25 March 08
I got clouded out this evening. T Tauri and Z Ursae Majoris will have to wait until another time.
With my Messier survey well under way, I have been getting started at what seems to be my next astronomical adventure. This is being a variable star observer. A variable star is, simply put, a star that varies in brightness over a period of time, whether from minutes to decades. There has been a long tradition of amateur astronomers recording data about the brightnesses of variable star — the largest organization coordinating such activities, the American Association of Variable Star Observers, dates back to 1911.
I did some variable star observing almost 10 years ago, when we were living up the mountain in Santa Barbara, and am now back into it. I enjoy looking at faint fuzzy galaxies under dark skies as much as the next observer, but in the bright skies I live under, the faint fuzzies are either a) invisible or b) dim, washed out, and completely lacking in drama. Variable star observing is quite a different path to take. It’s a lot of fun. First, there are lots of stars to follow, no matter how bright the skies are or how modest your optical equipment is. Second, I love looking at star charts, and estimating things — the standard procedure in making visual observations is to interpolate the brightness of the variable star from precise measurements of the brightness of comparison stars as printed on the star chart. Third, it’s fun to climb the skill ladder as an observer. Finally, there is lots of interesting science to learn about in the process. Even a basic question like “what are the different types of stars” is now of immediate concern.
Tomorrow night is expected to be cloudy again. Dang.