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The Future

Neils Bohr is reputed to have said, "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future", but we can say a few things based on what is already on the market, and on the drawing boards.

The same technology that lets us do today with a 8" telescope what required a 200" in the past, is being automated so that tremendous quantities of observations will be made automatically, often from sites with better skies than most of us have.  Analysis tools are being automated so that raw photometry goes in, stars are classified as to the type of variability, and for EBs, parameters describing the binary star system come out.  Papers are now not about one star, but a representative 10,000 of that type of star.  So how do we as amateurs fit in, if our goal is to be scientifically relevant?

First, remember this is a Red Queen's Race:  you have to keep running just to stay in the same place.  Be prepared to evolve your methods and your observing program.  Here are a few specific suggestions:

  • be a data miner.  The automated surveys do a lot of analysis of their data, but they are not exhaustive.  Learn how to access what data is available from these surveys to leverage your own work.  E.g., if you need a preliminary period for a new EB, you can probably find years of photometry on it from ASAS, NSVS, SuperWASP, etc.  Even the coarsely sampled ROTSE/NSVS data can give you an light curve showing you the duration of an eclipse, so you can plan how long an observing run to make.
  • understand the "parameter space" of the surveys.  There may be large populations of stars that the surveys don't cover.  A typical reason is that those stars are too bright.  E.g. for LSST, the bright limit will be about mag 16.  So,  everything above mag 16 won't be observed by LSST.  That is pretty much the entire sky that we are used to working on, and almost all the stars for which we have a historical time series that needs to be continued!
  • a particular aspect of survey parameters that is relevant to EBs is cadence.  A ToM can be determined from one observation per night, every night, but it probably won't be as good as one continuous time-series taken through an eclipse.  As an amateur, you can choose to put your scope on one star, all night.  Professional telescopes rarely do that.
  • very bright stars (brighter than mag 6) are particularly underobserved, yet these have the longest history of in-depth inquiry (especially spectroscopy) in the literature.  They are quite challenging to observe, because the nearest comparison star of comparable brightness will be too far away for simple differential photometry to work.  They are a very worthwhile challenge, and technique is likely more important than the equipement, which can be an SLR lens on an inexpensive mount.  This is a perfect fit for the amateur observer, where one of the key resources we bring is time and effort.
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