Visualizing variable stars

Nov 25

Written by:
11/25/2013 9:35 PM  RssIcon

I have had an on and off relationship with variable stars for a while. I find them fascinating, but my yard presents a problem for observing many of them. With several 80 to 90 feet tall trees, and a 'window' of sky that measures perhaps 100 x 100 degrees, facing from about 35 degrees north, to near the zenith, terminating towards the south, and having a "sort of" view towards a limited area in the southeast, what I can easily see varies greatly. I have learned to be patient when it comes to observing "stationary" objects, and with "event" occurrences - such as comets, or moon shadow transits, or other "one time" type events - I move where I observe. I'll either physically pick up my telescope and change my location in the yard (usually inviting more direct light trespass), or pack up and go somewhere in town to have a larger view of the sky.

I had started getting interested in variable stars about 4 years ago. But because of the yard situation, I quickly found that the stars I wanted to keep on viewing, I couldn't - because they rotated past where I could see them. By the time they came back around, I had forgotten the star patterns for viewing, and that science-related aspect of astronomy fell by the wayside for a while. Eyes on the Sky in video form was born after that, which is of course a good thing. In fact, it was some research into a future episode of Eyes on the Sky that brought me back around to this. I was searching for information on the variable star UV Camelopardalis, or UV Cam.

UV Cam light curve

In so doing, it rekindled my desire to observe variable stars and submit observations to the American Association of Variable Star Observers, or AAVSO. I then discovered a great tool they have for choosing variable stars. It is called their Observation Planner, and I can select the time, declination, and faintest magnitude to narrow down the list of stars I can observe. It also shows which variable stars are being, shall we say, under-observed. That is to say, the ones with very few data points, that NEED someone to get out there and observe them, for the sake of science.

I used the tool to narrow down my search to a few stars. Here is the list of stars I plan to start observing. 

  • UV Camelopardalis
  • VZ Camelopardalis
  • NSV 685
  • NSV 14418

They have a maximum brightness no lower than 8.5 magnitude, are all within 20 degrees of Polaris, an area of sky I can largely view most of the year, and should be bright enough that I can either use binoculars or my small, simple - and wide field offering - 4.5" Starblast reflector. Quick, simple observations can be made, and I can submit those and contribute to science. And starting with just four, I can start to learn those "patches" of sky, and get so I can make the observations and estimations more quickly. Once there, I can add more, and there are plenty more within that "space" of sky to do so. Here's a partial list:

  • U Cephei
  • RU Cephei
  • NSV 15221
  • NSV 15291
  • EI Cephei
  • AR Cephei
  • V Cephei

And many of these have either very low (in the single digits) or NO data points for the last 30 days. That means I can have a REAL impact on the variable star estimations of these stars, and provide data for current and future generations. YOU can do the same thing. Just sign up, and start observing and submitting estimations. They even have SUPER handy variable star chart generating tool that lets you select how faint the stars you want on the chart, how large of an area the chart shows, and the orientation either for binoculars, a refractor or reflector.

They make it pretty darn easy. It's just a matter of doing it. I figure it will get me out under the stars more often, and really connect with some stars I can call "friends" that I return to over and over again, as I watch them pulse up and down in brightness over time.

I think that's pretty cool.


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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.