The vast data collections of the amateur astronomers spanning many years are untapped for their wealth of information. The interactions of amateur astronomers with professional astronomers have changed significantly in the digital era, from an occasional interaction of exchanging individual images to a sustained collaboration to coordinated global networks of amateur astronomers. Today, amateur astronomers, with sophisticated equipment and software, provide several valuable resources to the professional observers/astronomers: a large source of manpower, or extension of the professional astronomer's group; a vast collection of data that provides both legacy and temporal information and finally, as ambassadors of science, help build bridges between the scientific and public communities.
From the professional astronomer/scientist's perspective, given the vast amounts of data acquired through various projects, the natural progression to interactive collaborations between these two communities is tremendously beneficial. Combined with various attributes of social media, a new paradigm for scientific research is slowly being defined. This approach has proven to be successful for ground-based observations of Jupiter, Saturn and recently 102P/Hartley. I will highlight several projects that leverage the collaboration between professional and amateur astronomers; and the use of social media, with focus on the recent comet observing campaign of C/2012 S1 (ISON).
The NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign (CIOC) goals (http://www.isoncampaign.org) were: (i) a detailed characterization of a subset of comets (sun grazers) that are usually difficult to identify and study in the few hours before their demise; and (ii) facilitate collaborations between various investigators for the best science possible. One of the tangible products was the creation of CIOC_ISON, a professional – amateur astronomer collaboration network established on Facebook, with members from the scientific, amateur, science outreach/education, public from around the globe (https://www.facebook.com/groups/cioc.ison) and a Pinterest presence (http://pinterest.com/padmayf/comet-ison/). Members, by invitation or request, provide the details of their equipment, location and observations and post their observations to both share and provide a forum for interactive discussions. and its social media component on Facebook, CIOC_ISON. The long lead time, from its initial discovery by Russian amateur astronomers on 21 September 2012, to its ultimate dramatic finish on its perihelion day, 28 November 2013, provided a rare opportunity for the scientific and amateur astronomer communities to study a sungrazer comet on its only passage through the inner solar system.
The CIOC, in now transformed into the Comet Integrated Observing Campaign, and is charged with the observations and characterization of C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) and 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G) (and target for the upcoming ESA/Rosetta mission) in 2014- 2015. These two comets illustrate some of the diversity of comets and their observations require different approaches. Additionally, to support the Rosetta mission, standards for the scientific observations and their ultimate analysis will require some coordination of observations, filters, calibration methods, to the ultimate data archival. I will also highlight other opportunities available to amateur astronomers to participate as partners with professional astronomers over the span of the next few years.