The Star Disappeared
an impression of the observations and significance of amateur astronomers
With utmost concentration the man with the telescope checks his watch. According to his calculations, it’s going to happen in this next minute. He continues to gaze at the star in his viewfinder, waiting for it to be obscured by a passing planetoid. Suddenly, the star disappears in the darkness and returns a few moments later, only to momentarily disappear for a second time. A remarkable occurrence, the man thinks to himself. Half an hour after reporting his observation, a professional astronomer calls him: that observation had just confirmed the long-standing hypothesis of a double planetoid.
Advancing technology permits us to glimpse galaxies at hitherto unheard of distances from us. Unknown worlds which were until recently but a speck in the sky, now seem closer than ever. Almost daily, spectators on Earth are treated to marvels such as the discovery of new planets, high definition images of asteroids or a spectacular landing on a comet. All results of great ambitions which once started small on our home planet.
My own first night observing was spent in a field with an amateur astronomer, waiting for a rock from outer space to light up the night sky. We were treated to a grand display of meteors burning up as they entered the atmosphere. Later I saw a blinking dot, faster than a plane, slower than a shooting star. A manned space station 400 kilometers above the Earth, as I was told. All this made me wonder: where do we come from? And where are we going?
For centuries, amateur astronomers have studied the skies above them. Every clear night they brave the cold to observe the movement and activity of stars, comets, asteroids and more. Some spend the night on their back in a sleeping bag on the ground scouring the heavens to spot meteors, others make careful estimations of the brightness of exploding stars. The data of these efforts is sent to scientific institutes, where it forms the basis for further professional research.
Amateurs astronomers and their seemingly tiny observations can have great impact: they have made the Hubble telescope pivot to focus on an exploding star, spared astronauts from an untimely death by impinging meteorites and helped map the orbits of asteroids which are potentially dangerous to Earth.
‘The Star Disappeared’ provides an impression of the observations and significance of five Dutch amateur astronomers. The project aims to enthuse the audience to make their own observations, providing both information and inspiration.