Rosetta, Esa's comet mission, will depend on amateur astronomers to deliver full-sized views of a comet as the space probe studies its interior. Padma A. Yanamandra-Fisher, the coordinator of amateur observations for the Rosetta mission, wrote about the role of amateurs on Esa’s Rosetta blog.
Space probes are usually too close to their subjects to get big-picture views. Competition for time on professional observatories is too intense for space missions to get more than a handful of observing sessions. Amateurs help several space missions by providing global images of Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn on a near-continuous basis. (see our list of related articles below) As long a Solar System object is in the night sky, an amateur astronomer is taking a picture of it.
Rosetta’s science team created the Pro-Am Collaborative Astronomy Project to let amateur astronomers share their pictures of the comet 67 P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta will enter the comet's coma - the halo of gas and dust surrounding the comet's icy nucleus - and orbit at a distance of 10-100 kilometers. That's too close to see how eruptions from the nucleus changes the tails streaming away from the comet. Amateur images will provide that full-scale view and give scientists like Yanamandra-Fisher the context they need to understand the comet. You can join the PACA Project Facebook group right now or follow them @ProAmAstronomy. A website is in the works.