Amateur comet-spotters to help Rosetta mission

The Cliffs of Hathor (I love saying that). Rosetta's ability to send amazingly detailed images like this to Earth also means it can't see what's happening on a larger scale. The Rosetta mission has asked amateurs to help track the big picture while Rosetta (and with luck Philae) does its thing. Credit: Esa/Rosetta/MPS for Osiris Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Esa’s Rosetta mission has asked amateur astronomers for help, SEN reports. The story gives a good overview of why scientists need ground observations even though Rosetta is right there at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (I'll call it 67P/C-G). It also explains the advantage amateurs have over the professionals when it comes to observing comets.

What does it mean for amateurs? Pro-am collaboration is standard practice in planetary science - and especially in comet studies. Thanks to affordable research-quality telescopes and the Internet's global reach, amateurs are playing a greater role than ever.  

This smudge is the Comet 67P/C-G taken through the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope last August. Scientists want to know how the large-scale changes in the comet's nucleus and tails relate to the local changes Rosetta (and Philae) observe. Credit: C. Snodgrass/ESO/Esa

The Rosetta effort evolved from a campaign to observe the Comet Ison as it approached the inner Solar System. A global team of professional and amateur astronomers formed the Comet Ison Observing Campaign to collect observations. It was so successful that scientists called on the network to observe Comet Siding Spring C/2013A1 as it approached Mars last year.

The Comet 67P/C-G campaign consists of two parts. European scientists are coordinating the professional side of the ground campaign. Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory launched the amateur side with the Rosetta Ground-based Campaign. The JPL press release explains why the role of amateurs is so important:

  • Amateurs have more opportunities to observe the comet.
  • The pros must compete to get time on the big telescopes
  • The big telescopes can't point as close to the Sun as amateur telescopes

Of course, there's a catch. You can't help science by putting your iPhone up to a telescope. The amateurs participating in Paca and the Rosetta Ground-based Campaign have advanced skills and equipment. You have to be able to answer the questions on the registration page in order to contribute. (Or read about the Paca Rosetta Campaign's private Facebook Group)

But even if you can't contribute to the science you can follow the campaign on Facebook or Twitter.  The JPL press release also gives some tips for joining Comet 67P observing parties.

Here are some earlier posts about amateurs, professionals, and comets:

If you like what you’ve read, why not make a contribution of your own? Give me feedback on the articles you’ve read, suggest amateur projects that deserve promotion, or donate to the tip jar. Every little bit helps.