Amateurs Help European Space Agency Study Comets

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. 

Although this came from a professional observatory (the comet is too faint for most amateur telescopes) this is the kind of context that Esa's Rosetta mission needs from amateur astronomers. (BTW: the cluster of stars on the left is M107) Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Although this came from a professional observatory (the comet is too faint for most amateur telescopes) this is the kind of context that Esa's Rosetta mission needs from amateur astronomers. (BTW: the cluster of stars on the left is M107) Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

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. 

Here's one reason why the Rosetta team needs context from amateurs - the pros will be a little too close to their subject. (This is an artist's impression of Rosetta's Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P/C-G. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Here's one reason why the Rosetta team needs context from amateurs - the pros will be a little too close to their subject. (This is an artist's impression of Rosetta's Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P/C-G. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

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.

Related Articles: