On March 17, 2015, a geomagnetic storm—the largest of the solar cycle to date— hit Earth and gave many sky watchers around the world a beautiful auroral display. People made thousands of aurora-related tweets and direct reports to Aurorasaurus.org, an interdisciplinary citizen science project that tracks auroras worldwide in real-time through social media and the project’s apps and website. Through Aurorasaurus, researchers are converting these crowdsourced observations into valuable data points to help improve models of where aurora can be seen. In this presentation, we will highlight how the team communicates with the public during these global, sporadic events to help drive and retain participation for Aurorasaurus. We will highlight some of the co-produced scientific results and increased media interest following this event.
Aurorasaurus uses mobile apps, blogging, and a volunteer scientist network to reach out to aurora enthusiasts to engage in the project. Real-time tweets are voted on by other users to verify their accuracy and are pinned on a map located on aurorasaurus.org to help show the instantaneous, global auroral visibility. Since the project launched in October 2014, hundreds of users have documented the two largest geomagnetic storms of this solar cycle. In some cases, like for the St. Patrick’s Day storm, users even reported seeing aurora in areas different than aurora models suggested. Online analytics indicate these events drive users to our page and many also share images with various interest groups on social media.
While citizen scientists provide observations, Aurorasaurus gives back by providing tools to help the public see and understand the aurora. When people verify auroral sightings in a specific area, the project sends out alerts to nearby users of possible auroral visibility. Aurorasaurus team members around the world also help the public understand the intricacies of space weather and aurora science through blog articles, infographics, and quizzes. The project holds public engagement events during large storms via social media “hangouts” where anyone can ask our space weather scientists questions on the recent activity. Focused on long-term engagement, we will discuss our strategies for expanding and retaining this new community and lessons learned.