Not that long ago, astronomical research was undertaken by well-heeled individuals who were amateur astronomers in their free time.
In earlier centuries, the independently well-to-do amateur astronomer could afford to build their own telescopes and instruments, with many developing their own designs. If there were amateur astronomers of more lowly means, they could only envy those with access to expensive optical aids and measuring tools, though the wonder of the night time sky remained there to be witnessed with the naked eye... especially with the dark skies which would have existed before the onset of the Industrial Age.
Come the 20th century... and with the introduction of jobs for "professional astronomers", telescopes and the observatories that housed them became so large that no amateur astronomer could hope to emulate them... and professionals were the sole arbiters of who had the ability to access these comprehensive research facilities.
The results from space-based telescopes, large observatories and spaceprobes were just viewed by a select few academic eyes.
The advent of the internet has changed that paradigm. Over the past couple of decades, a tremendous volume of data has been collected from deep sky surveys, spaceprobes and various space-based telescopes. It would take quite a few more decades for professional astronomers to sort through and look at all that data, and that is just not achievable. For this reason they are currently requesting amateur astronomers and members of the public - anyone with access to a PC - to assist them to look into and review all of that data.
The era of citizen astronomy has returned and you can contribute to it.
You only need access to a PC - which could be in your workplace, an internet cafe or your local library - and internet access.
To help you get moving, the following is a rundown of the Top Five astronomy research initiatives on the internet:
1. Galaxy Zoo Mergers
Members review collisions between galaxies.The main goal of this project is to assess photographs from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and compare simulated galaxy collisions with actual photos of colliding galaxies.Astronomers hope to make use of the consolidated results from all those who help, to discover the process involved in galaxy mergers.
2. SETI At Home
This program harnesses the strength of several thousand home computers across the world to examine the piles of information from the Arecibo Radio Telescope.The objective of this ongoing program is to determine if we can eavesdrop on any extra-terrestrial civilizations.
3. Globe at Night
The Globe at Night's website presents graphs and diagrams that allow people to determine how bright their night skies are.Perhaps you should assess the brightness of your own skies and contribute to the program.The coordinators then gather the reports to produce a chart of the results.
4. Moon Zoo
Moon Zoo depends on people like you identifying and labeling craters along with other interesting objects in high resolution photos from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
5. Global Telescope Network
Participate in the nitty-gritty points of astronomical research by studying CCD images from observatories across the globe.You need an internet-enabled PC in addition to specialist computer software like CCDsoft or Maxim DL, so this may only appeal to astrophotgraphers who almost certainly have already bought such software programs.