making astronomy accessible to all

This group and project is open to all MKAS members who may like to do something that has a very real input to the world of astronomy. By taking part in this project your observations will have scientific value and be submitted to the various astronomical organisations that can use them for understanding of the activities of different types of stars. At society level we will be able to plot our own data and see what is happening over time in a star's cycle.

A variable star is one that shows differences in the amount of light it produces. There are various reasons for this, the simplest being a star that has a companion in orbit around it, so it obscures some light each time it passes in front of the main star, as seen from earth. The variable stars we are interested in studying are those that genuinely change their light output, which in turn is tied to their makeup and their internal processes. Therefore we have a chance, as amateur astronomers, to make a genuine contribution to astrophysics. Why? Because professional astronomers cannot spend all their time recording all the stars that vary. Regular observations from amateur astronomers can help to fill in some of the gaps.

The project needs observations that are very simple and easy to obtain, to more complex ones for those with the equipment to do so. The easiest way to get into variable stars is by recording those visible to the naked eye; followed by binoculars, then telescopes, and finally observations recorded as digital images with a telescope and CCD camera. This means there is more than one way you can get involved and you don't need any equipment to get started!

If you'd like to get involved, the first thing you'll need is a list of a few stars and a finder chart, like the one below.

Figure 1. Example of a finder chart from the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)

Some stars are short period, i.e. their light output changes very quickly and we can see the cycle from brightest to darkest and back again, in a few days. Others are long period variables whose light changes over many weeks or months. This can be plotted in the form of a light curve as shown below. There is software available now to make this an easy task for us.

Figure 2. Example of a light curve from the British Astronomical Association (BAA)

We will supply a list at meetings (also coming here soon) of target stars for you to look for and record. These will be a mixture of short and long period variable stars, for naked eye, binoculars, telescopes, and telescope imaging. We'll give you any training you need and we have a lot of information we can give you from the BAA, catering for beginners to the more advanced.

Variable star observing may not have the visual impact of drawing the Moon or imaging the Planets or distant Galaxies, but every single observation you make will be adding to our understanding of the processes that drive the life cycle of a star. You will be doing real science!

Please contact Mike Phillips (Secretary) for more information.
Also have a look at:
» British Astronomical Association Variable Stars Section
» American Association of Variable Star Observers

Please contact Mike Phillips for more information.


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