Asteroid collision shows how much amateur astronomers have to offer

The DART impact ejected huge amounts of dust and debris off the surface of the Asteroid Dimorphos. The The trail of dust stretches over 10,000 kilometers.Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/SOAR/NSF/AURA/T. Kareta (Lowell Observatory), M. Knight (US Naval Academy)

When NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), spacecraft collided with an asteroid last night. SeptemberMany telescopes were trained to observe this unique celestial event. Some were operated by teams of amateur astronomers — skilled skywatchers for whom astronomy is not their full-time day job (or, more accurately, night job). Three These teams are France’s Réunion island in the Indian OceanPlus one NairobiThe impact was observed in real-time by a colleague.

These Skywatchers are part of the authors in a study. Nature This is how the named asteroid works DimorphosThe spacecraft struck it and temporarily, the colors became brighter and redder1. One Five papers on the impact were published in Nature15, it describes a real-time view of a cosmic collision — similar to that When Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 slammed in Jupiter In July 1994.

The four telescopes were of a type that has become popular in the amateur-astronomy community, with 112-millimetre-diameter mirrors. Manufactured By UnistellarBased in Marseille, France, they come with an app that uploads observational data to the company’s server, so prThis isessional astronomers can quickly combine and analyse records of an event made by their amateur associates.

It’s the latest example in the long-running story of how amateur stargazers have assisted in making observations of the night sky. In the past, for example, astronomers have improved their understanding of variable stars — those whose brightness as seen from Earth changes with time — by tapping into an extensive database of observations built partly by amateur astronomers as part of a global network called the American Association of Variable Star Observers. Other These community-science initiatives include helping astronomers categorize galaxies and sorting through cosmic signals to find extraterrestrial civilizations. Amateur Astronomers regularly discover comets, other celestial events, and also identify previously undiscovered phenomena and objects using old photos of the night sky. In 2020 is an example. Italian amateur astronomer Giuseppe Donatiello Three dwarf galaxies were discovered orbiting distant stars by simply looking at public data from Dark Energy SurveyRecorded by a telescope Chile.

Coordination Astronomy is not the only field where professional and amateur researchers can interact. In JanuaryResearchers unveiled BirdFlow, a model that uses machine learning to predict where 11 might be located, in a paper published by the University of California, Berkeley. North American Bird species will migrate to6. They It was explained that this was possible due to the many millions of bird sighting records submitted by amateur ornithologists each year to an online database called eBird.

Whatever Community science is a discipline that collects data from many people. These data must be validated and calibrated. The It pays off that the more people who can confirm an observation are the more solid that observation is. In The DART impact was an example of how amateur scientists were able gather, distribute, publish and quickly share information. Other Amateur teams continue to monitor DART’s asteroid system. For For example, French–Greek Supported by the European Space Agency includes amateur observations and aims to refine our understanding of the system’s orbit around the Sun.

As Scientists become more sophisticated and dependent on ever more-specific instrumentation. It’s tempting to conclude that scientists are no longer amateurs. But It would be absurd. More Researchers who work in multiple fields need to think creatively about ways they can tap into the enthusiasm of amateur colleagues.

The next time you’re looking for an observation partner or someone to help crunch data, consider the amateur.

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