Amateur science has been a driving force within the realms of astronomical research ever since the amateur William Herschel
became the first person to discover a major planet. Galileo, perhaps the original amateur astronomer, discovered the
moons of Jupiter and other wonders with the development of revolutionary instrumentation. If we take these momentous
events to represent the commencement of modern observational astronomy, we find the contributions of amateurs
necessarily tracks advances in theory, instrumentation and observational methods.
Today at the dawn of the 21st century, we seem to be at a sort of amateur astronomical cross road. Professional astronomy has become “big” science. So big that no single nation can afford the instrumentation costs required to stay at the forefront of this scientific endeavour. The amateur it appears, may be in danger of being slowly relegated to the status of spectator and yet at no other time has the amateur been so well equipped to push the bounds of observational astronomy. The potential for linkage between observers, professional or amateur is such that amateurs can truly take a place along side the professional observatories as supporting observers.
The advent of robotic telescopes, electronic cameras, high power computing plus communication and travel opportunities, all at affordable prices, places enormous research opportunities into the hands of the modern amateur. At present this instrumentation bonanza is still being explored by what might light-heartedly be called “The Artistic Amateur”, taking advantage of the opportunity to match the popular pictures of professional observatories while “pushing the envelope” of instrumental capabilities. This is of course only the early phase of what promises to be a renaissance in amateur science contributions as these new instrumental opportunities are assimilated into other research horizons. Those amateurs at the vanguard of this instrumentation revolution have recognised the unique characteristics that amateurs can bring to the astronomical scene. Amateurs can freely choose what targets to follow and for how long. While the professional astronomer might only get a short observational period at the giant telescopes, the amateur can dedicate literally decades to long term monitoring and with the new opportunities for data reduction and communication can practically contribute to the general body of knowledge.
Our NACAA theme is “Amateur Astronomical Science – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” and we hope Australian amateurs will learn through the NACAA forum to enjoy and explore the achievements of yesteryear, the significant work and exciting developments being undertaken within the contemporary amateur astronomical community and perhaps to speculate upon the likely directions and exciting research possibilities for the future. As with all NACAA we anticipate a lot of fun making new acquaintances, renewing old friendships and being re-inspired by the possibilities of an ever changing hobby.