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Collaboration Forum?

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PKV's picture
Collaboration Forum?

What do observers think about the possibility of a dedicated "Collaboration Forum"?  The purpose of this Forum would be something along the lines of "to propose, discuss and plan scientifically meaningful variable star projects (visual and CCD) for amateur-amateur and/or professional-amateur collaboration, resulting in potential publication."  In the recent Strategic and Operations Survey, "Networking and Collaboration" ranked only 15 out of the 16 numerically based Survey Items.  A majority of the comments about this survey topic were about a general lack of collaboration and poor guidance in personal observing projects.

How do we improve collaboration?  What are the problem areas in variable star science that require more research, data and analysis?  What specific projects would professionals nominate or suggest for Masters or PhD candidates?  Many observers are at a loss in selecting such projects.  Yet many amateurs desire project suggestions and guidance and wish to make scientifically meaningful contributions.  Such a forum could help improve this situation, but it would require input from both professionals and amateurs alike.  In doing so, amateur to amateur and amateur to professional networking and joint collaboration would improve.

Collaboration should be more than just amateurs responding to professional requests for observations.  It should be a proactive process, from the bottom up, as well as the top down.  Amateurs working in isolation have published very respectable results.  If working together with guidance, they could produce so much more.  How do we network, educate and provide guidance to amateurs on scientifically meaningful variable star projects?  Your comments and suggestions are solicited.

This inquiry was initially sent to AAVSO Staff for consideration and it was suggested that I post this topic here in the Campaigns and Observation Reports Forum section for your comments and discussion.  I for one, see merit in this endeavor.

Kevin B. Paxson - PKV

paw's picture
Hi Kevin Is that not what

Hi Kevin

Is that not what this 'campaigns' forum is? A good idea, non-the-less. I would be concerned about further fragmentation of discussion groups, however. It might discourage cross fertilization of ideas.
Alan (PAW)

PKV's picture
Collaboration Forum?


Thank you for your comments.  Campaigns seem to be top down driven.  A professional wishes for assistance, the AAVSO posts a campaign and we amateurs respond.  It is kind of like a one way street.  The vector points in only one direction.  Campaigns have been around for a long time, yet we still have "Networking and Collaboration" near the bottom of the recent Survey results.  So it appears that something is still missing and campaigns alone are not the solution.

What is the "bottom up" vehicle for the initiation of meaningful variable star research for and by amateurs?  Other than personal initiative or working alone, there does not appear to be any.  Guidance and providing direction seem to be sorely missing.  What are the top four or five research topics for each of the important classes of variable stars?  We amateurs may not know.  So we continue our shotgun approach to observing, hoping that some of our observations may have future scientific merit and utility.  And since the the AAVSO has taken the "hands off" approach of not telling observers what to observe, we end up with a lot of observations on a select group of variables with little or no scientific value.  There needs to be a vehicle within the AAVSO that encourages amateur research, provides focus, guidance and direction, yet maintains observer independence.  This is our challenge.

I agree that Forum "dilution" is not a good thing.  Perhaps the role of this specific forum can be expanded to include true "collaboration."  Answering the call and participating in a campaign is only one facet of collaboration.  It seems to entail much more.   Some survey comments even included "collaboration with other international variable star associations" as an untapped opportunity for the future.  Food for thought.  Fostering amateur "Networking and Collaboration" will remain an important issue in the years ahead. 

This Forum posting was in response to an important deficiency as revealed by the Strategic and Operations Survey.  I hope others chime in and express their opinions.  In looking over the Forum process over the last week, I find it amazing that the ratio of topic views to responses is about 200 to 1 or more.  Speak up people!!!

Kevin Paxson - PKV



KTC's picture
One-way street...may remain that way

What is the "bottom up" vehicle for the initiation of meaningful variable star research for and by amateurs?  Other than personal initiative or working alone, there does not appear to be any.

Look at the population of amateurs that collect science data.  Very, very few of them publish.  Unless that demographic trend is changed...then maybe a one-way street is the best approach?  (And continue that one-way approach with more proactive guidance from observing teams or sections, campaigns, and so on.)

What are the top four or five research topics for each of the important classes of variable stars?  We amateurs may not know.

No, I don't know.  That's why I'm happy to be on a one-way street.  Pro's tell me what's hot and what's not.  [NOTE:  Actually, it's not a one-way street for me.  I get feedback, precious, motivating, inspirational, timely feedback on the data I collect.  Sometimes I can help answer the question as to what is hot and what is not by a quick review of the data I just collected, and that can help start or stop some observing campaigns.]

You've probably seen this in some forum postings:  "Star X is one of my favorites to observe."  (And reasons given in support often do not mention science.)

I don't have a favorite star.  I have a favorite process:  science.  I play my part by taking data.  (And repairing sick telescopes....but Telescope Doctor may have to resort to ambulance chasing...I don't (yet) get many responses when I post on these new forums.)

There needs to be a vehicle within the AAVSO that encourages amateur research, provides focus, guidance and direction, yet maintains observer independence.  This is our challenge.

Where is the decadal amateur-pro survey that recommends promising areas of collaboration/research?  I remember Mike Simonsen mentioning it...a year or two ago?  What happened to that?

I find it amazing that the ratio of topic views to responses is about 200 to 1 or more.

I don't. Whether it's been my participation in astronomy clubs, ski clubs, hiking/mountaineering clubs, volunteer fire departments, politics, etc. etc....there's the 80-20 rule:  80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people.  And as time passes I think the rule is more like 95-5 or 98-2.  And others have mentioned that most amateur astronomers practice gastronomy, not astronomy.

And since the the AAVSO has taken the "hands off" approach of not telling observers what to observe....

We are the AAVSO.  We can change this.  But not everyone will follow those recommendations.  I know of one AAVSO member that determines times of minima on eclipsing binaries.  To my knowledge he's not actively collaborating with any pro's to determine which targets are hot.  He does it 'for fun'.  If he's not yet 70, he soon will be.  Folks lose drive as they age.

Look at the average age of AAVSO members.  How many 55-ish members are gonna take up a bold cause and press on through difficulties? 

Find younger members.  Recruit younger members.

How many members prefer the 'fun quotient' be higher than the 'science quotient' in their efforts?  Probably a hefty percentage.

But keep your ears open for those folks that want more science in their diet.  Encourage them in any way you'll never find enough of them.

robinriordan's picture
One Way Street

Astronomy is very old and very slow. It has few "wow" moments. It requires a lot of "ditch digging" effort. I have been actively involved in astronomy for 50 years. I simply enjoy observing and measuring. I use the LPV bulletin to guide me in my target selections. If someone would make a list of poorly observed objects I would make them a priority. The data we collect today will enable future generations to observe changes in stellar behavior. An essential feature of science is patterns. Our observations help paint the pattern. Being with the stars is sufficient reward for me.


WBY's picture
Collaboration Forum

Kevin, I think it is an excellent idea. The purpose of the campaign forum is to discuss active AAVSO campaigns and  post observations and report, presumably concerning those campaigns or recent special and alert notices. I think a forum for members to collaborate to develop observing campaigns and projects is a great idea. I don't know if the origin of campaigns is best described as top down. Sometimes I think they more frequently originate from the outside outside as requests from pros for pro-am collaboration. A forum would foster more home grown projects and yet allow input from those with higher levels of applicable expertise, which would help prevent people working on projects that are incorrectly designed or have a very low probability of success (meaning a definite, statistically significant result, not necessarily a positive one). If AAVSO agrees to start such a forum, count me in. I personally find that designing an a good experiment is much more difficult than executing it, except of course, if you have to raise a lot of money to build the necessary equipment.


Brad Walter, WBY

Aaron Price
Aaron Price's picture

FWIW, I just edited the description of the Campaigns and Observation Reports forum to read:

Discuss ongoing campaigns (Alert Notices, Special Notices, etc.), announce your own projects and report interesting observations here.


I added "announce your own projects" to it. So hopefully it is more clear that you can use the forum for your own campaigns if you wish.

PKV's picture
Collaboration Forum?

Thanks for the amendment (or addition) to the purpose of this Forum.  Hopefully it will encourage project discussion by amateurs and professionals alike.  Don't be shy people.  Post questions about or propose possible projects for your favorite group of variable stars.  Kevin Paxson - PKV

cpmalo87's picture
Kevin, I for one think this


I for one think this is a great idea.  I joined  AAVSO recently for several reasons.  Among them is a strong desire to contribute meaningfully to astronomy/astrophysics in some way without going back for a PhD in astrophysics.  I haven't really done research since grad school. I currently teach physics/math at a two year college.  I'm looking forward to developing good observing skills with the goal of contributing to a valuable ongoing project.  One of my goals is to eventually publish.  I'm sure there must be others in the organization like me. 

Perhaps there are also professional astronomers who for various reasons have work that needs doing: work that traditionally is done by research assistants which could be tackled by volunteers like myself and others.  Any more thoughts out there?

KTC's picture
Not all the news is good in the world of collaboration

Not all the news is good in the world of collaboration

You mention that you want to develop your observing skills.  What rig do you currently have, what problems/weaknesses does it have?  Perhaps we can improve your skills.  (We'll wrestle with widepspread apathy towards pro-am collaboration later. ;-)

cpmalo87's picture
My rig


I've got a pair of binoculars (10 x 50) that I use for visual observing.  I've also got an 8" Schmidt Cass. with an alt/az mount only.  So far I've only done visual observing but would like to do dslr and ccd work eventually. Thanks.

Chris Maloney

I'm with cpmalo87. I'm an

I'm with cpmalo87. I'm an aerospace engineering student, and I'd love to make some meaningful contribution to science in the astronomy field. As him, one of my goals is to publish (mid-long term goal), but I'm also happy making useful observations.

I think this is a great idea. With this forum, some teams could be formed among us to write a paper together, or to help one another in the data analizing process. It could also be a way to establish a communication way between amateur and pro astronomers.

Thanks for your efforts Kevin!

KTC's picture
Establish communications between amateur and pro astronomers....

It could also be a way to establish a communication way between amateur and pro astronomers.

Based on my experience, a fast way to get the attention of professional to demonstrate that you can take good data for them.

What rig do you have?  What problems and weaknesses does it have?  We can probably improve your rig so that it takes better better attract professional astronomers.

Better data

You're right better quality data will attract more professional astronomers. That's why I created a topic in the photometry forum asking for help to better determine my measurement errors (waiting for response).

My equipment is a bit limited. I have a point-and-shoot Canon camera and 10x50 binoculars.

PKV's picture
Collaboration Forum?

My initial thought about a new Collaboration Forum was to have a place for observers to meet and discuss potential observing projects with guidance and direction from professionals.  Collaboration is more than just us observers answering the call to participate in a campaign.  This is what I meant by "top down" collaboration, which in itself is fine and good.  But what about "bottom up" collaboration (amateurs ideas with the advice and guidance from professionals which blossoms into meaningful research, data and publication)? 

I see many of us CCD observers being like astronomical graduate students.  Thesis time.  But what do I wish for a thesis topic?  Many of us are at a loss.  This is where professional mentoring and guidance is required.  Do we have mechanisms in place to for this "bottom up" collaboration, other than personal initiative and desire?  It seems like this mechanism is lacking at the moment.

Many of us CCD observers use remote scopes via the Internet, versus our own backyard equipment.  I use the Sierra Stars 24" and when used with VPHOT, produces excellent results from magnitudes 10.5 to 15.0 and slightly deeper with a 30 second V exposure.  Longer exposures and or stacking would go magnitude 16 or deeper.  So data quality is not an issue for me, anyway.  For others, the learning curve for acquiring good data may take some time and effort.  Many of us can learn the variable star theory and astrophysics as we go.  

Mike Simonsen, Kevin Alton, Jerry Horne and many others have produced excellent CCD results and research.  Many of us aspire to attaining their level of competency.  Tom Krajci is right about mastering your data quality first.  Then the time will come for entering the "forest of research topics."  Perhaps some of us CCD observers need to post a "research topics desired" want add on the AAVSO web site to get some suggestions for scientifically meaning full research projects. 

Like the theme of "Build it and they will come" from the movie "A Field of Dreams," what can we build to improve, encourage and grow collaboration in the AAVSO, with all of its many types and flavors?  Many of us have the desire, we just need to network, join forces and attain advice and guidance.  For the time being, the "collaboration effort" will be nested under the "Campaigns and Observation Reports Forum."  Perhaps this forum needs to be renamed to the "Campaigns, Collaboration and Observing Reports Forum."

Kevin B. Paxson - PKV


Yes PKV, I know what I need to do is to improve my knowledge in VS theory, and my CCD/DSLR/data adquisition quality. I hope to get a better equipment later this year, and as I said, publishing is a long term goal for me. First things first.

Anyway, having a great group of people in this forum willing to help, I'm sure it will be a matter of time!

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