Discoveries by amateurs set the field of astronomy apart from other fields of science in an era where professionally-trained Ph.D.s dominate research. The recent discovery of a dark spot on Jupiter by astronomy enthusiast Anthony Wesley of North Canberra, Australia, is just the latest example.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Wesley spotted the new dark spot on Jupiter early Tuesday morning with his 14.5-inch reflecting telescope, a type of telescope commonly used by backyard observers because of the relatively low cost and high resolution. Wesley’s setup cost about $10,000, a bargain compared to the millions required for smaller professional telescope facilities.
Wesley reported his discovery of the dark spot, possibly the result of a comet striking the planet and leaving behind a dark impact crater, in an observation report that he posted online, according to the New York Times.
Professional astronomers at NASA facility followed up the report with the NASA telescope on Mauna Kea on the Big Island and found his assessment of an impact crater to be likely correct.
In an era where scientific discoveries are generally the domain of highly trained professionals, an important discovery by an amateur serves to remind us that science grew into what it is today because of good old-fashioned curiosity.