Where do the observations go?

Forums General Discussion Where do the observations go?

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    David Scanlan, FRAS

    Hi All,

    As we all know astronomy is one of two sciences where the amateur can make a valuable contribution…any ideas on the other science? ( I know but wont reveal just yet)

    For years I have submitted observations to numerous organisations like the BAA, SPA & AAVSO. I know the data submitted to the AAVSO get used by amateur and pro astronomers and also in education etc so I see the use of submitting observations. I am really interested to know why does the BAA do with the submitted observations they receive?

    How are they managed?

    How do you pick what goes where and what gets released etc?

    Do any pro astronomers or bodies use any observations submitted to BAA?

    Just a general query and I look forward to peoples thoughts etc



    Nick James


    That’s a good question. The BAA has a proud history of encouraging and collecting observations from its observers and then performing analysis on the results, often in cooperation with professional partners.

    In the Comet Section we archive all suitable submitted images here. These images help us understand the morphology (shape and activity) of comets and their tails. Estimates of brightness (photometry) are submitted to COBS or directly and these are used to generate comet magnitude parameters and look for differences from return to return. They also contribute to predictions for future returns. Positions (astrometry) are submitted directly to the MPC and these go towards computing the orbital path of comets. Monitoring comets for outbursts is also important work which often leads to very interesting results. Have a look at the results for the recent outburst of 174P reported here

    A summary of observations of bright comets is published annually in the JBAA and special events (such as outbursts) are written up as papers. We also have a section discussion list here which is used as a forum for comet related discussions. We have close links with international comet groups and professionals and we know that observations from BAA observers are often used in their analyses.


    Andy Wilson

    Hi Dave,

    I can give some insight into the variable star observations and spectra, as I manage those BAA databases.

    BAA Variable Star Section Database:  http://britastro.org/vssdb/

    BAA Spectroscopy Database:  http://britastro.org/specdb/

    It used to be that amateurs and professionals would request this type of data by contacting the Section Director, and this still sometimes happens. However, it is now far more common for them to simply download the observations from the website. We have notes on the database websites asking researchers to acknowledge the use of the data.

    We also send a copy of all our variable star observations to the AAVSO once per quarter. While researchers will often come to the BAA databases, some researchers may only look at the AAVSO website, in which case sharing our observations makes them more widely available and useful. The AAVSO acts as a bit of a central hub for variable star observations, receiving observations from a number of global organisations. The AAVSO acknowledge the individual organisations as well as the observer in the data. It is important to note that the AAVSO database does not store all of the information that is held by the BAA Variable Star Section database. In particular we additionally record the chart and comparison stars, so that light curves can be updated when more reliable comparison star magnitudes become available. Something which has happened many times over the decades, and otherwise causes unreal bumps and dips in the light curves.

    The BAA Spectroscopy Database is relatively speaking quite new, though I already see it referred to amongst the spectroscopy community. With time it will become better known, as observers refer to it in their communications, and interested researchers are pointed to it. There has been an example of this in the past month with a Pro/Am project looking for a place to archive historic spectra, so they can be made available to researchers for download.

    There are also a good number of dedicated campaigns to observe particular targets. Though I primarily make variable star and spectroscopy observations, I see these going on for solar system targets as well. Those involved in these campaigns will usually have an understanding of how their data is being used.

    Best wishes,


    Lyn Smith

    The BAA Solar Section publishes Section members’ observations in a monthly Section newsletter, the main report of which also appears in each edition of the BAA Journal.  Monthly figures are also sent by the Section Director to the Royal Observatory in Belgium that incorporates SILSO (Sunspot Index & Long-term Solar Observations), the world data centre for the protection, preservation and dissemination of the International Sunspot Number.  Members observations in white light, H-alpha and Calcium K-line are archived and stored in digital format for posterity.

    Dominic Ford

    This is a good question which I suspect many people wonder about. A lot of good things seem to quietly go on within the sections, which perhaps we could publicize better.

    I recently ran a search on NASA ADS for refereed articles featuring John Rogers (Jupiter Section) as a co-author, and was really impressed by the number and range of papers which came back. John’s publication record is better than that of many professional astronomers I could think of. It’s not just John – if you key in the names of other leading BAA observers, you likewise get impressive lists of papers.

    There have been proposals to put together an up-to-date summary of the BAA’s ProAm activities somewhere, which I think would be very welcome.

    Another idea was to have a “Projects” area of the website, summarising ProAm observing projects people can get involved in. My only hesitation there is that many BAA members may not be that advanced yet, so it’d be nice to advertise easier options as well and have something for everyone to get involved in (including a paragraph about how the observations might be used). Perhaps rather than running one Observers Challenge on the homepage every few weeks, we should encourage all the sections to have a few of them, which run indefinitely. We could still pick one to feature on the front page each month.

    John Rogers

    Hi Dave,  I replied to your post yesterday but my comment has not appeared.  So, to summarise briefly, the Jupiter Section uses amateur images intensively for the reports which I post on our Section web pages, and for pro-am collaborations.  Plenty of info is on our Section web pages and in our annual reports in the October issues of the Journal.  We don’t make a public global database of Jupiter images because there are other sites that do that already.

    Mr Nick Tonkin


    I found that all my VS observations that I uploaded to the BAA VSS database, when passed on onto the AAVSO at your tri monthly uploads, didn’t include any data on the comp stars used, the raw instrumental magnitude data  or the sequence chart data that I provided. If it was it never showed up when searching the AAVSO database. I now upload all my VS observations directly to the AVVSO and all of that  including the sequence charts used , is there in its entirety.  

    Tim Haymes

    Hi David

    Lunar occultation times are sent to the IOTA European Collector with a copy to the Lunar Section. The collected and checked observations are made available to researchers in a database that can be read with free software (Occult4). Some of it is on VizieR.  http://vizier.u-strasbg.fr/viz-bin/VizieR

    Asteroid Occultation observations ( sub-section of ARPS ) are collected in a similar way by IOTA (International Occultation Timing Association).  Observations are used to create asteroid profiles or accurate astrometry which is published yearly by researchers.  Timings are on the EURASTER.NET webpage.

    The BAA Sections involved in occultation timing act as a conduit between amateur and professional.  By the same means research groups can request observations from the observing Sections.

    Occultation observations are also published in the BAAJ, Lunar Section Circular, and the observing section webpages.

    Best wishes,  Tim
    (Occultation coordinator for Lunar Section, and the Asteroid and Remote Planets Section)

    Asteroid and Remote Planets:  https://www.britastro.org/section_front/8
    Lunar:    https://www.britastro.org/section_front/16
    Asteroid results:  http://www.euraster.net/


    There are several points here.

    For the Mars Section the images submitted are placed in a folder for each observer, and filed by apparition. When it comes to selecting work for publication, I make a point of selecting as wide a range of observers as possible. So I do not always use the best available work submitted by two or three people. If I make one of my collages for a Section report I will try to use a range of good quality work, though the images must show a comparable degree of sharpness and colour balance for aesthetic reasons. If you look at the collages for martian regions I, II and III that will appear in the 2010 Section report in the June Journal (hopefully), you will see I use a lot of different observers. I make a point of counting the number of images from each observer, and if someone has been particularly active, even if they have not achieved the highest resolution, I always try to reward him or her with something in print.

    Here is an example of an illustration from 2010, for Region II, and slimmed down to 800 pixels wide. The highest resolution images are at the bottom, while the less high resolution material, both drawings and images (and even an image by me!) are at the top on a slightly smaller scale.

    Drawings are mostly submitted by email and are treated in the same manner. Material sent through the post is stored in a number of filing cabinets, and we have records of past observations going back to the early days of BAA history. It would be pleasant to scan some of the older material to make it available online, but the task is a massive one, and not to be undertaken lightly. Planetary drawings cannot be treated in the same way as alphanumeric light estimates of variable stars.

    Illustrations in print are often chosen for a specific purpose. If I want to show some phenomenon that not many people saw, for example one of the peculiar high terminator projections at the 2012 opposition, then I will often have to use an image which would not normally be considered good enough for publication.

    For the current opposition (2018) you may have spotted that I am writing a narrative with selected images, and updating it every few days.  I do not try to upload all submitted images: that would leave me with no time to actually analyse the work properly, and there exist several other organisations that already maintain good online galleries. Other Sections probably upload more current observations to the BAA webpages than I do, but I am more concerned about publishing the work in the Journal at the end of the day, where all members can see it.

    We have had several collaborations with professional astronomers, and these are described in my reports.

    I have taken a similar line with the observations of the Mercury & Venus Section. The BAA is an association of observers, and not all of them have large telescopes or electronic cameras. I certainly want to encourage all sorts of observation.

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