THE OBSERVING SPECIALIST
No matter wdiere you live, it does not take many nights out under the stars to realize that there is a lot ot universe and that we can only see a very small swath of it at a time.These encourage you to explore one patch of sky in detail.
As you become more experienced, you may find yourself returning time and again to a particular aspect ofskywatchmg—counting meteors, say. or searching for double stars. Before you know it, you are on tlie road toward becoming a serious, specialized observer.
Specialized observing can he an extremely rewarding pursuit, particularly if you submit your observations to an organization that archives these for scientific reference. Because there are a limited number of observatories in the world, and time on the big telescopes is always oversubscribed, professional astronomers do not have the opportunity to oversee every aspect of the sky. But amateur astronomers are free to react quickly to discoveries, and can make a significant contribution to many of the fields descrrbed in this chapter. For instance, they are often the first to report a supernova in a distant galaxy or to plot the brightness fluctuations of an erratic variable star.
The technological developments of the twentieth century, which initially threatened to displace amateurs, have actually opened up new areas of study. The accessibility of photographic equipment and, more recently, CCD technology has enabled amateurs to support professionals in specialized fields. Amateurs often capture useful pre-discovery images of novae, supernovae, and variable stars. Using a device called a photometer, they can measure variations in the in-tensity of a variable star's light. With a micrometer attached to a telescope, amateurs can measure the separation of double stars and contribute to the field ofastrometry, which determines the precise positions of celestial bodies.
Even if you do not have the time or desire to become a "serious" amateur astronomer, there are many personal rewards in studying the near and far universe—not the least of which is a greater appreciation of the boundless beauty of the sky above us.