Sunday, November 25, 2012

Amateur Astronomers contribute to Science

Amateur astronomers have an opportunity to contribute to science.

At least in Michigan, amateur astronomy is mainly about keeping track of the weather (you can't observe when it is 100% overcast), the moon phase (dim objects can't be observed when the moon is out), the planets, comets and unusual/rare events (such as Venus transits and the like). It is also learning to use your eyes, telescopes and/or binoculars to find static/unchanging objects (constellations and star clusters, nebulae and galaxies). But for the most part you are looking at objects that many other people have looked at before.

Don't get me wrong, these challenges are enough for most amateur astronomers. Nevertheless a few amateur astronomers find ways to make novel observations; novel observations which can add to scientific knowledge. I will not produce a complete list here, but here are a few ideas...
So far I've discussed observational astronomy; but I would be remiss if I didn't mention theoretical astronomy and physics. Contributions to this area by amateurs are possible, but not easy. On occasion I get emails from people who claim to have a new theory of astronomy and/or physics. As a service for anyone else who might want to contribute, I would like to point out the following...
  • Over the past hundred years, most advances in astronomy/physics theory have involved groups of scientists working together. Single individuals making ground breaking advances are rare.
  • Any new idea will be subjected to intense criticism; many people can't deal with criticism, but this is fact of life for theoretical science.
  • It is essential that you understand all the ideas that come before. If you are proposing a new theory, you must demonstrate that you understand the existing theories and explain why your theory is better.
  • In almost all cases, physics and astronomy requires math. A theory without math probably wont be be taken seriously.
  • Above all it is hard work.

No comments:

Post a Comment