Posted by BC on September 7th, 2009
Several times I have heard from people who said that they had to retire to do any astronomical observing, even though they are astronomers. During one of my solar eclipse trips was the first time I heard that comment. That was back in 1990? Or was it 1991? That great event seems so long ago now.
So, why is it that most professional astronomers have to retire, or at least take a vacation, to do any observing?
Perhaps one answer is that most professional astronomers have to do other tasks to keep the funding coming in. Most researchers who I know have to teach at the university level so that they have an income while they continue their research. Teaching takes time away from observing. Finding grant money to fund research also takes time, time away from observing.
True, not all astronomers do research. Some write books, articles for magazines, etc. The writing astronomers might have a little more time to observe, if writing is their only means of income. They must still have an income of some sort, and to have an income means time away from observing.
So after the younger years are spent earning the money, researching, writing, etc., it seems like the time comes to retire and to go back to doing what piqued the interest in astronomy. Looking at what is up there. To answer the question “Who are the Observers?”. The amateur astronomer is who does most of the observing; the retired professionals who had to take vacation so that they could put their eyes to the telescopes; and all of the others.
Who are the observers? We all are. Some of us observe more than others, but when observing is part of who we are, even a casual glance is worth the time spent. How frequently do you go out and look up?