Christy in front of a purple and orange sky, striking a pose and pointing to a comet with a long tail in the sky.

Christy Turner

NASA Citizen Scientist


University of Calgary

Certificate in Integrated Digital Media (in progress)

What motivated you to volunteer as a NASA citizen scientist? How did you learn about NASA citizen science?

I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Dr. Stephen Mende from UC Berkeley, an esteemed space physicist who found a blog post of mine about subauroral arcs, or Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement (STEVE), that I was photographing. He and I had several chats over the phone, and he ended up loaning me a special spectra lens that once flew on one of the space shuttles to photograph these arcs. He can, in turn, use the images I capture to make interpretations, etc.

Christy Turner photographing night skies
Christy photographing the night skies.
Monika Deviat

What do you do when you’re not doing science with NASA? Tell us about your job and your hobbies.

Although I am currently employed in IT in the energy sector, I am a very passionate astrophotographer and professional portrait/wedding and landscape photographer – working under the name Christy Turner Photography. I'm also working toward completing a certificate in Integrated Digital Media.

Photography completely dominates my personal time, and I spend many late nights under the stars watching meteor showers and aurora borealis displays in Alberta, the Yukon, and Iceland.

Christy Turner in France
Christy taking photos in Bordeaux, France.
Christy Turner

In 2018 I was invited to photograph a biodynamic wine harvest while living on an 18th-century estate in Bordeaux, France, and in 2022 I hope to photograph a wedding on a game reserve in South Africa. I will also be traveling to Greenland (my 75th country!) on a photographic expedition to capture auroras with icebergs in 2022. Travel reigns strongly in my life in the pre- and post-COVID world.

What have you learned about the process of science from your time on NASA citizen science projects?

I had no idea when I began photographing the northern lights that scientists would be interested in my photos, much less use them in a scientific journal once I started capturing subauroral arcs. After my photos were used to contribute to research papers, the process took on a whole new meaning for me. It was beyond imagination that something I truly loved doing almost on an obsessive level was also helping advance the science on subauroral arcs! I took even more care in my planning of location, trying to afford the best visibility and shot possibilities for my contributions.

I now try not to leave home *ever* without bringing the equipment needed, and it has fueled a passion in me with the scientific side of things. I love the opportunities I get as a result to speak to kids at science fairs, show our documentary, etc., as I think it starts a fire of interest in the young to realize that these opportunities exist and that they, too, can play a part! Although my photos have been used in magazines, brochures, and other media around the world, the scientific usage of my photos is by far and away the most significant and important!

Aurora from plane
Christy photographed this image of an aurora from a plane.
Christy Turner

Which peer-reviewed research publications have you contributed to through your citizen science work? What was your role in the research and writing process?

I have contributed to two publications:

For each publication, I contributed images and I answered questions on location - exactly where I was standing and in what direction I was facing - as well as timing. We had several discussions on the phone as Dr. Mende explained how best to use the lens and what kinds of shots he was most interested in.

Aurora pano
Green aurora lighting up the night sky.
Christy Turner

We’re aware that not everyone has equal access to speedy computers and internet signals. Was this a problem for you? And if it was, how did you overcome it?

As a photographer, I have made do with the computer I currently have, but I'm in the process of having a “supercomputer” built by an expert colleague in the U.S., catering to my specific requirements that will help with my photo editing and imaging work greatly.

What are your favorite NASA citizen science projects to work on, and why?

I continue to be involved with STEVE science, as well as anything asked of me with respect to photos of the northern lights. I would happily take on more of these kinds of projects in the future. I am also very interested in following the Parker Solar Probe to the Sun.

What have you discovered or learned as a NASA citizen scientist?

Although STEVE is not a new phenomenon, it is newly receiving attention from the scientific community, thanks to a collaboration and comparison of data and photos by scientists at both UC Berkeley and University of Calgary working with several professional and amateur photographers. I was later part of a documentary that celebrated this collaboration of science and art, entitled "Chasing Steve," and I really love the opportunities I get with scientists to speak about our combined experience and outcome regarding this phenomenon, particularly to children.

Green Aurora
Christy spends many late nights under the stars photographing aurora borealis displays in Alberta, the Yukon, and Iceland.
Christy Turner

What advice would you give to others who might want to volunteer with NASA citizen science?

By all means, jump at the chance to get involved with citizen science! The fascinating people I have met, the incredible experiences I have had and the pride I feel in having my photos play a part in advancing space physics research is simply tremendous. By far and away, it is the most important publication and usage of my photos to date! I look forward to continued collaboration with science and my photos, and anyone out there who is interested in getting involved in science absolutely should not hesitate!

Who have you met during your NASA citizen science work who inspires you?

I am particularly inspired by Dr. Mende and Dr. Eric Donovan, both of whom work closely with those of us who are citizen scientists of the Alberta photographic community.

Eric and I were both part of the same Canadian documentary entitled "Chasing Steve," and he is a great friend (and friendly competitor for publishing papers!) of the scientist I work with, Dr. Mende. In addition to his impressive scientific career, Eric has a deep understanding of the artistic side of photography, and as a talented photographer himself, he has an insider's understanding of how art and science can collide and work together. Like Dr. Mende, Eric has devoted his life to the study of this phenomenon. Eric worked with local photographers, comparing their photos of STEVE to his expensive imaging camera photos, which in turn led to the "discovery" of subauroral arcs. The STEVE/Aurorasaurus research team, including Eric and the photographers he worked with, later received the Robert H. Goddard Honor Award for Exceptional Achievement for Science Award from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for "outstanding discovery and characterization of STEVE, a new type of auroral phenomena, as a ground-breaking example of citizen science."

Dr. Mende is the lead investigator of the Wideband Imaging Camera (WIC) onboard the IMAGE satellite (Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration). His career has spanned over 57 years so far!

In short, I thought I was obsessed with the northern lights until I came to know these two inspiring gentlemen!

How much time do you spend on NASA citizen science projects?

I belong to a 24/7/365 online chat group that expressly discusses auroral data and potential sightings with other hardcore aurora enthusiasts, so I am out at night anytime there is a good possibility of seeing the northern lights. This in turn has led to various speaking engagements, a documentary, and local volunteer opportunities to showcase the collaboration of citizen scientists and the contributions we continue to make to furthering this research. I was an invited speaker at the international Aurora Summit in Wisconsin in 2019. It has been a truly exciting and gratifying journey!

Visit the complete collection of NASA citizen science projects and start contributing today!

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.