The Role of Small Telescopes in Modern Astronomy, October 14-15, 1996, Lowell Observatory

Amateurs and Mentors

Leif J. Robinson
Sky & Telescope

Hundreds of amateurs have telescopes 0.2-m to 0.5-m in aperture that are equipped with CCDs and other high-sensitivity, low-noise accessories. They also have the computing power to carry out thorough data analysis.

In the near future, small telescopes may disappear from national facilities and, because of poor job prospects, fewer students may choose astronomy as a career. Knowledgeable, equipment-rich amateurs could make excellent collaborators with professionals. In fact, many amateurs may desire to work directly with a professional, one-on-one. Such interaction is now exceedingly easy thanks to modern communications.

Except for photon starvation, amateurs doing ordinary science are not badly limited by technology. However, they are limited by a dearth of fresh ideas. Many amateurs are unable to choose a promising research road simply because they don't have enough background. So I propose that some organization, such as the AAS, AAVSO, ASP, or IAPPP, should begin a "Mentoring Connection." It's goal should simply be to put good scientists in touch with good amateurs. Philosophically, I believe any such program should be guided by the principle of true partnership. The professional should encourage the amateur to get as deeply involved as his or her inspiration, time, and ability permits.

Traditional fields of research include astrometry, imaging, and photometry. Yet there is no reason why polarimetry, spectroscopy, and spectrophotometry are beyond the capability of amateurs, especially if modestly supported by training and equipment.

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