Happened to notice these two astro-ph papers posted this evening from the recent SPIE meeting:
The sky at one terabit per second: Architecture and implementation of the Argus Array Hierarchical Data Processing System
The inside-out, upside-down telescope: the Argus Array's new pseudofocal design
Folks interested in where telescope+computing technology is going should get some entertainment by reading the abstracts.
I only read the abstracts. With this (and other) synoptic surveys, do you still feel there is a need for individual variable star observers? What niche can we fill that the survey scopes can't?
I was being purposely provocative is posting these links, partly in hopes of getting tongues wagging. But I also do think the modes of operating hitherto need to be reconsidered. The 1911 AAVSO mode of collecting 'sparse' data from disparate observers not very well calibrated, and no one doing any quality-control, needs to be abandoned, if you ask me. The windows of opportunity are definitely narrowing. Is there some wavelength range, or temporal cadence, or photometric precision that offers amateur observers (or anybody) a niche to work in? Does AAVSO (and other similar organizations) still have a role in coordinating activity on variable stars? Is there some more clever and 21st Century thing that groups can be doing in this area? I don't know the answers to any of this, but I think folks should be pondering this stuff more fully.
On the other side of this I note, from lack of many publications and non-availability of the Evryscope data (precursor to the Argus project by the same cabal), that there must be serious data-crunching and/or people-power/money issues preventing results from coming out commensurate with the amount of data (apparently) being taken by that set-up, which also promised to put an end for the need for all the bright-star observing. Where are the Evryscope lightcurves?
One of the issues for all surveys is longevity of funding.
I haven't tried to find out what it is for Argus.
But if it terminates at some date in the future, presumably some other fast cadence, wide coverage survey will come along.
However, one of the strengths of the AAVSO database to this point, it seems to me, is its longevity. Sure, quality issue have to be isolated when analysing the data, but the sorts of surveys considered here cannot yet match what the AAVSO stores.
Where can we access the variable star data from Everyscope or others? (BSKIFF is right, where are the lightcurves?)
Who will maintain the servers, until the projects end? (ESA, NASA ?? do they have an interest in doing that?)
Which organisation or project lasts for another 100 years? Meaning, giving maintainance or access to the data? Respective giving long term support.
Is it possible to volunteer for some organisation (AAVSO, BAV,...) to maintain these data at the projects end?
No doubt, nowardays there are many fantastic surveys, e.g. look NASA ADS server: 2018 ATLAS a high-cadence ALL-sky Survey System
"During its first two years ATLAS observed 140 million stars hundreds of times and has detected variability" in 5 million objects...
Hmm... Do we have here quantity over quality? I cannot compete with millions of stars (-; But my LCs have the right cadence for accurate minima or maxima, for each star..
My niche (main project) has become, observing Exoplanet-Transits.
www.Exoclock.space (ESA) or Exowatch (NASA) https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/exoplanet-watch/about-exoplanet-watch/overview/
These projects do need accurate quality measurements of Exoplanet-Transits. The ESA Ariel misson is going for Exoplanet-Athmospheres around 2030..
The Centre de Donnees astronomiques de Strasbourg (CDS-Strasbourg) has made the commitment to long-term curation of data and bibliography:
They have been at it for 50 years now, and are among the folks coordinating the development of protocol and software for virtual observatory operations. They think decades downstream regarding storage and access. Data tables from JAAVSO should be archived there as well as in-house, mainly since it makes such data both discoverable and accessible. Large databases such as those from AAVSO, BAV, BBSAG, AFOEV, VSOLJ et al should also be getting copied there, since they have the tools to organize databases and the bandwidth to serve the files.
I think projects like ASAS-SN, ATLAS, EvryScope, ZTF, Argus, LSST, etc. all have their place. You then have to include GAIA, TESS, and other proposed space surveys. The bottom line is that transient astronomy is becoming interesting to professional astronomers. In some ways, traditional observing may end up like amateur asteroid discoveries (rare). In others, the amateur contributions are complementary.
For every professional survey, I think that you can find a limitation. Perhaps the biggest limitation is that there is no single public archive that contains all of the data. The AAVSO's AID is a great comprehensive database of amateur observations, but even it is incomplete - for example, the VSOLJ data is not included. Funding and longevity are other biggies, as mentioned by others. Remember that surveys like Argus are proposed, and are not fully funded. The concept is great, but you have to convince NSF or NASA to invest in the project.
With a new ED and the potential of re-thinking the AAVSO's future, I would like to see a lot more discussion of the issues that Brian Skiff (darn, now I'm going to have to identify WHICH Brian in the future!) has raised. It might be good to have a conference, or perhaps a pro-am Commission, to study the ways in which the professional surveys are impacting amateur activities and how best to proceed, and to get as much of the membership involved as possible. There may be some great funding opportunities for the AAVSO that will be identified!
Arne is right about there (still) being niches for observing, and the need for a comprehensive database of amateur and professional photometry. As an example, just yesterday a grad student of ours showed me lightcurves for one of our T Tauri targets, DI Tau, where he had my data from the last decade as well as ZTF data. My data show that the variation is consistent in period but changing in morphology due to the changing spottedness. The ZTF lightcurve from the same range of dates is flat --- but is the star too bright (mag ~13) or too crowded (15" from DH Tau) even with the Palomar Schmidt? Our photometry (plus near-IR spectroscopy and speckle imaging) are all consistent, so this will have to be looked into. But I'm glad we have that long run of photometry apart from the surveys.
Speaking of the new ED...
I seem to recall having this exact conversation with Arne back during Citizen Sky (2009 time period) when LSST received its first large ($30M) chunk of funding. At the time, there were several sky surveys in the planning stages that seemed well posed to encroach on the AAVSO's traditional activities. Arne said the same thing then as he is saying now: there are always opportunities. The AAVSO's exoplanet section doing TESS follow-up is a great example of how our organization can thrive, if we are willing to try new things. Likewise, spectra of Novae, eruptive variables, YSOes, and similar objects are not only fun to acquire, but also of interest to the broader scientific community. Who knows, perhaps we could even make a push into the NIR and partner with some researchers using JWST.
As you can tell, I think there are a lot of different pathways that we could take as an organization. The tricky part will be navigating the future without abandoning our heritage.
The Evryscope system saturates at about V=7 in its normal operating mode. I have been trying to steer the PEP group towards stars of V=6 or brighter. Personally, I am experimenting with some specialized filters that the surveys will never use, and I'm hoping to find a good use for the SSP-4 near-IR photometer.
In discussions in the forum and on the Board I have tried to raise awareness of the coming impact of survey systems on AAVSO. People generally don't seem interested. The organization needs to do some serious thinking. I can't imagine that NSF will allow Evryscope to keep its lightcurves sequestered. When the project finally gets its data distribution worked out, much of the observing that AAVSO members do will become superfluous.
For those who have not read it, Tom has written a "Quality Report" about the AAVSO data. Near the top of the report there is a section called "The Competition" which has a brief discussion of Argus and Evryscope and their possible affects on AAVSO. It is well worth a read.
Tom indicates that Argus and Evryscope will observe in a single passband g'
My understanding is the Argus will operate in g' and a second, wide passband. Evryscope currently operates in g' but has filter wheels that can accommodate additional bands.
Just because AAVSO has been around for a long time doesn't mean we can continue to work the same way. That's what Sears tried and look where it got them. For decades, AAVSO was the go-to choice for photometry; in the future, astronomers will have choices. Even if the survey projects have a limited lifetime we are entering a period of 10-20 years where projects like Evryscope will far outstrip AAVSO's capabilities, both in quantity and quality. Hoping and praying that the surveys don't release their data - or that their data will vanish at some point in the future - is not a viable strategy for our survival.
I'm reminded of Michelson's assessment of research in the physical sciences in the late 1800s...
"The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote."
Then came quantum mechanics and relativity...
Looks to me like there are plenty of super-bright individuals here and can be ready to recognize and jump on a new application.
I think I have the honor of being the newest member of AAVSO (measured in days) and therefore probably have the least right to comment. However (I will), to me, the biggest draw to the AAVSO was doing something more with my gear than take another pretty picture. Not to disparage those who take beautiful pictures, it is amazing what is being done with current equipment, but for me it was not enough. Perhaps a significant role for the AAVSO now and in the future is not only to generate data in areas as noted above (my personal interest is in imaging CVs that the Hubble is scheduled to target) but is a way to attract citizen scientists and young scientists into the field of astrophysics. I am new enough to be able to claim ignorance about outreach programs and efforts to attract high school students into the AAVSO.
Thanks for listening!