With the tremendous technological improvement of commercial cameras and smartphones, a growing number of (professional and amateur) auroral photographers capture high-quality images of the nightsky. This novel type of optical data has enabled the discoveries of previously unknown optical emission displays which reveal the presence of complex and unexplored processes at work in the near-Earth plasma. Those discoveries are the result of what is known as “citizen science”, i.e. scientific research involving contributors outside the academic world and who provide data and are co-authors of the resulting publications. Typically, auroral citizen science has been combining astrophotographers’ pictures with observations from ground-based instruments and satellites, hence requiring a multidisciplinary approach and a broad range of expertise and skills. Other recent initiatives have involved citizen scientists in the classification of optical data such as all-sky camera images to produce datasets which can then be used e.g. for AI training. However, citizen science initiatives have so far mainly arisen at regional level and would strongly benefit from a coordination endeavour at worldwide level.
The ARCTICS ISSI Working Group aims at coordinating the citizen science efforts in space physics and aeronomy at international level. It gathers together experts in auroral processes, ionospheric dynamics, substorm physics, as well as citizen scientists from various parts of the world. We will investigate unexplained optical signatures recorded by citizen scientists by studying events presenting suitable conjunctions with ground-based and satellite observations. We plan to have two one-week meetings in Bern, allowing citizen scientists to participate online as external collaborators, as well as regular online meetings. The expected outputs of this project are: (i) peer-reviewed scientific research papers; (ii) a review article on citizen science in space physics and aeronomy; (iii) a Handbook for Citizen Scientists providing tips and guidelines to maximise the usability of the photographers’ images and showcase other possible forms of involvement; (iv) a living dataset listing events identified by citizen scientists around the world.