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Become a Citizen Scientist with Our CrowdMag App

Depiction of a compass and Earth's magnetic field
Courtesy of NOAA

If you’re interested in assisting our scientists with geomagnetic research, we’ve got the app for you! The CrowdMag app, which is available on Google Play for Android devices and Apple’s iTunes store for iOS devices, allows you to help scientists obtain data about Earth’s magnetic field.

How Does CrowdMag Work?

How does the app work? Your smartphone has what’s known as a magnetometer—a miniature device incorporated into its integrated circuits—that allows your device to function similar to a compass. The magnetometers in most smartphones measure Earth’s magnetic field in three dimensions. When the magnetometer’s data are combined with that of the accelerometer—a device that detects how the phone has moved in relation to a reference position—the phone’s directional orientation can be determined.

After you install the CrowdMag app, your phone will send us the data collected by the magnetometer and accelerometer to help measure the strength of Earth’s magnetic field at a specific point. As citizen scientists, like you, send us data from across the world, our scientists combine that data with real-time solar wind data to create near-real-time models of Earth’s magnetic field.

Earth’s magnetic field continually shifts—rippling as a gust of solar wind arrives or shifting with the construction of a new underground pipe. And, it is critical to understand these changes to both protect infrastructure from damaging space weather and to ensure navigation systems are accurate.

You might be thinking, “My phone has GPS. Why would it need something that works like a compass?” In your phone, the magnetometer and accelerometer help keep the GPS on track since GPS alone cannot provide pointing direction. Other limitations of GPS include the potential for satellite signals to become jammed or masked and an inability to penetrate water well or reach underground. Satellites are also only able to examine one region at a time, which can limit their ability to see the small, constant variations in Earth’s magnetic field.

Why Do Scientists Need Data from Smartphones?

Collecting data from smartphones allows scientists to overcome or compensate for many of the limitations that accompany satellite geomagnetic data. They also allow scientists to develop magnetic models with much higher resolution than with satellites alone—closer to a few meters versus around 3,000 kilometers. Ultimately, these data and the research that uses them will help us improve navigational accuracy as well as our understanding of Earth’s magnetic field and the changes it undergoes.

Download CrowdMag on Google Play for Android devices and Apple’s iTunes store for iOS devices and see if you can become a super data collector. You’ll earn badges based on the number of data readings you make: bronze for 100 readings, silver for 1,000, gold for 10,000, and platinum for 100,000.

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