Many of you may find this subject rather obvious, but I think the young who frequent this board may appreciate.
The English physicist Freeman Dyson has recently issued an article in a local newspaper´s Sunday magazine about the role of the amateurs in astronomy. According to his opinion, which I second whole-heartedly, the role of amateurs became very important in the last 20 years due to the advent of digital cameras, computers and software. Today, amateurs astronomers can buy equipment that few professionals could afford 20 years ago.
According to him, there are areas of research which only professional astronomers can dedicate to, like the elusive objects in the deeps of space. Only professionals can get near to the beginning of time, exploring the primitive universe, when galaxies were forming and the oldest stars were at birth. Only professional can access space telescopes capable of detecting high energy photons emitted by matter falling into black holes, etc. But there are other areas in which a net of well-equipped and coordinated amateurs can perform very well. Amateurs have two important advantages: the capacity of observing extensive areas of sky, repeatedly, and the capacity of maintaining long term observations. As a consequence, amateurs are often the first to discover unpredictable events, like atmospheric storms in other planets and catastrophic explosions of stars. They compete with pros in the discovery of comets and asteroids. Many times an amateur get to discover something and the pros follow with more detailed observations and theoretical analysis.
On the other hand, still according to Dyson, some professionals agree with this opinion and welcome the amateur´s assistance. But it seems that the majority of them deem as vain and futile their efforts. The opinion of the majority were expressed by Ernest Rutherford: “Physics is the only real science. All the rest is butterfly collecting”. For the pros, the study of the superstructure of the universe is the real science, while the search for comets and asteroids are details which only interest to the “ butterfly collectors”. Generally speaking the pros tend to be Cartesians, while the amateurs are baconians.
Anyone to comment?