American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Sat, 03/10/2012 - 08:44

I am absolutely new here, so pardon me if I sound a bit silly!
I am an amateur and want to learn more about variable stars. Apart from reading, I was wondering if there is any data out there that is waiting to be analysed to either identify a variable star or to conclude the opposite. I want to do this as a project that I have to submit as part of a distance learning course in Astronomy that I am pursuing. Is such data available and how can I locate it? I have no means to make observations myself at this stage.
If there is any other idea that someone could propose regarding analysing variable stars, I would be highly obliged.

getting started

Hi, Amit.

Finding and checking possible new variable stars is one of the most rewarding part of this work. However, it is also relatively difficult and usually reserved for those who are pretty experienced. I don't want to dissuade you from pursuing this project! I just want to warn you that it takes some work. Sadly, we don't have a step-by-step guide on how to find a new variable. There are lots of ways of doing it. I recommending reading the archives of the Journal of the AAVSO. It includes many articles about new variables and new variable searches. You can get an idea for how it is done by reading those articles:

Here is an article by a professional who searched a free, online database of star observations/light curves for variables:

Here is a good article by a advanced amateur/current president of the BAA about his discovery of two new variable stars:

There are lots of online databases you can access to look for variables. But most of them have been mined by people using automated software, so the easy-to-find variables are mostly already discovered. What are left are the unique/hybrid types which are more difficult to find, but also quite rewarding astrophysically.

Alternatively, you can team up with another observer who takes lots of data and stores it. Maybe they will give you access to their field data so you can see if anything is there. A fun pursuit is to take observations made over a long time space of a particular variable star and look for other variables that may just happen to be in the same field of view. Sometimes we even find the comparison stars are variable!

The following page describes what you need to do when you think you have identified a new variable star. It will give you an idea of what kind of checking you need to do to confirm that it is variable and it is new.

Unless someone reading this has a list of suspected variables they'd be willing to share with you, my thinking is the task may be too big for a one semester course project. Feel free to prove me wrong!