No debate topic, really, just an observation I think is significant.
In the last 20 years there has been a major shift in the conduct of astronomy. Not just the larger more powerful scopes on both land and in space that have become operational, which provide much deeper clearer views of the cosmos across most all of the EM spectrum, but, more significant is the way they have come operational.
Modern viewing on telescopes is digital, not optical. CCDs (charge-coupled devices) and other gizmos convert what the astronomer would have seen in optical to digital data stored in computer databases. The beauty is that these gizmos don’t just blip a signal when they are hit by a photon but, these days, they record the frequency, energy, amplitude, polarity, birth date and social security number of every photon they see. Ok, maybe not those last two.
Every major telescope on the planet has gone digital. Gone are the days when you had to request physical time on the scope then travel to the scope to sit in a freezing dome all night taking pretty pictures on emulsion.
You can still request time for specific views but, better yet, if an adequate view is already in the database you don’t have to wait. The astronomer then writes code, or more usual they have their grad students write most of it, to extract the data from the database and they code more programs to analyze and display the data and still more code to build simulations using the data. Collaborations are now going on to catalogue all the world’s scope’s databases into a database of databases available on-line. Download the few hundred gigabytes you want and start programming.
By scientific requirement specs and by international agreement, with a few exceptions, all the new scopes being built and planned will be required to dump their data eventually into databases available on-line without charge to the world. Astronomer/programmers, amateur/astronomer/programmers, home nutjob/astronomer/programmers, all have access. Vera Rubin, a monster scope being built in Chile, is expected to dump into their database, don’t hold me to this precise number, more than few terabytes of data each day. Even the new Chinese super huge FAST telescope (an Arecibo replacement) will participate in a limited way.
Astronomy has become computer programming and data mining. After the math, programming is the most required skill to be an astronomer. If you can program, astronomy is now a stay-at-home cottage industry open to anyone with internet access.