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Visual Variable Star Observing Is Just Plain Fun

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#1 Michael Rapp

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Posted 01 May 2020 - 02:50 PM

(This is a copy of a post I recent put on the AAVSO forums.  Thought it might be fun to echo it here.)

 

For various reasons, I've been inactive for quite some time and have just recently gotten back into variable star observing.

 

I had forgotten how much fun this is!  I primarily do the binocular program and I really enjoy it.  For over twenty five years, I've always really enjoyed star hopping.  In some sense, star hopping to a variable star is the ultimate challenge as your destination looks just like your signposts -- no fuzziness to give it away!

 

Plus, when you arrive at your destination, you get to actually do something.  I've always wanted to "do more than just look" and variable star observing certainly grants that.

 

Moreover, as I get older, it is important to me to "do astronomy" whenever I can and I feel up to it.  For something that is so core to who I am, the six-to-eight nights a year I get to spend at a dark site just isn't enough.  With the binocular program, it is astronomy I can do from my driveway, even on a weeknight (in Bortle 8 skies no less!).  My setup and teardown time (10x50s mounted on a Peterson binocular mount) is less than twenty seconds.

 

When I was young and my parents let me (finally) have a subscription to Sky & Telescope, I remember liking the occasionally variable star light curve that would show up.  There is something aesthetically interesting about those graphs.  It feels good to contribute to keeping them going.


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#2 Jamey L Jenkins

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Posted 01 May 2020 - 07:17 PM

Refreshing perspective!! I appreciate the quote by Steve Coe...so true to keep one's interest alive and growing.


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#3 DHEB

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Posted 02 May 2020 - 07:50 AM

I saw this on AAVSO's forum and enjoyed that thread a lot. I cannot agree more. For me, it is the thrill of searching for, finding and making magnitude estimates of variable stars what keeps the fire of amateur astronomy alive and well. I prefer to do it simply visually, with the charm and romantic appeal of that good 19th century astronomy. It can also be done with all or some of the bells and whistles of modern technology.

 

As far as we are amateurs, visual variable star observing is a fun, challenging, demanding and above all, still scientifically useful (now and for decades to come *) field of endevour.

 

* Long-Term Visual Light Curves and the Role of Visual Observations in Modern Astrophysics by John R. Percy, JAAVSO Volume 40, 2012


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#4 Rich (RLTYS)

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Posted 03 May 2020 - 08:19 AM

(This is a copy of a post I recent put on the AAVSO forums.  Thought it might be fun to echo it here.)

 

For various reasons, I've been inactive for quite some time and have just recently gotten back into variable star observing.

 

I had forgotten how much fun this is!  I primarily do the binocular program and I really enjoy it.  For over twenty five years, I've always really enjoyed star hopping.  In some sense, star hopping to a variable star is the ultimate challenge as your destination looks just like your signposts -- no fuzziness to give it away!

 

Plus, when you arrive at your destination, you get to actually do something.  I've always wanted to "do more than just look" and variable star observing certainly grants that.

 

Moreover, as I get older, it is important to me to "do astronomy" whenever I can and I feel up to it.  For something that is so core to who I am, the six-to-eight nights a year I get to spend at a dark site just isn't enough.  With the binocular program, it is astronomy I can do from my driveway, even on a weeknight (in Bortle 8 skies no less!).  My setup and teardown time (10x50s mounted on a Peterson binocular mount) is less than twenty seconds.

 

When I was young and my parents let me (finally) have a subscription to Sky & Telescope, I remember liking the occasionally variable star light curve that would show up.  There is something aesthetically interesting about those graphs.  It feels good to contribute to keeping them going.

I knew I'd seen this post before. Truer words have never been posted. bow.gif What got me into VSOing was the book "New Handbook of the Heavens" back in 1970.



#5 Michael Rapp

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Posted 03 May 2020 - 09:24 AM

Thanks all for the compliments.  

 

I never could have predicted I would be doing this, let along enjoying it.  Thirty years ago, I grew up in a very deep-sky oriented astronomy club where everyone seemed to have or was planning to have an Obsession.  (The era of the big dobs was very much underway.)  Deep-sky is just what you did and stars were not intrinsically interesting; they existed just to lead you to your destination.

 

I am very careful not to bias my observations, so I always really enjoy, say, going to R Leo and seeing it there when a while back under similar sky conditions it was not there in my binoculars.  :)

 

I started dabbling (very slowly) in variable stars back in 2012-2013ish.  It was a combination of several things.  First, as I mentioned, I had always found variable star curves to just be interesting.  Also, it was getting harder and harder to get out to dark site regularly and I needed to find something convenient and fun to do in the city.  Another significant part of it was that -- and this may be too strong of a word -- deep sky observing was becoming a bit of a chore and was nearly becoming an exercise in just checking items off on a list.  I wanted something "more."

 

Variable stars is an active and engaging form of observing.  There's the star hopping part, but there's also making sure you have the right field and star, and then, of course, the engagement with the comparison stars.  It certainly is not passive.


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#6 Rich (RLTYS)

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Posted 09 May 2020 - 03:04 PM

yay.gif woohoo.gif



#7 vsteblina

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Posted 09 May 2020 - 08:54 PM

Thanks for your post on how much fun variable stars are in the night sky.

 

I joined AAVSO when I was very young after reading Starlight Nights.  For a  years I contributed observations, but then my professional career and life took over.  Unfortunately, this was the period of time I was living under very dark skies!!

 

Over the years I have drifted in and out of visual observing and reporting observations.

 

Last fall, I hooked up my CCD camera to my AP900 mount and had a blast revisiting my old friends like R CRB, T CRB, SS CYG, and my personal favorite X LEO.  It was fun. I had a V filter, but not the calibration frames.  

 

So I didn't submit any of the observations.  I spent  quite a bit of time doing sampling surveys as a professional Forester and understand that bad data is worse than no data at all.

 

Science standards are changing and becoming more challenging for "casual" amateurs to meet.  That really is a good thing.

 

BUT, it doesn't take away from the magic of variable star observing.  An eruption of SS CYG or X LEO is just as exciting and interesting.  It doesn't matter if your observation does not becomes part of the "official record".

 

Even if you don't have a V filter. Download some variable star charts. Fire up your CCD  or CMOS camera and that GTO mount and have a look at a universe that changes on a nightly basis.

 

Oh...I hate star hoping.  It literally only gave me a pain in the neck.  Give me a GTO any day. 

 

But I understand star hoping.  Some of my favorite memories as a Forester were running down property lines in the "old days" before GPS.  But, you understand that never gave me  "pain in the neck" and I was getting paid to sit and look at maps......wondering...."who in the hell ran these property lines!!!".


Edited by vsteblina, 09 May 2020 - 09:03 PM.

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#8 DHEB

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Posted 10 May 2020 - 04:12 AM

It is not necessary to have a variable star program with hundreds of stars. You can enjoy variable star observing in many ways and in many "amounts". For example, if you are into imaging, you could just follow one star per season, getting a few photometric frames in between your serious AP jobs. That's fun and useful too.



#9 Michael Rapp

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Posted 10 May 2020 - 12:01 PM

I have to be careful about going down the CCD route, even though I have dabbled in imaging over the years and it was great fun.  I love architecting automated systems and watching one work is just really, really cool.  

 

I have to remember back to 2006 in which I had set up a decently (for the time) automated DSLR rig.  It was so cool.  But then I got bored and it took me a bit to figure out why......and then I realized that I had automated myself right out of the hobby.  lol.gif


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#10 DHEB

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Posted 10 May 2020 - 12:05 PM

I have to be careful about going down the CCD route, even though I have dabbled in imaging over the years and it was great fun.  I love architecting automated systems and watching one work is just really, really cool.  

 

I have to remember back to 2006 in which I had set up a decently (for the time) automated DSLR rig.  It was so cool.  But then I got bored and it took me a bit to figure out why......and then I realized that I had automated myself right out of the hobby.  lol.gif

I can understand that, it is a risk of course smile.gif



#11 KMAO

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Posted 17 June 2020 - 05:48 AM

About 71 observers (mostly True Visual like myself)

contributed to this T UMa light curve recently.

Although this variable is not one of my favourite

one feels  good to contribute and to see the result.

 

best regards

KMA

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#12 Rich (RLTYS)

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Posted 17 June 2020 - 07:57 AM

Looks good. waytogo.gif



#13 KMAO

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Posted 17 June 2020 - 11:35 AM

About 2009 - 2010 the question was asked about

KR Her possible much shorter period.

Although magnitude in V is not determined to this day

I decided to "look" and to my surprize 10 years pass by......

There are some differences in max (never observed minimum)

however as far as periodicity goes AAVSO VSX is right at

about 272 days.

 

best wishes

KMA

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#14 lplybon

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Posted 18 June 2020 - 10:38 PM

I recently started with AAVSO and I gotta agree. It is SO MUCH FUN.

 

I use a 6 inch dob out back behind my apartment (a lovely Bortle 6), and at first it was brutal; an hour to try and identify the right star visually and actually get a fix on the magnitude. I remember when I finally spotted it though and practically leapt off the ground! 

 

Now I can spot new stars in less than 10 minutes, which for me means both I am a lot better and I got a long way to go. I am on that T UMa plot somewhere, because I sat on some pavement and made my neck hurt by sitting funny for too long. And you know what? I can't wait to do it again. I would rather do that than stare at a fuzzy M42 for the 100th time.

 

As a visual observer, this is where it is at.


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#15 DHEB

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Posted 20 June 2020 - 11:26 PM

I recently started with AAVSO and I gotta agree. It is SO MUCH FUN.

I use a 6 inch dob out back behind my apartment (a lovely Bortle 6), and at first it was brutal; an hour to try and identify the right star visually and actually get a fix on the magnitude. I remember when I finally spotted it though and practically leapt off the ground!

Now I can spot new stars in less than 10 minutes, which for me means both I am a lot better and I got a long way to go. I am on that T UMa plot somewhere, because I sat on some pavement and made my neck hurt by sitting funny for too long. And you know what? I can't wait to do it again. I would rather do that than stare at a fuzzy M42 for the 100th time.

As a visual observer, this is where it is at.


Welcome to this beautiful and meaningful endeavour! We all started like that: first an hour to find one variable and estimate it, then 30 minutes, ... and after a year or two you will hopefully have developed a variable star program and improved your skills so you will be doing ten or twenty good estimates in that same hour. In any case, do not rush it, a bad estimate is worse than no estimate. Good luck 👍☺
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#16 Rich (RLTYS)

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Posted 21 June 2020 - 11:55 AM

Welcome to this beautiful and meaningful endeavour! We all started like that: first an hour to find one variable and estimate it, then 30 minutes, ... and after a year or two you will hopefully have developed a variable star program and improved your skills so you will be doing ten or twenty good estimates in that same hour. In any case, do not rush it, a bad estimate is worse than no estimate. Good luck ☺

I totally agree. waytogo.gif


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#17 Rich5567

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Posted 02 August 2020 - 05:21 AM

I have been observing variables since the mid 90's. Before that I was only a deep sky observer but felt I wanted to somehow contribute in some way. I have around 80 targets altogether, and I do around 30+ on any clear night.

 

By observing variables and sending in my observations I can add to the overall picture in my own small way and its good to see my observations included in various light curves and graphs.

My data goes to the BAA VSS, and also the AAVSO. Many of my targets are circumpolar so I can follow the star all year round.

 

I remember seeing RX Andromeda in outburst years ago, one night nothing there, 24 hours later, bright and easy to spot. That always sticks with me, the first time I saw a star vary in some way, after that I was hooked.

 

I'm hoping to see T CRB in outburst before I die, that star has always fasinated me.

 

Cheers,

 

Rich.


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#18 KMA

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Posted 23 June 2023 - 09:18 AM

A few of S Her visual observations.

Hope to get a few more....

 

best wishes   KMAS HER  1647+15  kma.jpg


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#19 Sebastian_Sajaroff

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Posted 24 June 2023 - 03:50 PM

Variable stars observation is one of the most appreciated contributions of amateur astronomers to science.
Observatories don’t have time and resources to track thousands of variables !
A nice advantage of this field is that it can be conducted from urban skies, even with binoculars and small telescopes.
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#20 m1thumb

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Posted 30 June 2023 - 09:15 AM

I have just started my journey in variable stars.  I took the AAVSO CCD course this spring, in the Light Curve now and will do the Visual observing  in July.

 

Meanwhile I have been working on the 10 star visual tutorial (not reporting) when the skies are clear, so not often. mad.gif

 

It is great fun!  As others have mentioned just looking at the stars is an overwhelming experience, having a purpose for it beyond fun makes it that much more enjoyable.

 

BTW:  I've found that my 4.5 inch F8 home made dob with an 8x50 finder is really nice for the bright visual variables.

 

I need some filters and a wheel and I'll dabble in the CCD side later.

 

Great topic!

 

 

 

 


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#21 KMA

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Posted 10 July 2023 - 07:23 AM

My last night observation of T CrB

confirms nicely predicted drop in brightness

by AAVSO....

 

best wishes for clear sky

KMA

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#22 KMA

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Posted 28 July 2023 - 04:18 AM

The visual observation of T CrB

hot humid summer evening

did show this famous variable 

slightly brighter....

best regards

KMA

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#23 RAKing

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Posted 28 July 2023 - 08:10 AM

I used to be a "Double Star" person but fell in love with variables about 13 years ago and have been enjoying them ever since.  My advancing age and various medical issues have slowed me down in recent years, but I will still do a few estimates every night I am outside.  In fact, I still plan my observing sessions around the variables I want to see and fill in the other double stars and DSO objects around those stars.

 

The highlight of my variable star "career" was being named as one of the contributing authors in the paper written about "Tabby's Star", KIC 8462852, and published in early 2018.

 

I am glad that I bought a great mount (A-P Mach1) many years ago, and I have upgraded it with a GPS and the RAPAS.  My mount is accurate enough for me to key in the RA-Dec coordinates from the AAVSO charts and take me to the right spot.  I still do my estimates the old-fashioned way, and key them in one at a time.

 

I plan to continue estimating variables until the end of the road.... 

 

Cheers,

 

Ron


Edited by RAKing, 28 July 2023 - 08:37 AM.

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#24 Josephus Miller

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Posted 31 July 2023 - 09:46 PM

Like others here have mentioned, I love to find and to look, but I too love even more the idea of doing something when I get there. That's why I carefully sketch lunar craters, planetary features, etc.

 

I just embarked on AAVSO's 10 star training program, and I made my first observation tonight. I'm hooked! What a great project.

 

Once I was double sure I had found the target star itself, I spent the better part of an hour hunting up the comparison stars, but what a blast! It was very hot and humid, and I was sweating at the eyepiece, but I hardly noticed. 

 

I carefully tabulated my observations, and and then, with a bit of nail-biting, arrived at my final mag number: 3.8. Or 3.7?? Arg! 3.7. 

I was a bit bashful about uploading my findings to AAVSO, but I figured as long as I made it clear that I was working on the training program, what's the harm? So I submitted my number and other details through their WebObs system (I had requested and obs. code a while ago, in contemplation of this moment). I held my breath as I called up the light curve--had I ruined it?? No! It was incredibly exciting to see my datapoint in with the rest, describing a nice, neat dip, pretty much right on time.

 

 

Conclusion: you're right it is fun. whee.gif  


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#25 KMA

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Posted 06 August 2023 - 11:56 AM

My visual observation of 

W Cassiopeia was timed

to catch minimum and it worked.

best wishes for clear sky

KMA

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