I am Michael Castelaz, an astronomer for 30+ years -AMA!
Well, it's 4pm March 21, and I'm going to stop taking questions for now. This was a lot of fun and great questions! I hope everyone enjoyed this AMA! If you want to know how we are doing with digitizing astronomical photographic plates, go to the Astronomy Legacy Project http://www.pari.edu/apda/alp
I've had 2 postdoc positions over a 7 year period, followed by 10 years as tenured Associate Professor in a Physics and Astronomy Department at a small university, and then in 2001 I left that position to become the Science Director at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI: http://www.pari.edu) where I currently work. PARI is a non-profit optical and radio telescope observatory and science education center located at a former NASA Tracking station in the U.S. in western North Carolina near Asheville.
As an astronomer for the past 30+ years, I have seen technological advances in astronomical telescopes and instrumentation that sometimes seems like they are out of some science fiction novel. Just take a look at today’s space- and ground-based telescopes that are making remarkable discoveries.
Every technological advance has led to new discoveries. What I find most interesting are the petabytes of data sitting in analog form from the late 19th century and early 20th century with untapped potential for even more discoveries. The data is in the form of photographic plates and films – digitizing these brings 20th century data into the 21st century digital world and all of its tools for data analysis. I am part of the Astronomy Legacy Project (http://www.pari.edu/apda/alp) team dedicated to digitizing the plates and films. We do have a crowdfunding campaign going (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/astronomy-legacy-project/) for equipment to digitize that analog data.
So, I’m going back to my roots where as a new astronomer 30 years ago I was using photographic plates. Later I joined in the astronomical community frenzy for CCD cameras in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that have become the mainstay tool of observational astronomers today. I’ve seen a lot of changes in the ways astronomers make their observations. I would be happy to reply to questions about changes in astronomy from the late 20th century to the present. So, ask me anything!