Date: November 8, 2011

Title: Open Notebook Astronomy

Podcaster: Dr. Alex “Sandy” Antunes

Organization: Project Calliope LLC


Description: Is astronomy free?

Bio: Dr. Sandy is launching a personal science/music satellite at, writes twice/weekly at Science2.0, and has just accepted a professorship at Capitol College. Email:

Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” has been sponsored by — NO ONE. We still need sponsors for many days in 2011, so please consider sponsoring a day or two. Just click on the “Donate” button on the lower left side of this webpage, or contact us at


Much is made of open science or open notebook science these days. As an astronomer, I have to tell you a secret. Ready?

Well, before I get to the secret, here’s what the proponents of open notebook science suggest. Science data– especially data that tax payers funded– should be made public. Research publications should be open and free. Ordinary citizens– as if any person could be merely ordinary– should be allowed and encouraged to participate in the science process if they wish. And if they can.

Most of all, it says stop keeping the inner workings of science secret!

So to reveal astronomy’s secret– we’ve been doing this for years. And it works. And it’s cost-effective. It doesn’t even make it harder on us scientists, it makes it easier. Or as Kindergarten might tell you, sharing is good.

Now, drug companies patent medicines, but astronomers don’t patent stars. Genetics researchers try to patent your personal DNA sequences, but we astronomers have not filed a claim on the heavy elements that let life itself form. We could– those elements were formed in supernovas, and once we astronomers discovered that, we could have patented all of life itself. But we didn’t.

We’re talking about open sciences, the ability of anyone to look up and wonder. We’re about sharing what we do, not locking it up. Astronomy remains one of the primary science fields where amateurs can and do regularly make significant contributions. Find an undiscovered asteroid, and you get to name it– just not after yourself, but it can be named after someone else. such as a podcaster that you happen to take a fancy too…

Spot a comet, it gets named after you or the mission or project that took the pictures. Or, if you’re the Shoemaker-Levy trio, it becomes one of many you discovered, and you end up having names like comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, the one that was predicted to then observed hitting Jupiter in 1994. So yes, you can discover more than one thing. No one-per-customer limit in astronomy.

Anyway, amateur or pro, it’s your observations and work that matters in astronomy. Want to read about someone’s work? Go to a journal site like and you have access to almost all the astronomical journals, for free.

And if you do your own observing run at a major telescope, or you are the principal investigator or PI of a NASA mission? Well, then you do have special priviledges. For a period of 1 year, no one else can look at your data, only you.

But then, after 1 year, that data too goes public. Public not just as in ‘other people can look at it’, but public as in ‘NASA maintains web-based archives anyone can access’. How else do the sungrazer comet spotters get to make their hundreds of amateur comet discoveries using LASCO and STEREO data?

So with all of this openness working for astronomy, we think perhaps the other sciences might want to look up from their lab benches and realize that, hey, the sky won’t fall if you open up your notebooks. We guarantee that because, hey, we’re astronomers.

This is Dr. Sandy Antunes, the daytime astronomer, giving you an oped here at “365 Days of Astronomy”, I bring you science and science opinion every week at Science2.0 and every two months here. See ya!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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