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“The biggest thing amateurs can offer professional planetary scientists is time,” says Alan Clitherow (pictured), director of the Society for Popular Astronomy’s Planetary Section. “Amateurs observing and imaging the planets provide a level of detailed coverage that professionals simply cannot match using their limited number of exotic telescopes, which are constantly in demand for many different observing projects. When the Mars Pathfinder landing was threatened by dust storms it was an analysis of thousands of amateur images that allowed an understanding of the progression of such events and a decision that the landing could continue safely. The current NASA Juno mission relies on amateurs contributing images of Jupiter so that Juno’s highly detailed pictures of a small strip of Jovian cloud can be put in a wider context of weather patterns determined from those amateur images.
“Amateur telescopes and cameras can now produce outstanding results. The images are often produced and processed by software written by amateurs, and an amateur team currently coordinates the search for ‘impact flashes’ – the evidence of asteroid strikes on the face of Jupiter – in videos of the planet taken from any number of backyards worldwide.
“The Society of Popular Astronomy exists to help amateurs of all levels as they progress their interest in the night sky; it allows them to make a real contribution to human understanding of the Universe.”