I am a retired engineer that has an ongoing interest in space efforts. In my youth I did work on the Apollo program but on propulsion and vehicle thermal control: not flight dynamics.

I have reviewed/studied some astrodynamics (Vallado, Bates, etc) and can run GMAT and tudat libraries from Delft University. I have explored Systemic Console, tap, and other software for implying the existence of exoplanets from RV curves and light transit curves. I can download data in FITS format from various astronomical databases.

Where might I direct my efforts in some meaningful way by participating in a project, collaborating with an investigator, or pursuing some research oriented endeavour on my own? Could someone point me in a direction where I might do some meaningful work? Just picking a star and starting a transit analysis does not seem to have any probability of leading anywhere.

Those sites where one views a light transit curve or tries to classify a galaxy type are not very interesting to me. I feel I could investigate things more in depth than that.

Directions, Ideas, offers! Anyone. I will post this in Space Exploration forum also. Thanks,

Tom Kosvic

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    $\begingroup$ I would avoid cross posting. If you don't find a satisfactory answer here, then I'd recommend migrating the question $\endgroup$ – christopherlovell May 20 '15 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe we could team up? Though, I'm a computer/neuroscientist, and just getting introduced to astronomy (as you can see from my questions on this site :) $\endgroup$ – mmh Jun 19 '15 at 9:40

Those sites where one views a light transit curve or tries to classify a galaxy type are not very interesting to me. I feel I could investigate things more in depth than that.

There is a lot more to many citizen science projects than that! I'd recommend having a look through all the projects available as there may be one in an area you are more interested in : Wikipedia: list of citizen science projects

Zooniverse is a great collection of Astronomy related projects. They are not just toys or made for school children, they are real science projects where you will be contributing to important and current research. Members who show they have advanced skills often get given more credit in the results weighting algorithms, or upgraded to more difficult tasks. People have even spotted things professional scientists had missed, and been able to bring new things to the attention of the scientific community and be credited on published papers.

Amateur observational astronomers are also useful members of the scientific community. Some beautiful and intriguing images of object have been taken by skilled amateurs, who don't have the pressures of short observing times.

Are you focused on research or on generally aiding science?

As someone with a lifetime of experience, you would be invaluable as a volunteer at outreach and engagement activities. You could ask your local University or even city council if they are running any science outreach projects you could collaborate with. Again, this does not just mean school children, although that can be a part of it. Lobbying for science literacy in politics, organising science fairs, giving talks to interested groups, etc.

I will try to think of more research related examples later today. It would be helpful to know what country you are based in, as my experience may be very different to yours.

Later edit: If you are interested in exoplanets but want more autonomy of research than the citizen science projects afford, you may be interested to know that NASAs Exoplanet Archive is a publicly available archive of data from exoplanet missions along with the tools to work with the data. Happy planet hunting!

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I recommend visiting a few university Astronomy departments, and investigating their PhD programmes.

While a PhD may seem like a big thing to undertake as a retired person (and it is), you will certainly be doing real research.

Just discussing the possibilities with people in a few Astronomy departments will lead to other ideas, or actual research projects you can participate in.

Good luck.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem with this suggestion might be tuition fees... $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries May 18 '15 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ @RobJ Yes it could, unless one were to obtain a scholarship. The idea is to start talking to researchers with an open mind to possibilities. $\endgroup$ – andy256 May 18 '15 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ Re: contact astronomy dept, I did post an email to the astronomy/physics dept head at the major university in town offering to do FREE work of any level even at the dog work level. My email was circulated to all members of the department by the dept head. I received one reply and had a meeting. We had a good meeting but no work tasks were ever forthcoming. I think that graduate student labor is too cheap for even my offer of FREE labor to compete. $\endgroup$ – tckosvic Jun 18 '15 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ They must run seminars. Find out when and where and show up, so that you hear what work they're doing, and get an idea of where you could fit in or contribute. It's the personal contact that will get you there in the end. Keep at it! $\endgroup$ – andy256 Jun 18 '15 at 13:34

If you have a telescope and use it often, there are things that you could definitely contribute. Discovering new comets is still something that amateurs do well. Tracking variable stars is also worthwhile.

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I haven't managed to formulate a coherent single answer, but here are several suggestions for where to find some hints of current topical research where you might be able to contribute.

Open source projects

Astronomy is increasingly using large open source projects, many written in Python, which itself free. For example, the Astropy project is trying to create an extensive Python library for astronomical data manipulation, so you could try to contribute some of the desired features in a project like that. (There are other, more substantial, projects, especially in various kinds of modelling, but they require an understanding of the physics and are often big chunks of code, written in Fortran.)

Review articles

If possible, I'd suggest looking at review articles (e.g. in Annual Reviews in Astronomy & Astrophysics). Though many of the articles are probably behind paywalls, most of the recent ones should also be available on the arXiv. Similarly, you can also try searching arXiv for lecture notes from summer/winter schools.

Departmental PhD project listings

In a similar vein to contacting people, you might find that potential projects are listed online, in which case you'll see what kinds of things people would like to do. For example, so quick Googling netted me information at Manchester, St Andrews, QMUL, and UCL. (Clearly Google thinks I'm in the UK...) While it probably doesn't make sense to actually try to carry out these projects, they might give you a better idea of the sorts of things that need doing.

Observation projects with public data

I'd particularly watch out for anything that involves data-mining, since that mostly involves spending time crunching some of the huge datasets available. I'm mostly aware of projects in the time domain (e.g. OGLE and WASP) but there are also larger projects like SDSS that I think have more data than people to sift (intelligently!) through it all.

I'd note here the special cases of Kepler and it's continuation K2. In these cases the actual analysis of the cameras' pixel data is still an open question, especially for K2. Any clever progress on automatically reducing the data better would be a boon in that field, although several active research groups are also working on it full time.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why the suggestion to look at review articles? $\endgroup$ – user1569 Jan 9 '17 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Review articles usually discuss issues that are open problems in that field. $\endgroup$ – Warrick Jan 9 '17 at 15:40

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