At the time of the comet discovery, George was using the RASC club observatory, but as he explains, one can be involved in the amateur astronomy field at a very low cost.
Before spending a lot of money on expensive equipment, members of the RASC, like Brian McCullough, say it’s important for beginners to get acquainted with the night sky using simple tools.
"The first thing we tell people is don't go out and buy a telescope," said McCullough, a RASC veteran. "Get yourself a copy of ‘NightWatch’ by Terence Dickinson (a beginner's guide to stars and constellations) and some binoculars."
"It's a progression," said Hall, "You might eventually get to that big telescope as your passion grows, but you don't need that type of thing to be able to look deep into the sky."
Brian McCullough stands in front of the "Brightstar Observatory" which he built in his backyard. Photo by Jacqueline Bastianon.
David Prosper, who works as a contractor for NASA Night Sky Network program in California, acts as bridge between professional and amateur astronomers. He said that crowd-sourcing projects are another important way that amateurs help contribute to the professional field. There is such a vast amount of information being collected constantly and amateurs are an important resource to help interpret it.
"Professionals love the support of the amateurs, and they will often request data [from them]," said Prosper. He highlighted ongoing projects such as ‘Galaxy Zoo’, which involves sorting through pictures and categorizing galaxies based on a set of given criteria. Amateurs submit their findings back to the organization so that they can be used to map the night sky.
All five sources agreed that without the work of amateurs, the field of earth and space science would be very different. "There would be less surprises," said Prosper. “There have been discoveries that amateurs will notice and that professionals might not."
Prosper points out that without the work of non-specialists, some new discoveries and information would go unnoticed. It’s amateur groups that take the time to study the shapes, sizes, mass measurements and path of objects in space, such as asteroids which professionals often overlook.
“Those are actually quite important, especially if it's a near-Earth asteroid,” said Prosper. “Someday [we might] detect an asteroid that's going to hit, and it's all thanks to someone who spent a little extra time in their backyard checking it out."
In addition, McCullough said he believes that without the work of laymen, astronomy for the most part, be inaccessible to the general public. Hall agreed, "As professionals and as scientists, communication is really important. There's no way that we can get what we're doing across to the public without amateur astronomers."