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Just getting started with observing, and then I read this...

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Just getting started with observing, and then I read this...

Hi all, new here.

I recently embarked on a Variable Star Observing program and have just begun submitting my observations of variable stars on the AAVSO website.  I'm using binoculars, taking visual magnitude estimates.  Even though I've been interested in all things astronomy related for a few years now (video recording lunar and asteroid occultations, in particular) I all of sudden developed such a fascination with variable stars.  So I'm all excited to begin and have been mapping out my plan, making my lists, coordinating best times to observe stars in the morning and evening.   All good.

So I borrow this book from the library -- The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Amateur Astronomy by Michael Bakich, and I'm reading the section on variable stars.  At the end of the section I read this and it pretty much burst my bubble.   "For over a century, amateur astronomers have carefully measured, recorded and submitted observations of variable stars.  Much of what we know of the light curves of these stars has come from dedicated visual observations made by observers who put eyes to eyepieces under some harsh conditions.  That era has now passed."  "With the proliferation of CCD technology, variable stars may be measured to an accuracy which could only be dreamed about by amateurs using visual means.  Medium-sized telescopes equipped with CCDs can typically reach sixteenth magnitude.  Add to such a system a GoTo drive and software running a script containing a night's list of variables and one can scarcely imagine the amount of data that could be collected - all while the amateur is either observing with a different telescope or asleep!"

When I read that, I was like, wow, I never thought of such a thing.  Here I am trying to simplify my love of astronomy, go back to basics, put the technology away and really get to know the constellations using binoculars only.  And to think that the very noble endeavor of accelerating the accumulation of more and more data can be accomplished --- while sleeping!!  With a GoTo and a script!!  Maybe the old-fashioned way is not so noble anymore; more like, wasted time or misplaced effort.

Well, I'm really not discouraged.  A little, but not fundamentally.  I know there is a value, a deeper value possibly, in cultivating a love of the night time sky fostered by a passion to really observe and find the treasures up there on my own - with tools of course, but certainly not with an automated robotic solution. 

I guess I'm now rambling.  I just wanted to get this off my chest.  I know there is room for all types of observing, and so many people are contributing in their own way.

Glad to join the effort.




TRE's picture

Turns out that you can't believe everything you read in a textbook or on the internet. There is a real need for visual observations. Plus, visual observing is just plain enjoyable. CCD work is just plain hard labor.



Herr_Alien's picture
Here's the thing about

Here's the thing about amateur astronomers: as the 'amateur' part says (amare[latin]: to love), they do what they love most. If they love to make visual observations, they'll make visual observations. If they like doing CCD work, they'll do CCD work.

Unlike hired professionals, amateurs have to account only to themselves.

As for the scientific value: the signal to noise ratio improves when more people submit data, even for visual observations. Data from one observer alone might have (large, by CCD standards) errors. But the average light curve from tens or hundreds of observers is quite valuable, and scientists are quite happy to use that data in their research.

Eric Dose
Eric Dose's picture
"There is room for all kinds

"There is room for all kinds of observing."   -->  Yes indeed. Thanks for that.

"CCD work is just plain hard labor."  --> There's nothing plain about it, plus: some of us like the "hard labor" part! (Very few easy pursuits are particularly worthwhile.)

Do it your own way!

Only some short comments.

<< In the range 8-14mag I can name you, without any problem, one to two dozen variable stars with a good variability (1.5 - 4mag) which nobody - to stress it, nobody!!! - observes. (This is the range, I´m observing. I´m not that familiar with the range till 8mag.)

<< I observe two double stars. No easy targets, but the CCD data of them is a mess!

<< I´m not the best visual observer, my observing conditions are not the best, but my data is (often) the only one available. Some of my stars I observe for over ten years constantly now (with some gaps caused by very bad weather, illness......). This is without any doubt interesting (valuable) data.

<< I like to see things. Yes, images of deep sky objects are fascinating, but to see them with your own eye? I like it to see my variables - but that´s a personal thing.

<< My last comment. No, not to offend the author of the quoted article, but I think he has no real idea of - amateur - variable star observation.

Summary: Do it in the way you like it. Try out stars. Don´t stick to the given data. See the light curve of V1666 Cyg as an example – that´s a change or? I observe some LB stars, they are everything but not LB (OR Cep as example)! I tried some stars with wonderful given data, do not believe in the given data (I think this is not the place to discuss the reasons for that, even when it´s a very interesting topic with not only one answer).

I observe some carbon stars, some SR with very long periods, some SRC stars (V386 Cep, CU Cep, SW Cep (just started), BU Lac, CT Lac, U Lac, and others). My first observations of this stars are from the 90s.

Maybe my answer helps you.

Best regards


TYS's picture
Visual VSOing

I've been observing variables since 1971 and I'm still at it.  Please don't let that article burst your bubble and keep observing. There is still a great need for VISUAL VSOing!

Clear Skies

Rich (RLTYS)


Thank you and excellent comments

All of these are encouraging comments.  I've read them all a number of times.  I am so honored to be working with people like you who have been doing this so long.  Boy, one of you...since 1971!  ...I was one year old.  Doing it the old fashioned way, learning the night sky so well, being able to pick out a tenth of a magnitude difference.... I can't wait to get there. 

Now if these blasted clouds would move out of the way so I can start contributing...




pukemaru's picture
Visual Observing

I have been observing variables on and off for decades. I love the simple pleasure of going out into the fresh night air and observing. The peace. The contentment. The solitude. (I live in a rural area. The nearest city of about 150km away.). And also the satisfation of knowing I am contributing to knowledge. How would I sum up visual observing? It's FUN!

Stephen [HSP]
New Zealand

dhdeangelis's picture
Long-Term Visual Light Curves and the Role of Visual Observation

As others have written, there is still, and will be for the foreseable future, a huge need for visual variable star observations.

For more arguments, check this article by J.R. Percy:

Long-Term Visual Light Curves and the Role of Visual Observation

Also this interesting discussion in Cloudy Nights:

The value of visual observations of variable stars

Go on, keep observing and reporting and have lots of fun!

TYS's picture
Role of Visual Observations

Just downloaded your article Long-Term Visual Light Curves and the Role of Visual Observation and thought it was quite excellent. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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