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Planning AAVSO's future

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stellakafka
stellakafka's picture
Planning AAVSO's future

 

Friends,

We are actively seeking both member and non-member ideas about AAVSO's future.  Why people join AAVSO; what they want AAVSO to do for them; what can AAVSO do better?  Join the conversation - let us know your thoughts.

 

Best wishes - clear skies,

Stella.

MDP
MDP's picture
AAVSO future

I joined because the idea of contributing to a solid and useful data base for the pros appealed to me. I get a sense of satisfaction with this. AAVSO gives me tools to examine data with and info on what needs to be looked at. I have a feeling that for the time being, we are better at stars between 3-7 magnitude than the robotic scopes. I could be wrong of course.

nmi
nmi's picture
The AAVSO has its own network

The AAVSO has its own network of robotic telescopes. The Bright Star Monitors, a subset of the larger AAVSOnet, is available for use by our members, and is dedicated to observing in the 4 to 13 Vmag range.  The BSM section (https://www.aavso.org/bright-star-monitor-section) describes the network and how to submit a proposal for you individual project.  More information on the AAVSOnet can be found here, https://www.aavso.org/aavsonet .

Mike

tst
AAVSO Future

I agree with MDP comments above.

I personally would like to see a more defined vision on the roll of, and which targets would most benefit from visual observations. 

Steve Toothman TST 

 

mgw
mgw's picture
Thanks!

Steve and Patrick,

Thanks for your comments.  This feedback is exactly what we're looking for.

Gordon Myers

Robert Jenkins
Robert Jenkins's picture
AAVSO planning

Hi Stella et al

I was a keen visual observer that tried to go into astro photography.  I bought all of the right gear but found, while I could take technically great images, I had the artistic ability of a blind wombat (yes I am Australian) in turning these into great astro images.  Having spent all of this money I had I had to convince she-who-must-be-obeyed that I had not wasted our money.  CCD variable star research was the obvious choice and I have loved it.  That was more than 10 years and >12,000 observations submitted to AAVSO (and more to VSS-SEB see below) ago.

Being able to work with professional and amateur observers from around the world has been exhilarating, challenging and meant that I could turn observing into useful science.  

I am a member of Variable Stars South- Southern Eclipsing Binaries section in addition to AAVSO.  I find the backup of the training courses through AAVSO, the data base in VSX, the access to research information, the access to the charts and plots, the standard star information for calibration, the forums, VStar/SeqPlot, etc all essential to my maintaining a scientific hobby.  Working with other observers provides the assurance that your data is accurate (nothing is more reassuring than submitting data and seeing similar magnitude data from another observer half way around the globe) and the encouragement that this is more than looking at pretty objects in the sky.  Variable star observing can be a lonely hobby  particularly in a place like South Australia where there only a few other active observers; the membership of these organisations is essential to maintaining our enthusiasm.

What do I want from AAVSO?  Firstly do not change the name.  I do not care that the name is American Association of Variable Star Observers - I am proud to be a member of it.  The history of the name is too important to change it and you provide a one-stop-shop for variable star information worldwide.  I want the back up that AAVSO provides to observers from around the world in everything from training, data, advice, support, chance to be in campaigns, and a place where I can proudly store my observations.  

Do I get the feeling that this question is part of an examination of the organisation with a view to rationalising our outlays?  Cutting costs?  I would prefer an increase in membership fees than a reduction in services.  

The article in the last JAAVSO (V47 2019  pp122 to128) by Tim Crawford clearly demonstrates the enormous work done to keep AAVSO up-to-date and providing the best service to its members.  

My suggestion is to change as little as possible.

Robert Jenkins

Adelaide

South Australia

tst
AAVSO Future

I agree with Robert's coments, I would prefer an increase in fees than a cut back in service. 

If the fees were increased, on my wish list would be:

- Bring back the annual Bulletin for the min/max of LPV

- Used to support others.

Personally I'm  just a grumpy old visual observer with a small scope and don't see myself ever going into the CCD world, but as mentioned before I'd like a little more direction on where to best put my effort.

Steve Toothman TST 

B.P.Vietje
B.P.Vietje's picture
Help Prioritizing Targets/Observations

Thanks for your feedback, Steve -- very much appreciated!

Have you tried using the AAVSO Target Tool to help you set priorities?  You can select  target type, and then sort by magnitude, RA, DEC, and a number of other factors.

Each entry is color coded on the right side with what I think you are looking for -- the latest observation reported, which is compared to the recommended observing cadence, so targets in need of observations are colored red.  (Please see attached screen shot, LPV's sorted by magnitude.)  You can find the AAVSO Target Tool in the Observing pull-down menu on the AAVSO web site.

Another idea would be to enroll in Michael Cook's upcoming CHOICE course:  Developing A Visual Observing Program, which will address these issues.

Clear skies,

Brad Vietje, VPBA

Newbury, VT

www.nkaf.org

File upload: 
nmi
nmi's picture
CCD Observing using the BSM

CCD Observing using the BSM

There is an AAVSO robotic telescope network available to the membership. If you are interested in delving into CCD observing and image photometry you might go to the BSM Section, https://www.aavso.org/bright-star-monitor-section . Take a  look!

Mike

Mike

Mike

tst
Brad,

Brad,

Thanks for the suggestions.

Steve

tst
Brad,

Brad,

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm going to show my ignorance here, but  I was thinking more at a higher level, for example; are there areas that are not well covered by all sky surveys or CCD observations that the visual observations can fill?  

Steve

lmk
lmk's picture
I am not the longest serving

I am not the longest serving visual observer, by far, but have been around for some time now. It seems AAVSO history can be divided into 3 eras: The first, was the pre-internet, pre-CCD, "classical" era, where observations were mostly visual, and communications was via US mail, landline and telegram.

Starting in the mid-1990's, we entered the internet/CCD age, and visual started to decline as the major component. Now, it seems to me we are entering a third phase, the robotic telescope era. I am not sure where this will ultimately lead, but it clearly further lessens the usefulness of visual, and starts to impact even the value of contributions by individual photometrists.

As more and more robotic telescopes come online, I see further reduction in value of the AAVSO as it has existed in the classical sense, since the new data is going to be stored elsewhere, in larger volume, a more distributed fashion, as opposed to in one place - the AAVSO Database. So, maybe the future of the AAVSO will tend more towards being a historical repository, like a library, unless our organization takes a leading role in the robotic observing and data archiving field.

Predicting the future is difficult, but this tendency towards robotics/AI and away from individual human contributors seems to be a fairly certain outcome. AAVSO faces a challenging future. While AAVSO-Net is a step in that direction, there are many more independent groups in the world developing their own robotic observatories. How will AAVSO integrate with that multitude, and work itself into remaining the leader of the bunch? I think that will be a very tough job, given its worldwide independence!

Mike LMK

SFS
Not sure I agree

I'm not sure I agree with you, Mike, about the replacement of human observers.  As a shred of evidence, I cite this:

https://www.ted.com/talks/tabetha_boyajian_the_most_mysterious_star_in_t...

which prompts me to recall, as an aside, my wonderment when I learned about this that the AAVSO completely ignored it.  Citizen Science:  a nice buzzword.  But vorbei.

Perhaps you are not familiar with the concepts of machine learning; although I cannot claim by any means to be an expert, I have dealt with and solved problems using machine learning techniques, and can attest from experience that they mystery surrounding the field is mostly hype.  The video above serves as an example of that.  Call it AI, "deep learning", whatever; the machine solves the problem it was programmed to solve, and if the human programmer makes the mistake of thinking that the machine will overcome the limits of their knowledge, he or she is destined to be disappointed.

I think the appropriate questions that organizations like the AAVSO should be asking are things like:  What is going to become of all that data?  And, How can we measure and improve the quality of the data?  Regarding the latter, it seems to me that the AAVSO has fallen into the trap of seeing quantity as the be-all and end-all, with quality a minor consideration.  (For instance, what does the AAVSO proactively do to improve the observing skills of its observers?  As far as I can tell, nothing!  The forum is full of posts by experienced observers complaining about how some folks observe the same Mira several times in one night, or manufacture observations by looking at others' reports.  Does anybody actually do anything about that?) 

Might I suggest that one of the things the AAVSO might do in planning its future is to take a good hard look at what it is doing and how it is doing it, and ask whether those practices constitute good science, and how they might be improved. 

CS,

Stephen

Eric Dose
Eric Dose's picture
? ? ?

For the star you cite, KIC 8462852, the AID currently contains 89,986 observations from 112 observers. I expect that this makes it one of the most AAVSO-observed stars ever.

It's equally unclear how one could claim that AAVSO does "nothing" to improve observer skills. There are the CHOICE courses, the forum is available 24/7 where numerous experienced observers lend their guidance, mentors are available, the website has numerous documents and has links to outside documents as well. Now, if there are concerns about how all these are publicized or organized, or if there is a specific gap in guidance: yes such should prompt suggestions for change. That's exactly what this forum thread is for, after all. But the AAVSO already does rather more than "nothing" through the unpaid efforts of numerous members.

SFS
Proactive:

Serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation.  With emphasis on intervention.  All of the measures you list are passive; someone can take a course or ask to be mentored.  That's fine.  But there are people who are unaware of their lack of skill, or of knowledge.  The Dunning-Kruger Effect is as applicable here as anywhere.  Like I asked, who looks over the observations and provides feedback to observers?  Nobody. 

And as for KIC 8462852, funny, I must have missed the alert notice and the announcement of a campaign.  Again, it was up to individuals to find out on their own.  All I know is that I did not hear about it until months later, even though I subscribed to alert notices and check the web site at least a couple of times per week.

In parting I must say that my experience with the AAVSO cognoscenti over the past year or so has made me  reluctant to participate in anything other than the submission of observations.  I had sworn off posting to the forums, and I now see that I made a mistake by going back on the promise I made to myself.  Sorry to have bothered you all.

Ed Wiley_WEY
Ed Wiley_WEY's picture
Comments for Stella

I have taught and taken several of the CHOICE courses. In 2018 is taught CCD1 for, I think, the third or fourth time. I am now mentoring one new CCD observer and he is making great progress. CHOICE is a great program.

I am not bothered by the increasing amount of data provided by professional surveys. I doubt that any of them will ever have the kind of concentrated data on individual targets that AAVSO observers can provide, so I am not very worried that AAVSO will be eclipsed by automation in the near future. I take advantage of survey data because Sebastian has done a good job of linking some of those data within VSX (which itself is outstanding). And, there is datamining for the rest. VPhot is a marvel, I use it and I recommend it to my students as well-worth the cost of membership. The comp team is superb. APASS is a major and lasting contribution to the entire astronomical community. I adopted two BSM targets and that system seems to be working fairly well. So, in general, I think that AAVSO is heading in the right direction.

There can be some improvements. Web pages tend not to be very intuitive. The EB target list is useless as it does not filter those EBs that are eclipsing the night of observation. But I consider such things as minor irritations and in the case of EBs there are much better resources to find those that are eclipsing on a given night.

One thing I might recommend considering: A periodic “census” of AAVSO observers. There is concern about a decreased in visual observers. I take this to be true, based on what I have heard. But, quantifying this might provide valuable information. For example, is there a decline in the absolute number of visual observers or are the absolute numbers relative steady but falling as a percentage of all observers (e.g., more CCD are joining, diluting the visual observers as a percentage of all observers). One could even compare the total number of active AAVSO members pre-CCD and pre-PEP relative to the total number active today.  Such quantification might prove valuable for planning purposes given the demonstrated value of visual observations.

Ed

mgw
mgw's picture
President's Letter - Discussing 'Planning AAVSO's Future'

AAVSO President’s Letter – July 2019

My goal with this letter - in addition to providing a brief status update from Council – is to discuss our strategic planning efforts.  We are focused on AAVSO’s future. We want to enhance our current programs and create new initiatives that meet member’s interests and needs. Many ideas have surfaced and are summarized below.   Please use the new “Planning AAVSO’s Future” forum to tell us what you think. Are these the types of ideas you think will strengthen AAVSO?  Do you have additional ideas? We’re looking for your feedback and suggestions. 

Our joint meeting with the RASC was a great success!  Over 150 people attended including over 40 AAVSO members. Presentations included interesting histories of Canadian astronomers, sessions on new equipment technology, and STEM outreach activities. 

At our members meeting Stella gave the Director’s report providing an overview of current work and accomplishments. Her presentation can be seen here. It was followed by an excellent interactive discussion soliciting feedback about the strategic plan.

The council met for a full day while in Toronto. Half of the meeting covered finances, investments, awards, spectroscopy, our new IT support strategy, and governance topics.  The other half of the meeting was devoted to the strategic plan.  

Focusing on the future -

The strategic planning committee is made up of sevencouncil members including Stella. The initial phase of our work is getting member inputs and ideas about the organization.  Key questions are why people join AAVSO, and what they want the organization to do for them.

Over the past twomonths committee members had conversations with over 200 people – both in one-on-one settings and with groups of people at the Society for Astronomical Sciences meeting in late May and the RASC meeting in early June. Some common themes surfaced –

  • What makes AAVSO different from other astronomy organizations is that we are the home of people who want to do astronomy, not just read about it.
  • Six reasons surfaced about WHY people join AAVSO –
    • Opportunity for amateurs and professionals to work together
    • Personal interest in observatory equipment and technology
    • Desire to learn more about astronomy – and often teach their children
    • Desire to meet others with a common interest
    • Self-fulfilment
    • Having fun!

Initial discussions are yielding ideas in three main areas – how we can enhance support to current members, how we can attract and keep new members, and how we can improve overall management of the organization – both staff and volunteers. 

What we want is your ideas.  Why are you a member?  How can AAVSO best meet your needs and interest? Use the “Planning AAVSO’s Future” forum to share your thoughts. We will analyze all the feedback we receive and present preliminary plans at our Las Cruces annual meeting for further discussion.

In addition, we will shortly announce the schedule for a ZOOM online meeting asking members to join us to discuss the strategic plan.  Based on interest, we will schedule additional ZOOM sessions.

We plan to act immediately on one key suggestion we received.  There are many members whose primary interest is telescope technology and operations.  We are creating a new section with this focus.  The name is not yet solidified (instrumentation and telescope operations?), but we’ll figure that out.  We’re working to identify a section leader and will develop a more detailed description of the section.  

We continue to seek members who would be interested in joining the council.  Consider running.

Donations to our Annual Campaign are lagging.  Our goal this year is $100,000.  Please consider donating.  We need your support! https://www.aavso.org/aavso-annual-campaign-2019-cultivating-future

I hope you can Join us in Las Cruces at our annual meeting this October!  It will be fun, you’ll learn a lot, you’ll have opportunities to share your ideas about AAVSO’s programs and future, and most of all you’ll have time to talk with fellow members.  

Clear skies.

Gordon

conan
conan's picture
More old people!

I have often seen comments lamenting the "aging" membership of the AAVSO. But most younger people are too busy with careers and families to do astronomy, until they retire. Then they have plenty of time to stay up all night peering at variable stars and making estimates. Old people are a resource! We should recruit more of them! Especially those folks who retired from STEM careers. So some of our marketing for new member recruitment should be directed toward retired people.

And by the way, why did I join the AAVSO? So I can contribute to real science, in particular astronomy, even though I don't have a PhD.

Conan

hky
hky's picture
Equipment

Very interesting discussions. 

One thing that I do want to bring up is Equipment.

I have been a member for well over 8 years and what stops me in doing some very interesting variable work is equipment.

I use what I have. Binocular variables is what I have done and now looking to doing more telescopic observations using a small refractor and a Dobsonian so visual observing is not dead.

I wish too contribute too science as well.

Someone coming into variable observing may feel that they can only contribute is by  purchasing big telescopes and CCD cameras and doing photometry . This can be quite the learning curve.

Perhaps when I feel more comfortable with the remote telescopes I can do some fainter EB's .

The CHOICE programs are excellent. I will be taking more in the fall looking forward to Mike Cook's course.

Training as a hands on event is good. Reading manuals can leave some scratching their heads and possibly turning away.

As Helen Sawyer Hogg wrote "The Stars belong to Everyone" let's keep it that way we can all contribute.

 

Kim Hay hky

 

 

 

nmi
nmi's picture
The AAVSO has a network of

The AAVSO has a network of robotic telescopes, fully equiped to do CCD photometry, and is available free to the memebership. Take a look, https://www.aavso.org/bright-star-monitor-section .

Mike

oopfan
oopfan's picture
Equipment, agreed.

As someone who came to AAVSO having equipment better suited for astrophotography I've had the good fortune of finding mentors through the CHOICE programs who help. I find it perplexing however that there is no central repository for this information that can be queried. I do understand the hesitancy of the AAVSO governing body to be seen as endorsing certain equipment over others. I have a suggestion:

Using only the information currently captured in VPhot Telescope Setup enable a user to browse all records. I, for one, am very interested in transform coefficients and the camera used. Currently we don't ask for the camera make and model but perhaps people use the free-form TELESCOP field to capture that. My TELESCOP field says "WO 71mm f/5.9 Atik 314E".

EDIT: I need to amend my statement above. I see that in my Account -> Equipment page there are fields available for describing my camera in detail. So perhaps the query can join the two.

Thank you,

Brian

 

Ed Wiley_WEY
Ed Wiley_WEY's picture
AAVSO visibility at star parties and student publication

One way to make AAVSO more visible is if members will prepare and give interesting talks on AAVSO activities at their local and not so local star parties as well as at local club meetings. Every once in a while, an astrophotographer can be picked up who becomes interested in the science side of our activities. I try to slip in a talk at the Okie-Tex and will be giving one this year.

Another thing to do is what I term "mentoring to authorship." All of my undergrads and graduate students who went on to successful professional careers (in evolutionary biology) were inspired to do so by getting published.* Once published they took the bit. This model is used very successfully by Russ Genet for visual double stars (see the many publications in the JDSO) with undergrads and high school students. His advantage is that the research programs are relatively simple and the editors of the JDSO are open to what most would consider "not world-shaking research." But we have programs like that: timing of minima of eclipsing binaries and other timing programs. We can take advantage of relatively simple research projects to get even high school students published if we can figure an appropriate venue that insures sound scholarship. The point would not be to generate more professional astronomers (although some might be inspired to because professionals), but to inspire students to continue their “citizen science” activities and make them lifelong AAVSO contributors. It also helps students with college admission even if they do not seek astronomical careers. On the professional side, the best predictor of success in my field, in my department, is not GRE scores or even underegraduate GPA, it is whether or not the student has published a paper before entering the Ph.D. program.

Ed

*For the record, I am not published in variable star research, I am a data provider, but I am working my way in that direction, slowly.

David Benn
David Benn's picture
Data and software publication

Hi all

I agree with Robert about retaining the core of what AAVSO is, with Ed that local talks are good and with Mike on the increasingly important role of data (and machine learning etc).

Picking up on the last point, given that journals (Nature and others) are increasingly asking for the data that was used to yield a particular result and often now also the software that was used (as opposed to a reference to or description of an algorithm), I wonder whether part of AAVSO's future plans could involve a closer look at current and emerging data and software publication practices?

Obviously AAVSO publishes data via AID, but one thing I'm wondering about is the assigment of a DOI to a particular subset of data. For instance, if a paper gives an AID date range along with a subset of bands, observers and so on, what happens if after the time of publication, some observations are modified or deleted by the observer who made them or reported as discrepant (e.g. via Zapper or VStar)? The dataset used to yield a particular result will now not be accessible via AID.

The specific dataset used could for example be captured in a research data repository (like Zenodo or figshare, along with appropriate descriptive metadata, and a DOI minted. Perhaps some authors already do this, but it's one of the things I've wondered about. Other than manual data publication, I could imagine  a plugin that generates a data publication from a filtered subset of data used in an analysis that lead to a certain result. So, this is really a point about reproducibility as well.

The CSIRO Data Access Portal (DAP) contains data collections that are intended to follow the FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) data principles, including a significant collection of pulsar data. The Australian National Data Services and now the Australian Research Data Commons (ANDS/ARDC) have acted as a catalyst for many research organisations over the last decade or so.

The CSIRO DAP also contains software publications. Another example of a software publication repository is the Journal of Open Source Software and it works in concert with Zenodo to mint DOIs.

Just some thoughts about one possible area of future planning.

David

rglassner
Long Period Variable Science

I have been observing several long period variable stars for about 3 years. I use binoculars and the variables come from the AAVSO Binocular Program.  I had no previous experience in astronomy prior to my recent retirement.    

The AAVSO Misson statement includes the words "observation and analysis of variable stars".   I have subscribed to the forums for Visual Observing and Long Period Variables and cannot say that I see a lot of the science/analysis of variable stars being discussed.  I would like to see more of that within the these forums.  With that said, I would like to complement Frank Schorr, Andrew Pearce, and others who have in recent years given us the "LPV of the Month" and "LPV of the Season" articles.  These articles do analyze and discuss the results of light curve data.  I really appreciate that.  I would like to see the more experienced LPV observers more engaged in the LPV forum helping to ask and answer questions about LPVs.  Any of this type of discussion would be helpful to me in learning more about LPVs.    Generally, I would like to see a more active LPV Forum focused on the science of long period variables.

  My last comment is that I would like a clear understanding of what the science issues/questions that are generally agreed upon by professional LPV researchers and what specific projects are being worked on that could address these questions.  The LPV forum might be a place where this information could be communicated.  John Percy, for example, has consistently communicated in JAAVSO articles the need to better understand why some LPVs have long secondary periods.  What are other issues that face LPV researchers?  

Thanks,

Rich (GRIB)

        

ACN
ACN's picture
LPVs neglected

Dear observers, ,

Really  I do not kown how is the future of AAVSO!  I hope it be marvelous as up to now! 

The only thing that I know is there is  a lot of variable stars to be observed  in the sky.  Many of them  (LPVs)  has only 2 or 3 reports to AAVSO or less than this!

For example:  Days ago I observed  UU Lib (Type Mira).  For my surprise,  I  noted that the last observation before mine was in 1926 (almost 1 century ago).

...And more:  there are 6 stars (LPV)  (max. mag. 11.0) in Libra  that never were reported to AAVSO ! Why?

So, there are  some  stars (LPV) in DB of AAVSO  with 50,000 to  100,000 reports and  dozens or hundreds of  others with Zero  reports! Why?

greetings,

Carlos A. Adib  (Brazil)}

 

 

 

 

Bikeman
Bikeman's picture
Example:UU Lib

This is actually a nice example why we need to have this discussion I guess.

So there might be only limited observations for UU Lib in the AAVSO database, but there are robotic sky surveys like the ASASSN search for super novae that, as a by-catch, produce photometry for a ton of variable stars. If you go to their data access website and enter the coordinates of UU Lib , you get a really nice light curve, see for yourself:

https://asas-sn.osu.edu/variables/419335

This comes complete with period analysis.

Shocking, isn't it ;-)? And this a network of robotic telescopes using only moderate equipment (by pro-standards), basically consumer-off-the-shelf 140mm aperture telephoto lenses!!

You can imagine how the LSST will revolutionize this even more : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Synoptic_Survey_Telescope

I'm surprised the LSST hasn't been mentioned in this thread yet, but perhaps it's the elephant in the room...

So are there things that those surveys still won't be able to do that amateurs can contribute ?

One thing that comes to mind is spectroscopy: I think it will be a few more years/decades? until all-sky-surveys can do all-sky-spectroscopy, e.g. via imaging spectroscopy, with meaningful spectral resolution.

Another thing is time series photometry to catch very short periods. With an observation cadence of  ca 1 per night or so, you have a hard time finding subtle periods of e.g. cataclysmic variables on the order of minutes or hours, let alone a period change over time. Unfortunately people doing this kind of work are sometimes met with scepticism and an implicit or explicit accusation of "overobserving" or just trying to boost their observation counts to get a better ranking in the AAVSO's stats.

Also very bright targets might not even be covered by some of the bigger telescopes because of saturation issues. Does anyone knwo what will be the limits for LSST?

EDIT: Rapid response to new transients is also something that the tightly knit global network of amateurs can do better than the relatively few Pro telescope sites that seem to get more and more concentrated (especially in Chile).

Datamining the databases of the professional "photometry factories" might be another worthwhile activity for amateurs. Yes, that will mean spending more time in front of computers than at your scope.

To finish my rant: Back in medieval times, invaluable records about the weather, earthquakes and other natural phenomena were kept and preserved by monks, and for historic studies these are incredibly important even today. But nowadays, there really is no need for monks (or any amateurs) to continue this tradition. Amateur photometry will adapt to technological change as well.

Let me be clear: I don't want anyone to give up their beloved hobby. Currently I am observing an LPV (V667 Cas) just for fun myself. That does not need a justification, and it will continue until this generation of observers has retired their hobby one way or the other. But one needs to make a decision how to educate the next generation and have an answer ready when they ask us "Ok, it's fun, but is it still relevant, scientifically?"

Just my 2 cents.

CS

HBE

tcalderw
tcalderw's picture
Impact of Surveys

Below, I offer excerpts from a document I wrote while on the Council.

Tom

There are a plethora of surveys in the works, with institutions scrambling to carve out some region of parameter space that justifies a new project. I will here consider just two: EvryScope and Fly’s Eye. These are both comparatively low cost systems that use a mosaic of CCDs fed by commercial camera lenses, mounted on tracking platforms.  Both are very-wide-field and sample quickly. EvryScope is described in 2015PASP..127..234L, and to quote from the abstract, the system will generate “1% precision, many-year-length, high-cadence light curves for every accessible star brighter than ∼ 16th magnitude."  EvryScope will normally use 120 second exposures in only one filter, but will have the capability for multi-filter operation. Distilling the true system capbilities from the hype is a little tricky. The system actually seems to saturate at V=6, and that is only when operated with integrations of 60 seconds. The V=16 1% capability is achieved by co-adding a great many exposures, while 1% precision is attained at V=12 in a single exposure, so the 1% cadence at the dimmer magnitude is far slower. Even so, assuming EvryScope sticks to one filter (might be g’, not V), and that they also stay with 120 second exposures, they can presumably generate 2-minute- granularity light curves in something like the range of V=8..12 with 1% precision. With an hour’s worth of co-adding, they can push the 1% limit to V=15. They further promise to preserve the entirety of their data.

   While EvryScope is nominally single-band, leaving multi-band parameter space open to us, Fly’s Eye will operate in g’, r’, and i’ out of the box, with a nominal cadence of 3 minutes Details about Fly’s Eye are a little harder to nail down. There is a website, https://flyseye.net , with an introductory document, https://flyseye.net/static/tmp/doc/flydc-v02.pdf, but (presumably) more detailed descriptions on Astronomische Nachrichten, 2013AN....334..932P and SPIE, 2014SPIE.9145E..3SJ , are paywalled. Precision of 0.5% is expected at r=10 with a working photometric range of about r=9..14 (my guess).  Granted, it make take time for these surveys to achieve their nominal performance, and yet more time for their data to become readily accessible, but we will eventually be up against these or similar systems. And it is worth noting that both projects expect to do exoplanet discovery and follow-up.

  The nomimal declination range of an EvryScope installation is 110°, and while only one unit (in North America) seems to be planned right now, there is nothing to prevent deployment in both hemispheres.

  [Survey] proposals stress all the functions of which a project is capable, leaving the possibility that the as-operated system will do much less. Second, the promised data products may not become publicly available in a timely manner, or through as accessible an interface as for the AID. Third, descriptions of proposed surveys are not give in standardized specifications, making inter-project evaluations difficult, and, further, the specifications given are subject to change. Finally, some projects simply don’t deliver on their stated goals. All that being said, I think that survey technology is advancing faster than we realize.

   Stepping back, what will stellar research look like when astronomers have a true flood
of public data–professionally collected and consistently processed–to work with?  To what extent does AAVSO’s current prominence derive from our being a dominant source of data? I will make a final note that some survey projects are expecting to do their own follow-up, at least to a certain extent. Computer capabilities now make it possible to reduce data in real time, and some proposals envision survey systems that can recognize transients on the spot. They will then suspend the survey “mode” of operation and follow the discovery.

Bikeman
Bikeman's picture
EvryScope

Thanks fpor sharing this, very interesting.

This here is a more recent paper on EvryScope : https://arxiv.org/abs/1904.11991

CS

HBE

tcalderw
tcalderw's picture
LSST bright limit

I want to say that LSST saturates at 14th magnitude, but I don't recall the reference.

JAM
JAM's picture
New Member Perspective

I think Percy's call for a "Statement of Values" in his latest JAAVSO editorial is a critical initial step toward long term strategy.

I'd also like to hear from AAVSO on whether visual observations collected alongside sky surveys help "match" automated data with historical data, and how long that bridge needs to be.

A few incremental, short-term improvements that might help keep observations relevant:

–I'd like to see a Target Tool filter that dynamically eliminates patches of sky currently covered by automated surveys (approved by AAVSO for their long term data accessibility and storage).

–I'd also like to see a "twilight" filter added, for those of us who want to make (apparently) valuable observations in those conditions or at extreme latitudes.

–The ability to bulk download charts of all standard scales/orientations would save a lot of manual prep time using VSP. This is especially true if your targets shift each night to fill the most urgent gaps in data.

I'm a new member, but hopefully some of this is helpful. Thank you for inviting us into the discussion!
Andrew

tcalderw
tcalderw's picture
Further thoughts on surveys

  From the beginning, astronomers studying stellar physics have been data-starved.  In ten years time, however, we will see a complete change, wherein a flood of stellar photometry will become available.  AAVSO, a child of the starvation era, is going to face a sea change, as it cannot hope to produce data of either the volume or consistency comparable to what will come from automated surveys.  A coherent model for how AAVSO will operate in this environment is vital for attracting and retaining observers, as well as donors. 

  A potential benefit of survey activity is increased interest in variable stars.  I was at the 2019 winter AAS, where I found that, apart from cataclysmic variables, there were few sessions devoted to the kinds of stars in which AAVSO specializes.  Admittedly, conferences like these will be dominated by the currently fashionable topics; the paucity of variable star presentations doesn't mean that considerable research on variables is not taking place.  But (non-CV) variable star work does not have a high profile.  If the dense-coverage surveys turn up previously unknown stellar behavior, it may bring variables some limelight, which would be all to the good.

  That being said, AAVSO's position as the prime source for stellar photometry will be coming to an end.  The southern Evryscope system now claims lightcurves for more than 9 million stars, and a northern hemisphere counterpart is in the commissioning phase.  The schedule for public release of these data is unclear to me, but given that there is NSF funding for the project, I can't imagine that the principal investigators will be allowed indefinite exclusive access (proprietary periods for survey results do open windows of opportunity for AAVSO to help researchers who do not have "inside" access).  In any event, the Evryscope project will soon be covering the entire sky.

  In general, the section of "parameter space" that surveys will leave most open is the regime of bright stars.  Although Evryscope has an advertised ability, using shortened exposures, to go as bright as about V=6, they are currently operating at a limit near V=9.  The extent to which AAVSO can particpate by offering extra passbands is unclear.  Evryscope has has gone into the field with only Sloan g, but it does have a filter wheel that could be further populated.  Flyseye is expected to deploy with g, r, and i.  But as a survey uses shorter exposures and more filters, the number of stars sampled goes down, so there is a motivation to use a single passband exposed as deep as is practical.  It remains to be seen whether survey projects stick to a fixed sampling strategy to get the longest, uniform dataset, or if they prefer to skim off the most prominent targets from different strategies of shorter duration.

  One point I have not seen raised is that no survey seems to be using Johnson V, and this presents an opening for AAVSO.  Our database has visual observations going back a century, and, within limits, Johnson V is a match for visual.  Even if our visual observers were to fall away, we could continue the very-long-term monitoring of favorites like SS Cyg in a consistent passband. [I confess, I don't know how the photographic plate digitization projects, like DASCH, fit in here.]

  It seems to me that AAVSO will continue to have a strong role in targeted short-term observations, but I think that the future of our bulk, routine monitoring is open to question, at least for stars dimmer than, say, V=8 or 9.

Tom

Full disclosure: I am section head of the PEP observers, who work with bright stars.

Bikeman
Bikeman's picture
The times they are a changing

I agree to almost everything in your summary, but I don't think the timescale is 10 years as mentioned in your introduction, I think we will need to adapt sooner, or, in the words of a Nobel prize winning poet, learn how to swim in the new flood of data or sink like a stone... ;-)

CS

HBE

aavsovsx
Because, VSX

wink
'Nuff said.

phxbird
phxbird's picture
The Future and why I joined!

I wanted to join the AAVSO as a 12 year old but could never figure out the star charts and never heard of an astronomy club in our area! I wanted to do real science, not just star gazing. That desire has continued to this day! In 2008 I decided after moving to dark, dry New Mexico that I was just going to do visual and scale down the scientific part of my interests. Until I got a good deal on a CCD camera!

Wrote a paper on using a webcam CCD to do photometry and presented it at Big Bear in 2009 I believe. Shortly thereafter I inherited a SBIG ST-7E and so it began. I now have an 11" Celestron, 8" LX200 and a wide field 102 mm refractor that all run robotically. I still help out at star parties from time to time, but mostly I just program the scopes and go to bed! I love being able to actually do science, using sophisticated equipment, from my backyard. In 2017 we moved to Missouri and I thought my science would be again limited. Turns out you just have to adjust (I can only do photometry to 14th magnitude here and got 16th in NM). Doing more productive work here than I did back there!

One of the misconceptions going around is that amateur contributions will no longer be of value. I know that this will not be the case anytime in the near future. One robotic telescope will "image" the sky 3 times a night. Great but who will follow up on all thoseTERABYTES of information the next night? 

I went to a conference at the University of Kansas this spring. Almost all of the talks were on using computers to recognize data. There is no way humans can keep up with the whole sky 3x every night. In fact most of the computers right now average about 70% recognition of objects. Even then, this is not usually applied to an actual sky survey but sample sets from other efforts. Per the talks the actual rates of success will be lower. So when something is found it will need study. Survey telescopes are not designed to do a long light curve of a rapidly changing star. In VSX I have found much variation in overcontact binaries from what is listed from the initial survey. There is a lot of room for citizen scientists. Long term studies of LPV's still need visual information to make them accurate. 

Morrison Observatory at Central Methodist University may let me attach my ATIK 414 mono scope and do a Planetary Nebula project. This is a historic 12" Clark refractor. These scopes were made for planetary observing and I have found they work very well for planetary nebula viewing and imaging as well. Utilizing old technology to study new problems may help to bridge the gap between the uber scope data and the need for human followup. Plus it may help to keep some historic telescopes working and productive. 

White dwarf stars and even the PN white dwarfs have micro variability that is fascinating. Don't see the professionals doing much research on this or robotic survey scopes adding to the knowledge base. Studying stars is far from over. All of this new technology is just opening new doors for amateur followup. The money in science as well as time allotted to the superscopes is dedicated to cosmology issue. Small colleges and amateurs will need to bridge that gap. 

At the KU conference a school that just added a 14", state of the art, telescope made the offer that if anyone needed to use it, they could make it available. No one took them up on that offer. Seems to me one area that the AAVSO could do is help to foster communications so that someone could use a scope like this to follow up. 

Right now I am following the Dwarf nova TCP J21040470+4631129. It is exciting! To see the star change in brightness each night is very cool. Besides being interesting it is a great feeling to know that a lowly amateur is helping to unravel the mysteries of dwarf nova's!

I think the AAVSO has a bright futre but just needs to update and change just like everything else in our changing world!

Paul TPV

 

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