Amateur astronomy offers much to those who ‘catch the bug’. Learning the night sky, watching the Moon and planets, astrophotography, and finding the many deep sky splendours are challenges that can happily occupy an amateur astronomer for a lifetime.
There are those, however, who want more – they want to do science and contribute to astronomy. Astronomy is perhaps the finest example of a science where advanced amateurs and professionals can work side by side, publishing their results for the entire astronomical community. Indeed, the dividing line between amateur and professional can often become blurred. Powerful personal computers and CCD cameras have made this all possible; today’s amateurs with backyard telescopes can do work that, in the past, could only have been done at large observatories. In addition, recent automated sky surveys have discovered many interesting objects too numerous for professionals to monitor closely. There is lots of work for everyone!
There is a price, however. In order to do top-quality work, amateurs must learn the methods and discipline that govern the work of professionals. The good news is that there is a lot of help available over the internet in the form of discussion groups, direct e-mail contact with knowledgeable astronomers, and the many organizations such as the American Association of Variable Astronomers (AAVSO) which has a worldwide membership.
The many areas where an astronomer with a backyard telescope and a CCD camera (or sometimes just a pair of binoculars or even unaided eyes) can contribute are listed below with page links.
- Meteors – International Meteor Organization
- Occultation timing: Moon, asteroids, planets – International Occultation Timing Assn.
- Variable stars – brightness estimates or measurements – AAVSO
- Eruptive: supernovae, novae, dwarf novae, etc.
- Pulsating: Miras, Cepheids, etc.
- Eclipsing: Algols, Beta Lyrae, contact binaries – P.G.A.S. database
- Supernovae searches – International Supernova Network
There are a number of miscellaneous projects such as radio astronomy, and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) that are not listed here, but which you find on the internet together with much other interesting stuff. Two sites have particularly useful links: