Sunday, January 31, 2021

An Amateur Astronomer’s Credo

The January 2021 issue of Astronomy magazine presented “Studying Galaxies with Amateur Images” by David Martinez-Delgado and R. Jay GaBany. The article credited sanitary engineer Andrew Common with the first photographic record of the faint structures in the Orion Nebula. The year was 1883. Non-astronomers Karl Jansky at Bell Labs in 1933 and ham operator Grote Reber working alone in 1937 invented radio astronomy. 

Founded in 1897, the American Astronomical Society originally served all astronomers, but starting in the 1920s, amateurs drifted away and the AAS became a society for academics. Exploration beyond the Earth using rockets and the attendant creation of astronautics brought in other professionals. But the AAS, numbering about 2000 members, always had some amateur members, about ten to 15% or so. In 2016, the AAS Board of Directors created an initiative to reach out to amateurs with a new Amateur Affiliate membership class. Then, in 2019, the Board decided to take action. In 2020, they appointed a manager, their publicist Rick Fienberg, to head the effort. 


Meanwhile, AAS Amateur Affiliate and eclipse-chaser Rik Yeames decided to see if other AAS amateur affiliates would join his effort to publicize the upcoming solar eclipse, April 8, 2024. That’s where I came in. When I joined the AAS as an amateur affiliate in 2020, I saw that they wanted an assistant editor for the Historical Astronomy Division. So, I volunteered and was accepted. Tomorrow, February 1, 2021, I become the editor. At the 237th meeting of the AAS, January 15-21, 2021, an Amateur Affiliate meet-and-greet was held. The AAS wanted to know what they could do for us. Ahead of that, I began to map out some ideas.


Rick Fienberg said that he found my ideas “confrontational.” I admit that what follows largely defines what a professional astronomer is not. However, that was consequential to the fact that the paradigm I started with was the NCO’s Creed of the U.S. Army here, which I learned while serving as a petty officer in the Maritime Regiment of the Texas Military Department. It begins, “No one is more professional than I. I am a noncommissioned officer, a leader of Soldiers.” It closes, “I will not compromise my integrity, nor my moral courage. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are professionals, noncommissioned officers, leaders!” Based on that, I wrote this:


An Amateur Astronomer’s Credo


My love of astronomy is its own justification.

I am motivated to practice the science of astronomy by my enjoyment of the activity.


I choose my own research projects.

I can change (or abandon) my research programs, goals, and methods.

My funding and my spending are my own.

I schedule my own time.

I choose my own instruments and equipment.

I schedule my own instruments and equipment.

I choose when and how to share my instruments or equipment. 


My amateur colleagues and I call each other by our first names. We also have cool usernames. 


I do not need approval from anyone to engage in and practice astronomy.

My advancement does not depend on approval from another person or group.

When I publicize my work, peer review is after the fact, not as permission to publish.

My publications stand on their own merit, independent of my name or ascribed status.


My learning is continuous and informal, an integrated aspect of my life and lifestyle.

I decide when and how to extend my knowledge, drawing from an open market of learning platforms including self-paced and self-directed studies offered by accredited organizations. I also benefit from public libraries and bookstores. Through social media, I ask questions. My love of the learning is its own justification, motivation, and reward.



Leaders are Readers 

We Were Soldiers Once and Young 

The Fourth Star 

Band of Brothers 

Peace is More Powerful 


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