One of the benefits of being a Night Sky Network club is the exciting linkage to active NASA missions and mission scientists. January's teleconference with Dr. Lucy McFadden co-investigator for the Deep Impact mission shared the excitement with the Network a week after the Mission launched. In response, more than 100 participants from Night Sky Network clubs listened in and asked excellent questions about the mission, the science of comets and the role for amateurs to participate.
"Terrific program last night! I was already planning on participating in the amateur observing, but I will definitely participate now," said Barb Geigle of the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society of Wyomissing, PA. "My club is planning a public program at a local library in March for about 100 people, and I now plan to add a section about this mission, along with the "Our Universe" talk I am giving."
There are many reasons amateurs are excited about this mission. For one thing the timing of the missions rendezvous and impact with comet Tempel-1 (9) near the July 4th holiday will make it a public attention getter making it an obvious excuse for holding a public outreach event.
The Deep Impact Mission has garnered press coverage from Planetary Report to Esquire Magazine and will be the subject of an article in the June 2005 National Geographic as well as a July Discovery Channel Documentary.
Another point that makes the mission standout for amateurs is the potentially significant scientific role amateurs can play in the mission.
"We really need amateur observations of the comet in the months prior to impact to determine comet behavior and activitiy levels," said Dr. McFadden. "It doesn't require high-tech equipment to be of scientific value to the mission. Amateurs with keen eyes and good observational skills can provide extremely valuble data. For example, if 90 of 100 amateurs observing the comet on a given night report that the comet has brightened that could be a statistically significant scientific observation that would be factored into the scientific analysis.
With the mission being so short it probably garners more interest and there's a real opportunity for amateurs to contribute: two distinguishing characteristics from other missions, said Robert Burgess, Solar System embassador and Night Sky Network volunteer with the Astronomical Society of Northern New England.
To get involved in the mission's program for amateurs, McFadden encourages amateurs to visit the missions amateur website at http://deepimpact.umd.edu/amateur/. If you would like to be involved supporting the science of the mission, you should consider participating in the Deep Impact Small Telescope Science Program at http://deepimpact.umd.edu/stsp/. Clubs that would like to be involved with Deep Impact are encouraged to contact Elizabeth Warner (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Stephanie McLaughlin (email@example.com) directly.
To all the Deep Impact team and Night Sky Network clubs who help them with outreach we extend a big thanks.