The goal of scientific research is publication. The work of the most brilliant scientist will come to nothing if others do not know about it. There are professional publications, journals that regularly publish the works of professional scientists. These journals are discriminating publications that require peer review and acceptance by a committee of scientists before the research work can be accepted for publication. The point is, getting work published is a difficult thing, and it is meant to be. The reputation of the journal, the institution, not to mention the scientist and the science itself, is at risk and can be irreparably harmed by bad science. Professional scientists make their living doing their science. Their careers depend upon acceptance and publication. But at least professional scientists have publications in which they can be published.
Amateurs also have venues in which their work can be recognized. The work of some amateur astronomers is of such high quality that professional astronomers
will often incorporate it into their own research. The amateur may be honored, in some cases, by having his name listed with the authors of the publication. Or, the amateur may be credited in the dedication segment of the book or publication, or in some other manner. The American Astronomical Society (AAS), an organization that limits its membership to professional astronomers or other scientists in closely related fields, has undertaken an effort to foster collaboration between the professional and amateur astronomy community, recognizing the potential of amateurs to contribute to science. The Division for Planetary Scientists, a sub-group of the AAS, has long recognized the potential of amateurs to contribute to the work they do. There have been many occasions in which professional papers on Jupiter have incorporated data gathered by members of the British Astronomical Association (BAA), the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (A.L.P.O.), and other organizations. I myself have received telephone calls and e-mail messages from scientists seeking transit data I have accumulated for A.L.P.O. These are certainly exhilarating experiences for any amateur scientist.
In a sense, amateurs have a great advantage over the professional astronomer. We can work at our own pace. We can observe with our own instruments anytime we choose, not having to wait for telescope time. Most of us make our living in other jobs and professions, so we are not encumbered with fund raising to do our science. In short, amateurs have a lot of freedom. If we want to do astronomy just for fun, we can!
But astronomy is the one remaining science that also offers the amateur a chance to make a meaningful contribution. If the amateur wants to do serious science, he can. As we have seen, improvements in equipment and affordability are making it possible for the serious amateur to do many of the things that used to be the realm of the professional astronomer.
We have already discussed the kinds of observations that amateurs can perform, many of which require only modest equipment and attention to detail. So when the amateur has collected his data, what does he do with it?
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