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Thanks giving

Posted by Matthew Templeton on December 3, 2012 - 1:02pm

While doing some database checking today, I got a very interesting figure: between November 28, 2011 and November 28, 2012 (today, as I write this), 1.8 million observations were submitted to the AAVSO.  One point eight million.  It's mind-boggling.

Observers are the reason the AAVSO exists.  It was founded in 1911 by a group of committed observers as a means to encourage variable star observations in furtherance of astronomical research.  Not as a fad or a game or anything else other than an honest attempt to improve our understanding of the universe, one observation at a time.  You are all continuing that work today, and for that, we are all very thankful.

One task of the Recorder, and later Director, of the AAVSO was to acknowledge every observer's monthly reports with a postcard. In the AAVSO's early days, it was possible for AAVSO staff to look at each individual observation that came in.  Indeed it had to be done, since data were archived on paper up through the mid-1970s.  As the number of observers increased, this became more difficult for staff to do. And as the amount and frequency of data submissions increased, it again became impossible to acknowledge every report.  Clint Ford encouraged then director Margaret Mayall to renew this practice for all observers in a 1962 letter, which included a postcard that he'd received from Leon Campbell 23 years prior (shown here).  By Mayall's time enough data were coming in that the practice was impossible to keep up for every report, every month.

In the modern era, the amount of data coming into AAVSO Headquarters every day dwarfs anything Margaret Mayall or Leon Campbell ever had to keep tabs on.  Some days provide more data than would've been submitted in a productive year in the first few decades of the AAVSO.  In the 365-day period between November 28, 2011 and today, WebObs reports -- whether individual observations or large files -- were submitted over 120,000 times.  If we responded with a post card each time WebObs wrote data to the AID, it would require on average 328 postcards to be mailed per day.  As much as we wish we could do it, it just isn't possible.

Unfortunately, what then gets lost is the individual interaction between AAVSO Headquarters and the observer.  Most of you are probably glad that we use our time with things other than postcard writing, but I suspect most people wouldn't mind getting that postcard now and then.  (I would, for sure.)  It's an important reminder -- for us and for you -- that we are here because of you, and your work as observers is the reason we do what we do.  And while we try to say it as often as we can, it bears repeating again and again: we are incredibly grateful for the work that the observer community puts into variable star observing.  You are the reason this organization exists.  We hope that the work we do makes your efforts easier too. 

While we cannot return to the days of sending monthly thank you notes, we're trying some new ways to acknowledge the work that you do.  We launched the Data Usage Report last year to let observers know when and by whom their observations were downloaded.  We also have both the long-running CV Circular and now the LPV Circular to let you know what data are coming in and by whom.  We recently launched a new column for the AAVSO Newsletter summarizing observations that have come in during the preceeding quarter for the long-period and cataclysmic variable Legacy Programs.  And we'll soon be trying out another new montly notification email that will stand-in as a modern version of those postcards of the old days.  The Science Team are also working on some internal tools for our own benefit, and soon we will be getting better summary monthly reports of what data are coming in and by whom.  We can't email everyone individually, but it will help alert us to incoming extraordinary data sets, first observations from new observers, or consistent efforts being made by long-established observers, and we'll be in better position to contact those observers and offer a proper "thank you" for that hard work.  That's not only for your benefit, but it also helps us keep focused on the great data coming into headquarters from the community.

The measure of any society or group is a measure of the people that belong to it.  The AAVSO is a remarkable organization whose people have been doing extraordinary work for more than a Century.  Because of all of you, I think we can expect even greater things in the Century to come.  To everyone who is making that future happen, whether through great innovations or steady and industrious work one observation at a time, thank you for all that you do.

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