Scientists and amateur astronomers will team up at a meeting in New
Mexico from March 21-23, 2005, to discuss how the stargazing public
can provide significant contributions to the study of exotic star
explosions, blazing galaxies and gamma-ray bursts.

Members of the news media are welcome to attend free of charge.
Refer to the meeting Web site for background information at To register, contact
the AAVSO at

The meeting underscores how the face of amateur astronomy has changed
radically in recent years, with the backyard telescope now
complemented by near real-time imagery and data from world-class
observatories available freely to anyone with an Internet connection.

The meeting is entitled “The 3rd High-Energy Astrophysics Workshop
for Amateur Astronomers,” to be held in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The
meeting is sponsored by the American Association of Variable Star
Observers (AAVSO), New Mexico State University, NASA, Sonoma State
University, and the Curry Foundation.

“We are broadening our wavelength horizons,” said Dr. Arne Henden,
AAVSO Director. “No longer is amateur astronomy limited to the
visible waveband and what we can see from our backyards. Amateur
astronomers have a unique opportunity to help professional
astronomers capture and analyze fleeting events, such as a gamma-ray
burst, which can disappear in less than a minute.”

Last month, for example, a flaring neutron star became the brightest
object ever seen from beyond the Solar System. Amateur astronomers
were on top of this, Henden said, and supplied the “pros” with
valuable information about how gamma rays from the explosion
interacted with the Earth’s atmosphere.

The three-day meeting, in conjunction with AAVSO’s 94th Spring
Meeting on March 25-26, comprises a combination of talks and
workshops led by NASA and university-based astronomers. A tour of
the Very Large Array radio observatory, popularized in the movie
Contact, is planned for March 24.

Discussions at the meeting concern major astronomy tools available to
the public, such as the Global Telescope Network and the Gamma-ray
Burst Coordinates Network (GCN), as well as primers on basic
“high-energy” astronomy. The GCN is an online resource that alerts
the astronomy community about gamma-ray bursts, so that scientists
and amateurs around the world can turn their telescopes toward the
event to view the burst afterglow. The newly launched NASA Swift
satellite is one of many observatories plugged in to the GCN.

“We expect amateur astronomers to make many contributions to the
Swift and GLAST missions,” said Prof. Lynn Cominsky of Sonoma State
University, press officer for Swift, which launched in November 2004.
GLAST, the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, is a NASA
observatory with major contributions from the U.S. Department of
Energy, Europe and Japan, planned for a 2007 launch.

The AAVSO, founded in 1911, is a non-profit, scientific organization
with members in 46 countries. It coordinates, compiles, digitizes
and disseminates observations on stars that change in brightness
(variable stars) to researchers and educators worldwide. Its
International High Energy Network was created with cooperation from
NASA. Visit the Web site at