Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours exploring the cosmos through a variety of telescopes that they acquire, maintain, and improve on their own. Some of these amateur astronomers specialize in capturing what is seen through their telescopes in images and are astrophotographers.
What happens when the work of amateur astronomers and astrophotographers is combined with the data from some of the world's most sophisticated space telescopes? These four composite images of galaxies reveal the possibilities. These galaxies are M101, also known as the "Pinwheel Galaxy", M81, Centaurus A, and M51, or, the "Whirlpool Galaxy".
This Astro Pro-Am collaboration intends to raise interest and awareness among the amateur astronomer/astrophotographer community of the wealth of data publicly available, such as in NASA's various mission archives. This effort is particularly appropriate for this month because April marks Global Astronomy Month, the world's largest global celebration of astronomy.
For many amateur astronomers and astrophotographers, a main goal of their efforts is to observe and share the wonders of the Universe. However, the long exposures of these objects may also help to reveal phenomena that may otherwise be missed in the relatively short snapshots taken by major telescopes, which are tightly scheduled and often oversubscribed by professional astronomers. Therefore, projects like Astro Pro-Am might one day prove useful not only for producing spectacular images, but also contributing to the knowledge of what is happening in each of these cosmic vistas.
(Credit: NASA/CXC/J. DePasquale)