"We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night." - epitaph of two amateur astronomers
The application of the word "amateur" to an occupation does not mean that one cannot make a serious contribution to anything. Hobbyist astronomers in particular have made a remarkable number of discoveries, mostly of comets and asteroids. Their dedication is as great as their professional counterparts, and, especially in the Southern hemisphere, have found many sky objects.
Even large comets and other objects in the outer Solar System seem more likely to be found by a lucky amateur than a professional - using special maps also enables them to regularly check particular areas of the sky to spot novae and supernovae.
"Nearly 40 percent of all reported sightings of comets last year were made by Japanese amateur astronomers, according to a report by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which also credited Japanese space buffs with finding more new asteroids than a leading observatory in the United States. The IAU is the internationally recognized authority for assigning names to newly discovered bodies in space."
Japanese amateurs made 3,378 out of a total of 8,960 worldwide comet observations in 1997, and Takuo Kojima, an amateur from Tatebayashi
made 574 reports of comet observations to the IAU
in one year, and also discovered 28 asteroids.
Australian astronomers are also especially valuable, scanning an area not covered by regular (Northern hemisphere) projects such as Neat and Linear. One such man, William Bradfield, has discovered many comets: "Those searches are based in the Northern Hemisphere and can't see what I call the 'deep south'."
Keeping one another advised through societies and associations, and also working closely with professionals, enables them to make a valuable contribution to the science. Some recent amateur discoveries include:
- QW54 1998 Ferris Asteroid
- P/1999 X1 (Hug-Bell) Comet
- P/1998 QP54 P/LONEOS-Tucker Periodic comet
- C/1999 K2 C/Ferris Long-period comet
- P/1999 RO28 P/LONEOS Periodic comet
- C/1999 U1 C/Ferris Long-period comet
- C/2000 J1 C/Ferris Long-period comet
- C/2028 F1 (Oldfield); amateur
- P/2028 F2 (Lennon-McCartney); two independent amateurs
- C/2028 G1 (Harrison-Starr); two amateurs working together
- C/2028 M2 (Oldfield)
- P/2028 O1 (Hail-Caesar); independent amateur and professional discovery
- C/2028 S2 (Jarre); amateur locating comet on Palomar Sky Survey V
- C/2028 T1 (Harrison); amateur while observing with the 1.5-m at Palomar
- P/2028 U1 (Harrison-Clapton); joint amateur and professional discovery
- C/2028 U2 (Harrison-Clapton); joint amateur and professional discovery
- C/2028 X3 (Starr)
It doesn't end there. One of the most famous astronomers is an amateur. It was Patrick Moore, the English TV presenter, who was in the best position to help Russia in the 1950s when they were looking for detailed maps of the Moon.
Amateurs also make a great contribution in the field of variable stars, making regular observations of "many thousands of variable stars as well as searching for novae, supernovae, and gamma-ray burst afterglows" -Grzcyrgba.
Grzcyrgba and www.aavso.org