The line between amateur and professional astronomer has always been thin. I know professionals who have no idea how to use a telescopes (theoreticians, usually*), and amateurs who know every nebula in the sky and take pictures of them indistinguishable from those taken at big observatories.
Case in point: Damian Peach, who, in September, traveled to Barbados to observe Jupiter. It was around then that the dance of their orbits brought our two planets as close as they get, so Jupiter appears larger through a telescope. Damian also went to Barbados because Jupiter would be very high up in the sky, minimizing atmospheric disturbance.
Was it worth it? See for yourself. Using his observations, he made this video of Jupiter rotating over the course of several hours (make sure you set the resolution to 480 to see everything there):
That is just about the finest imagery of Jupiter from the ground I have ever seen! Look at the detail: the Great Red Spot, the string of brownish storms just above and trailing behind it, the white ovals, the whorls and streamers of air separating the horizontal banding. It’s breathtaking. And there’s this overwhelming three-dimensionality to it, a powerful sense that this is a giant planet. It’s simply stunning.
One of the fun things about astronomical data is that a lot of it is public; if you know where to look you can find it. And a lot of telescopes and space probes produce so much data there’s simply no way professional scientists can look at it all… giving "amateurs" (in the sense that they aren’t professionals, not that they aren’t possessed of vast talent) a chance to create images from these data.
And man oh man, am I glad some folks do just that. Behold!
From Emily at The Planetary Society blog comes word that one of Jupiter’s belts has disappeared… again.
This image, by the accomplished amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley, shows what’s up. Usually, the Great Red Spot is accompanied by a dark reddish belt that goes all the way around the planet, like the one in the northern hemisphere you can see in the picture. However, the Southern Equatorial Belt, as it’s called, is gone!