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Director's Message from AAVSO Newsletter 29 (October 2003)

From the Director

Janet A. Mattei

Janet

We have had a very active and fruitful first part of the fiscal year [2002-2003]. I want to share with you some highlights.

We have made significant progress in the Data Validation Project of the AAVSO International Database; upgraded the server of the AAVSO website, allowing faster access to the website; designed and put on-line a new Variable Star of the Month and three Variable Star of the Season presentations; and made good progress with the archives project.

Here is a more expanded look at a few of these accomplishments:
Data Validation- The validation of the AAVSO International Database is progressing very well. Rebecca Pellock is the coordinator of the project with six technical assistants working on the project at varying percentages of their time. At the start of the project last autumn, a considerable amount of time was spent assembling the validation team, establishing rules and procedures, writing new programs for several procedures, and training the team. This followed checking the entire database for non-corresponding variable star names and positions (designations). To date, 94% of the points to be validated are clear of name-designation discrepancies. The validation of the data, which involves checking each and every data point for accuracy, is going at full speed with the percentage of the data validated increasing by the day. The progress can be followed right on AAVSO home page (www.aavso.org). As the data are validated, they are put online to be downloaded automatically. Our goal is to complete the validation and to put all the data on line by October 2004. We are grateful to NASA Office of Space Science for funding this project.

AAVSO website - We have had major additions to the website starting with new Hands-On Astrophysics (HOA) webpages that went online in March. The new site features a new design, easier navigation, and new materials from the HOA curriculum. There are also links to other sites such as CHANDRA satellite website, which made variable star observing one of their core activities using HOA. Another major activity has been the new AAVSO website that went on line this spring. You can read more about the new website in this Newsletter in our webmaster Kate Davis's article. We have added a significant number of educational tools, many AAVSO publications and a number of features to aid our members. The top ten downloaded pages from our website are the Light Curve Generator, Quick Look File, chart search, WebObs, the page on V838 Mon, variable star section, observing manual, committees, solar section, and the observing programs.

AAVSO and SIMBAD - We have been working with our colleagues at Centre de Donnees Astronomiques de Strasbourg (CDS), France, to put a link in their SIMBAD astronomical database to the AAVSO data and light curves for stars in the AAVSO observing programs. Finally, the project is complete and as of April there is a link in SIMBAD to every star in our observing program making it possible for the data users to automatically access the AAVSO light curve or data on the stars they are interested in.

Requests for AAVSO data - We have responded to a large number of requests for AAVSO data from professional and amateur astronomers, observers, educators, and students. Particularly, as we validate the data and put them online, quite a number of requests have been filled automatically directly from our website. The data are being used for data analysis, multi-wavelength data correlation, science projects, the scheduling of observing runs, education, becoming familiar with the star's behavior, and reference materials, such as figures for scientific papers. We have provided data support for ground-based and orbiting satellites including XMM, RXTE, FUSE, and CHANDRA. In addition, a significant number of astronomers are getting the data and information, directly from the Light Curve Generator, Quick Look File web pages, and the News Flashes.

AAVSO Publications - In the first half of this fiscal year we have published the following: Journal of the AAVSO Volume 30 Number 2, AAVSO Bulletin 66: 2003 Predicted Dates of the Maxima and Minima of 561 Long-Period Variables, AAVSO Alert Notice 291-294, AAVSO News Flash #852-939, CCD Views #312-314, AAVSO Eyepiece Views Volume 2 Number 6, AAVSO Newsletter #28, AAVSO 2003 Ephemeris for Eclipsing Binary Stars, AAVSO 2003 Ephemeris for RR LYR Stars, RR Lyr Bulletin, Observed Maxima Timings of RR Lyr Stars No. 1, XZ Cygni 1965-2002, Solar Bulletin Volume 58 #9-12, Volume 59 #1-2, AAVSO Photoelectric Photometry Newsletter Volume 22,#1. In addition, five papers have been published with AAVSO staff participation and four GCN reports have been issued on Gamma-Ray Burst afterglows imaged by members of the AAVSO International GRB Network. A complete list of these papers can be found on the AAVSO website at the AAVSO in print page.

In addition, AAVSO observations on R Coronae Borealis and YY Herculis were published in IAU Circular No. 8077 and 8083, respectively.

Meetings - At the 92nd Spring Meeting in Tucson, Arizona, observers who had achieved a milestone in their observing totals were presented AAVSO Observer Awards. A complete list of the Observer Award recipients is given in this Newsletter and will be published in the Journal. It was a particular pleasure for our President Dan Kaiser and me to present the Observer Awards in person to those to were present. In addition, two Director's Awards were presented to Richard Huziak, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, for his dedication and valuable contributions, for inspiring and mentoring new observers, and for the contributions he has made to the AAVSO database and charts; and to Gary Poyner, of Birmingham, England, for his dedicated contributions to special observing programs and the AAVSO International Database. Gary could not make the meeting so his award was mailed to him. The AAVSO William Tyler Award is usually given at the Annual Meeting. Since we are not going to have a full Annual meeting this year, the Council decided to present this award at our Spring Meeting in Tucson. It was a real pleasure and an honor to present the AAVSO William Tyler Olcott Award to Edward Halbach for his mentoring of many generations of variable star observers, his dedication, and his contributions to astronomy and the AAVSO. Jane Halbach was also recognized for her support of Ed's astronomical interest throughout their long marriage.

Special Projects - The AAVSO International Gamma-Ray Burst Network, now with over 185 members, has been very active throughout the year with a strong email forum, training program program on how best to image the GRB afterglows, and successful imaging of GRB afterglows GRB 030131, GRB 030323, and especially the bright afterglow for GRB 030329. Special thanks to Arne Henden for his mentoring of GRB observers and to Aaron Price for his coordination of the GRB Network. Later this year, we have expanded the network to include not just gamma-ray burst afterglows, but also active galactic nuclei, including blazars, and magnetic cataclysmic variables (polars). We have changed the name of the network to AAVSO International High-Energy Network. We are partnering with the Global Telescope Network at Sonoma College in the monitoring of these objects and we are expanding our observing program to include many new AGNs and polars. We have formed another fruitful partnership with with Science Education Gateway at the Center for Science Education, Space Science Laboratory of the Universit of California at Berkeley to identify, through interviews and surveys, the needs of amateur astronomers for the National Virtual Observatory. Aaron Price is coordinating this activity and our Treasurer Lou Cohen, who specializes in surveys, is helping him.

At this time, we have automated the AAVSO NewsFlash and replaced it with MyNewsFlash in order to provide seven-day service to all our members, observers, and the astronomical community and also to cut back the enormous amount of staff time that goes into preparing the News Flashes. In designing My News Flash we have taken into account the suggestions and recommendations from the users. MyNewsFlashes can be customized according to one's interest and needs.

We're working hard to make good progress on all our projects. I thank all of you for your support and for your many contributions to the AAVSO.

-Janet

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