Cassini took seven years to reach Saturn and has been there for 13 years. And this September, NASA is going to plunge the spacecraft into the atmosphere of Saturn — a spectacular end for one of the most scientifically rich voyages ever undertaken in our solar system. The beloved spacecraft was launched two decades ago and entered orbit around Saturn back in 2004. Thanks to Cassini, we’ve received data from a dozen scientific instruments on board, including nearly half a million images.
Among many other discoveries, scientists have tracked the orbits of giant propeller-shaped objects in the rings of Saturn. These propellers are unique in both their shape and their effect on Saturn’s rings. Currently, scientists use a combination of processing and manual inspection to determine the location of these propeller-like objects. The problem is that manually inspecting many thousands of images (even after narrowing them down to those likely to show propellers) takes a great deal of time.
Our goal is to automate the process of identifying these objects — with the help of the Topcoder Community. We want to develop algorithms that find anomalies in Saturn’s rings before Cassini reaches its (timely) end. Data scientists who submit to this challenge must:
- Determine the location of these propeller-like objects.
- Flag any that appear in multiple images as the same object.
But wait… there’s more.
Q&A with a scientist from the SETI Institute working on the Cassini mission
We’re all in luck; Dr. Matthew Tiscareno, a research scientist at the SETI Institute will be available to answer our questions. Matt is a Participating Scientist and Imaging Team Associate with the Cassini Project, with a research focus on Saturn’s rings (including the propellers). Starting July 11th, we invite the Topcoder Community and anyone interested in the mission to submit questions for a Q&A; you can ask Dr. Tiscareno questions about Cassini, the science mission, and about Saturn and its rings. And while you don’t have to be a data scientist to ask a question, those who have already participated in the Topcoder challenge will receive priority. (Yet another reason to join the Topcoder Community, submit to the challenge, and help NASA better understand these propellers.) Questions will be accepted until Tuesday night, July 18th, at 12am EDT.
This is an incredible chance to ask an expert; many of us would otherwise have to wade through forums or wait for the same press release from which everyone gets their information. Don’t wait and get secondhand information from a space enthusiast; get an answer from someone with firsthand experience running the spacecraft.
You could win an official NASA gift pack
This challenge is a re-performance of an earlier challenge; this time, we’re looking for fewer false positives. And there’s still plenty of time! We’re extending the contest from July 17th to August 1st. There’s that much more time to submit to the challenge and potentially win an official NASA gift pack.
Are you a data scientist interested in competing? Review the challenge details here and register!
Have a question for Dr. Tiscareno? Submit it here.
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