Monday, January 6, 2020

Amateur Astronomy for Pay

Technically, of course, if you are getting paid, then you are not an amateur. At least, that is how the International Olympic Committee used to view the matter, certainly when they took away Jim Thorpe’s medals because he played minor league baseball while in college—though baseball was not an Olympic sport until 1992. Here, the assumption is that you have some other employment or are retired, and for you, astronomy is a pastime. How can you get paid for it?

One of the active members of our local club is a very accomplished photographer. He displays at periodic arts and crafts shows. Astronomical photographs seem to be easy retail sales. The trick is in the printing and mounting and you can find advice online about on that. Tourist-oriented shops or book retailers in your area could be outlets, also. However, most of them will want your work on consignment and typically you take the loss if the item is damaged, or stolen. 

Moon of Jupiter casts its shadow on the planet.
Rob prints his processed images on metal.
I own two.
I know Ron from our local astronomy club.
My wife knows him from a local software club.
Still, because astronomical photographs are compelling, this could be a market for someone who enjoys marketing. Selling online with your own website and through other big outlet sites is always an option. It still requires payment services, packing, and shipping, and customer service and all that.

Astronomers rely on two broad families of software: planetarium and image processing. In the first category, several commercial products such as Starry Night are well known and compete against free software such as Stellarium and Celestia. But with software, creators are passionate about their better idea. Image processing software includes AstroPix and StarTools among others. Again, for those who love to code, the fact that others already have done it is no barrier. (See the earlier post, Ruby Methods the Ruby Way, here.)
Free Astronomy Planetarium Software
Matthew McCool  Southern Polytechnic 
SU E-mail: 
posted at the University of Texas Astronomy here:
You can write for publication. The channels are narrow and shallow. In the USA we have two paying magazine, Astronomy and Sky & Telescope. Both are mostly written by their own fulltime staffs. They do accept submissions, subject to a lot of restrictions. Both magazines tell authors to query first. For Astronomy, I found the Guidelines by putting Guidelines in the Search box. (I could not find it as a tab, menu item or link off the homepage.) 

They say (in part): “Most of the articles used in the magazine are commissioned by our editors. Occasionally, we do publish unsolicited material. To query us on an article idea, send a letter or an outline that describes the piece. If you have not been published in Astronomy, please send writing samples along with your letter. All submissions must include a typed, double-spaced printout. These materials will not be returned to you. You will receive a written response indicating whether or not your article has been accepted for publication.”

Sky & Telescope is more user-friendly. The guidelines for contributors is a labeled link at the bottom of the home page. Sky & Tel says (in part): “About half the material in each monthly issue of Sky & Telescope is written by our editors and regular contributors. The rest is authored by science journalists, research astronomers, historians, and accomplished amateur astronomers from all nations and diverse cultures. Many authors write for us again and again, but we're always looking for new writers eager to share their enthusiasm, talent, and expertise with our readers.”

(Just to note: I have not submitted any queries to either magazine. I am not far enough along in my knowledge base. I have been granted literary awards by the American Numismatic Association, but in those cases, I report on the works of others, not original discoveries. So, that would be my intentions here as well.) 
Cary Jacobs (Kent, UK) acrylic on canvas
advertised on The Sky Searchers dot com
under Vendors
If you like buying and selling, astronomy is a hobby that depends on expensive equipment. I will caution that buying and selling is an activity in its own right. In the five years from 1977 to 1982, computer retailers learned that a successful track record in refrigerator sales is a better predictor of success than knowledge of computers. If you do not enjoy trading, knowledge of astronomy will not provide the skills. Those skills can be learned, but it is learning by trial and error which can be expensive.

Just a side note:  Shipping can be expensive as well. A friend from my local club assured me that his telescope is portable because it weighs only 50 lbs. When I wanted to borrow a scope from the club, the equipment chair cautioned me that the optical assembly alone weighs about 60 lbs. That is something of an upper limit for a hobby scope, but a factor to consider. Eyepieces, lenses, mirrors, finders, filters, and such are much smaller and easier to take to FedEx, UPS, or the USPS.  

Lecturing for pay is possible. Our local astronomy club does get requests from hotels, resorts, and similar venues to provide guest lecturers for special events. They offer (modest) honoraria that cover time and expenses. 

You could always do your own advertising and market your own presentation services. However, as with sales, if you do not already enjoy public speaking, knowledge of astronomy will not carry you through. It is learnable. Toastmasters International is a popular engagement for those who want to learn public speaking. I will say that my wife tried it when her information systems employer wanted her to make videos. Instead, she took 18 weeks of improv training at a local theater. She got over the fear of presentation but does not volunteer for it. I do. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.