By Wayne Green, Astronomical League Pro/Am Committee Chair
At the May 2012 joint meeting of the Society of Astronomical Sciences (SAS) and American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) in Big Bear, CA, Dr. Arne Hendon stated that most objects brighter than 17th magnitude belong to the amateur community. He also pointed out that amateurs have the time and resources to follow targets over long periods, where the professionals do not. Dr. Dedrei Hunter of Lowell Observatory introduced the Lowell Amateur Research Initiative (LARI), a call for participants to assist with observations for a long list of projects. (Please see www.lowell.edu/LARI_welcome.php) All of these ventures are well suited to most imagers.
Through the Astronomical League’s Pro/Am committee, we seek to introduce professionals to our capable amateurs. The pros are asking our help with long term observations of large fields and objects brighter than 17th magnitude. We also want a way to respond quickly to emergency observations that crop up occasionally.
We are not alone in this work. The advanced amateur communities including AAVSO, ALPO (Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers), AMS (American Meteor Society), CBA (Center for Backyard Astrophysics), and IOTA (International Occultation Timing Association) provide excellent opportunities to learn while contributing much needed data.
Many of these programs are ones that you can do under the light polluted skies in your backyard. Mercury and Venus are often visually observed under twilight conditions. You can make timings of moon transits of Jupiter. Over longer time periods, you can watch for structural features to come and go with Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Lately, one discussion recognizes how difficult it is for people with a serious interest in astronomy and astrophysics to equip themselves with telescopes, mounts, cameras and observatories — not to mention finding the time to observe at night. We do have jobs and family responsibilities, after all!
We tend to accumulate equipment over time with an eye towards retirement, or the empty nest, or both. We can learn about astronomy through professional collaboration as simply as processing images and data using a computer during our spare time on evenings and weekends. This is something we can surely do while we grow the budget for our own equipment.
One real benefit to these collaborations is that our new knowledge and enthusiasm carries over into our public outreach efforts. The short story is, with clever thinking, we can really participate in astronomy.
This quarter’s example collaboration: Dr. Fran Bagenal, University of Colorado, and I had a discussion about how the amateur community can help NASA’s JUNO mission. Amateurs routinely obtain images and data that rival space-based observations. Dr. Bagenal seeks to match our images to the data taken by JUNO.
We have a few “Jupiter Seasons” to refine our techniques before serious observing occurs during JUNO’s mission-time in the Jupiter system. The craft is scheduled to make about 33 orbits within the intense radiation field of Jupiter before the radiation essentially ends the mission. We want to obtain as much ground information as possible in both optical and radio wavelengths. T
Talk about one great opportunity! There are lots of other projects where amateurs can make our contributions. Visit www.astroleague/proam and start collaborating today!
Contact the Astronomical League Pro-Am Committee:
Wayne Green, Pro/Am Committee Chair