Thursday, October 11, 2007

Passion for astronomy and other things

Cosmic Variance has a post on the contribution of amateurs to astronomy.

I have actually joined the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the local course in observational astronomy. I know a lot of things about cosmology and the history and structure of the Universe, but I don't know very much about what I can see in the night sky. I felt that this could be a nice hobby, and I always like learning new things. My husband used to be interested in astronomy when he was younger, and this is something we could have fun doing together with our daughter.

But I'm still very far from being a passionate amateur astronomer. Actually, I'm not even that passionate about dark matter (or detector calibration), which sometimes makes me feel bad. Everyone knows that a scientist should love the research more than everything else -- but somehow I just don't have these strong feelings about it.

To quote the Cosmic Variance post:

Most of us have some peculiar thing about which we care far more than we’re officially supposed to, and that brings us strange and deep pleasure, for reasons we don’t fully understand.

And I know what my passion is. Surely you have noticed by now: science fiction and fandom. And I know other scientists with strong passions for things outside their day job, so I'm not alone. Someone once said that it's best to work with your second biggest interest in life, and save the best for your spare time. That way you will not destroy the fun of it in the daily grind.

It's important to preserve the enthusiasm, because it's something very precious.

This reminds me of a passage in the novel Dark Matter by Rodman Philbrick (probably the best novel with that title):

By day they appear quite normal, but when the sky darkens on moonless evenings, beware the pale night creatures dragging strange, tubular devices into the wilderness. I know that twilight world, having once been a devoted amateur myself. In no other field of science is the amateur so capable of doing good work. Back yard astronomers do a significant amount of the necessary but boring grunt jobs disdained by the professionals. They plod thruough the tedious work of star surveys, record meteor sightings, determine the precise rotation of planets, discover comets, note errant asteroids, observe neglected galaxies, report on supernovas, and in general behave as a huge, dedicated reserve of unpaid, under-appreciated martyrs to science.

Long live the devoted star geeks, and everyone else doing things just because they like it!


Elliot said...

And isn't that the root of the word "amateur?" Someone who is a "lover" of a particularly subject?

sfgirl said...

Hurrah for passion! It is what drives us to do the work of genius... :)