Notifying observers and researchers of discoveries and requests for AAVSO observing assistance
Prior to the inception of the AAVSO Alert Notice in 1974, observers were alerted to a discovery or the need for observations of an object via a post card from AAVSO HQ or, if extremely urgent, a phone call from the Director or his/her assistant.
The AAVSO Alert Notice
The Alert Notices were established to inform observers of requests for observations in support of professional research; discoveries of novae, bright supernovae, and new rare variable star types (e.g. WZ Sge-type stars); outbursts or fadings of variable stars of interest; and other stellar activity of interest. Finder charts and comparison star sequences were sent with the text of the notice. Often, multiple topics were included in a single Alert Notice. An updated sequence for a new object or for a program star could be included as a chart with a later Alert Notice.
The first paper AAVSO Alert Notice was issued in July 1974 to request observations of three variables in support of professional research. It was distributed to active observers. Observers who wished to receive future Alert Notices were asked to send self-addressed stamped envelopes to AAVSO HQ (non-US observers sent money for postage and envelopes). Through November 1982 five more Alert Notices were issued, and then the regularly-numbered Alert Notices commenced (beginning with Alert Notice 1).
Electronic distribution via email started around 1990. Subscribers chose between paper and email. Paper distribution ceased around 2000. Electronic distribution was done via a utility that selected subscriber addresses from the member/observer database and the text was prepared using a template linked to the utility. For several years appropriate target information was simultaneously sent to the National Virtual Observatory (NVO) via this utility. A major upgrade/revision of the system operating environment casued this utility to break, and it was not fixed. Subsequently, email addresses were extracted from the database via a perl script for each Alert Notice and the email was sent using a perl script. In 2017, the procedure was changed: subscribers subscribed via their AAVSO web account, Mailchimp was used for distribution, and subscriber addresses were linked via Mailchimp so that the distribution list updated automatically. This is the procedure as of July 2017.
Alert Notices began to be posted to the AAVSO website in the mid- to late 1990s. An online archive of all Alert Notices was created and is maintained, formerly at https://www.aavso.org/alert-notice-archive and as of July 2017 at https://www.aavso.org/aavso-alert-notices-for-observing-campaigns-and-discoveries. The text of the Alert Notice is created via the web page for that notice and the text copied into Mailchimp for distribution.
In addition to email distribution, notification of the publication of an Alert Notice is given via a post to the Campaigns and Observation Reports forum or to the Time Sensitive Alerts forum, as appropriate. It may also be posted to other relevant forums (such as Novae, Cataclysmic Variables, LPVs, or YSOs).
As of July 30, 588 numbered Alert Notices have been issued. A few special Alert Notices for PEP observers have also been issued.
The AAVSO Special Notice
The AAVSO Special Notice was begun in December 2005 to inform subscribers (mostly observers) of stellar activity that did not merit an Alert Notice, or to give preliminary/incomplete information about a discovery that needed following up. They were designed to be informal and quick, so that the information could be distributed as fast as possible. They also came to be used as a means to update observers on an observing campaign or discovery when necessary. Often a Special Notice was followed by a more complete Alert Notice on the same target.
With the advent of the Campaigns and Observation Reports online discussion forum on the AAVSO website in 2012, and the capability to be informed of activity in any star in the AAVSO International Database via the MyNewsFlash utility, the Special Notice became less necessary. In 2017 it was decided to discontinue the Special Notice; the final Special Notice was #430, issued in late July 2017 to inform subscribers that the publication was ceasing.
The preparation and distribution procedures for the Special Notice were the same as for the Alert Notice (see above).
Special Notices began to be posted to the AAVSO website in 2005. An online archive of all Special Notices was created and is maintained, formerly at https://www.aavso.org/special-notice-archive and as of July 2017 at https://www.aavso.org/aavso-alert-notices-for-observing-campaigns-and-discoveries.
In 2017 it was decided to have one source on the AAVSO website for information about observing campaigns and discoveries. The archive pages for Alert Notices and Special Notices were combined into one page (https://www.aavso.org/aavso-alert-notices-for-observing-campaigns-and-discoveries), and the Special Notices related to an Alert Notice were placed to follow that Alert Notice. Special Notices not related to an Alert Notice were placed after all the Alert Notices that were issued in that year.
At the same time, access to information on targets for observing campaigns, which was available via the Alert Notices, was enhanced by the creation of the AAVSO Target Tool, which included a list of targets of observing campaigns along with observing parameters and a link to the relevant Alert Notice. As a result, the AAVSO Observing Campaigns webpage (https://www.aavso.org/observing-campaigns) was discontinued.
Note on other means of informing subscibers about stellar activity
NewsFlash and MyNewsFlash
The AAVSO NewsFlash started in 1996. Subscribers received email daily reports of observations of CVs or certain other stars submitted to the AAVSO International Database. It evolved into MyNewsFlash, in which observers could choose the types of stars and select some other parameters. Occasionally a Special MyNewsFlash was issued on a rare outburst (sometimes followed by an Alert Notice). Subscription evolved to allow CCD/PEP/visual notifications. Eventually MyNewsFlash morphed into a web-based subscription, providing the most recent observations on target star(s) email with notification at a cadence of subscriber's choice. This is how MyNewsFlash operates as of July 2017. Subscription is via an AAVSO web account holder's 'My account' page.
Eyepiece Views and CCD Views
Eyepiece Views and CCD Views began in the 1990s as paper publications and morphed into electronic-only publications. They were newsletters that included recent observations on some objects, observing tips and recommendations, information about observing campaigns particularly suited to that mode of observing. They were discontinued around 2010. The type of content they included was transferred to the AAVSO Newsletter and to the online discussion forums.