Les Cowley is in my opinion the best person to tell us if something is indeed odd or if the phenomenon is still quite within the realm of the explainable. Unfortunately, I'll be quite busy until the end of June and unable to do too much by myself until then, but I'd be happy to help other people interested in writing a scientific paper (if it's feasible, of course).

Indeed, my field of research is not in atmospheric optics but in cosmology and solar system physics (but I like everything in between:) ). I took no offence being categorized as an amateur, don't worry about that; actually I'm still an amateur astronomer and I'll be a "professional" physicist in a couple of months when I'll get my degree. Then, heading for an astrophysics master to Germany and only in a couple of years I might be called a "professional astronomer".

Meanwhile I'll be trying to take better and better pictures in an attempt to share some of the celestial beauty that I witness. I do actually have a special time lapse project for APOD but it will take a lot of time to complete it as I did not found the best location, yet... ;)

Alex Tudorica