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,
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.
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 .
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
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.
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
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.
Brad Vietje, VPBA
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!
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?
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!
I'm not sure I agree with you, Mike, about the replacement of human observers. As a shred of evidence, I cite this:
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.
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.
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.
This is so true. As an example, this very day I had an email from an observer who needed to know whether a star he had been following (in the hope that it might be a 'hidden UXOR') was a YSO or an EA (the 'official' designation was EA - which it actually was, even though it's right in the middle of M78) So I went to the discovery paper where the authors themselves pointed out the drawbacks of the survey's algorithm that was used to discover variables.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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
Quite so! I got told off for referring to this sort of thing as 'equipment porn'. So many of the amateurs I know spend more time talking about their kit (and being rather 'boys toys' about it - a good reason why we need more women observers) than actually using it. Very few of them have much of a knowledge of the sky as well. Such a shame.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
Just some thoughts about one possible area of future planning.
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?
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?
Carlos A. Adib (Brazil)}
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:
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.
Below, I offer excerpts from a document I wrote while on the Council.
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.
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!
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.
Full disclosure: I am section head of the PEP observers, who work with bright stars.
Very interesting thoughts!
I have one coment here:
a) If the astronomical project (Everyscope, etc...) comes to an end (end of funding, people are retiring..), who will be responsible for a continuing data access? the next 20...50...100 years? Are there laws to ensure that? Or, if the papers of automated sky surveys are out, everything is ok, and the data can be deleted??? I think this is the standard procedure of most principle investigators?
b) Example of the Photographic plates: from the last century, what strategies are done, to preserve the photographic plates, for coming generations of astronomers? And where are they accessible? (I only see engagement from some single persons or some universities.. but no general database? NASA, ESA...)
There I see the (long term) strength of AAVSO, BAV, etc...
c) Every data collection (Everyscope or AAVSO) have the same goal: publications and papers. Who will do the scientific work for all the Everyscope data, is close to the question: who will do it for the AAVSO, BAV data?
Big data is only as nice, as there are people who are doing science with that. So doing science with the data, is the ultimate legacy... ?
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... ;-)
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!
My day job is developing classroom investigations that will make use of LSST's data once it goes online in late 2022. I'm interested in working with both amateurs and educators in AAVSO to discuss how we could integrate some LSST data in a useful way. I'm coming to the annual meeting in Las Cruces to hear your ideas, but I welcome any of them in this format as well.
i come from the BAV, there i've stumbled over the great AAVSO DSLR Manual.
Else...its a unique organsation, where everyone around the planet is welcome. Also the great website with top actual information, and also top sorted infos! One is finding everthing quickly. The forum and contact possibilities there, the software vstar and vps,vsx,and so on. And the database, where everyone can put the photometry data. I like to see my data also available to others, who might need it. Therefore i was looking for the next bigger organsation. Ascending: i 've started out at my local astronomy club years ago. The german speaking var star organisation is the BAV. I think the open minded and well organized AAVSO is a good place tho shara data. While the BAV has only EB's in the LCG, here all type of stars can be shared and compared.
Collaborations with variable star organizations, so maybe this can be an agenda in the future. Looking where each variable star organization has good knowledge or tradition and work together where it is possible.
Lets take a look at software. I come also from IT and Linux computersystems. Linux is good but very fragmented. This has advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes, the wheel is invented more than once! Althogh there ar many good piece of software...
A software lives always as long as it is
- has a forum where users can help each other out.
So why do all var star orgs develop their own software. Maybe some parts of sw in the var star world can be put together and been supported here?
A significant number of the world's climate scientists believe that climate change poses an existential threat to our current industrial civilization. If they're correct, as that collapse occurs the technologies that the AAVSO has adapted for data transmission and storage will inevitably fail. I suggest that some consideration be given to the back-up storage of the current AAVSO database in non-electronic format, and that earlier methods of communication between observers and Headquarters be 'dusted off' for possible reuse. Fellow old-timers might remember reading Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, which seems to have some pertinent lessons for the AAVSO's future planning.
No hysteria required; diligence will suffice.
(1) Any climate change apocalypse (rather than the more likely case of agriculture shifting a couple of degrees' latitude toward the poles over a century) would not happen unpredicted, in an afternoon, in anyone's scenario. We will have many years to adjust data management, were such even needed.
(2) Inherent durability of non-electronic formats was demonstrated false 1600 years ago--just ask the Library of Alexandria. My first computers stored data on "durable" paper tapes and punched cards: believe me, not an advantage.
(3a) On data writing: For the price of a decent lunch, the entire AAVSO database, all forum posts, and all JAAVSO papers would fit on a single thumb drive. Wrap it in a Faraday cage (a penny's worth of aluminum foil) to defeat EMPs. Done.
(3b) On data reading: If civilization decays to the point that no one anywhere can read a thumb drive or similar storage, pardon me but loss of variable star data will be least of anyone's problems.
Consider the Library of Alexandria. How would our understanding of the ancient world and its explorations of nature have been improved if there'd been a 'back-up' copy available for researchers to consult and build upon? My earlier comment was based on my concerns about the effects of global warming on our industrial civilization. Here's a link to another concern that may be more meaningful to AAVSO members. The data that's been painstakingly collected by those members and their predecessors over the past 109 years may be of inestimable value to future post-collapse/CME/? researchers, but only if it's available to them in a form that they can recognize and use. A hardcopy printout of the AAVSO database would almost certainly be more comprehensible to post-CME historians in 3020 than a corroded thunb drive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hESunUuFrzk
First of all, we don't know that there were no paper backups to the Library of Alexandria. And that those didn't just burn, too. That experiment has been done. Paper failed because it stinks for archival unless you have nothing better. But we certainly do have, in abundance.
Climate change, real as it is, is not obviously a threat to electronic storage. If the atmosphere gets so hot that USB thumb drives and readers malfunction, variable star data will hardly be humanity's prime concern. If social chaos and technological amnesia end up making thumb drives impossible to read by anyone, then we'll have long gone past caring about reading them, probably past breathing. Any aliens visiting the ruins later, fine, they might benefit.
The larger and more credible future threat to electronic storage is humanity's own destruction of it, either warfare's effects or a new book-burning Dark Ages. So of course, against those threats or others, long-term backups are a good idea. But for heaven's sake not principally on paper as suggested. Even microdots burned into metal foil would be infinitely better than birdcage liner.
We have lots of electronic backup media. Let's use them. Any civilization capable of understanding the internal working of variable stars will make short work of reading thumb drives, SSDs, DVDs, EEPROMs, etc, with all the hundreds of millions of available media readers etc, all over the world.
I would like to add my opinion,
Even if times change...
It's often the same question and for me it's the same answer ...
Informing members, educated people, sharing knowledge generally reserved for pros ...
The key phrase is always the same: "We always protect better, what we know!"
If some people (Starlink, Trump etc ...) knew the sky, would know the stars, they would protect them!
The first thing you learn in astronomy is modesty and humility, especially when you realize how "astronomical" the universe is.
It's my point of view!
What do you think about the AAVSO staff keep a bank of photographies sent by their members or observers?
I question: How many treasures are not hidden in the present photographies that could be examined automatically in the future looking for variable, novas, asteroids and other celestial objects ?.
Certainly in the future will have scanners ou another electronic device that "will examine easily" old photographies searching for the objects in them.
See well...times ago my limit of magnitude (with binoculars 20x80) was 10 or a bit more. Now with a modest digital camera (used by a friend) I am getting to estimate magnitudes 13 or even more. A gain of 3 magnitudes! How many variable stars have maximum in this range? Maybe more than up to mag.10!
Ex. For the const. of VIrgo up to mag 10...there are 526 records in DB of AAVSO! Between 10 and 13 there are 1652 records.
No, climate change, like Y2K, won't destroy all the AAVSO or the world's data! We need to remember the PETM maximum when palms grew on the coast of Antarctica, it was the beginnings of the ideal climate that led to the evolution of us humans. Sadly, modern humans have gotten overly comfortable with a short-term constancy of the Earth, and failed to prepare adequately for more drastic changes due to industrialization. Even so, it would take ~1000 years of present Carbon output to get to the high Eocene temps. Surely, all the attention now being directed towards this, will cut that trend in short order.
So, we should concentrate on more relevant practical matters about the AAVSO future. Like reversing loss of visual observers, the simplest and lowest cost way to contribute, vs. the high costs of equipment required to follow the CCD/CMOS route, which can be a serious barrier for most amateur enthusiasts. With exception of the most wealthy observers, in a few top countries.
Point One....Variable Stars are a hobby to most of us.
I became a member of AAVSO somewhere around my 16th birthday. It was in response to reading Starlight Nights. Given the light polluted skies in the SF Bay Area in the 60's and the “romance” of following individual stars it got me started.
That lasted until I left home for UC Berkeley in the early 1970's. Yeah, for some reason variables and my membership in AAVSO took a back seat. I am not sure how long it took for me to cancel my membership.
As my professional career in Forestry took off, and I was finally under dark skies I picked up a wife and kid. Really it was when my wife became pregnant that I realized my hunting, hiking, fishing and other outdoor adventures were going to be more limited.
So I reached into my past and built a small observatory with baby monitor and started up astronomy again as a hobby. I rejoined and started submitting observations again, with now a larger observatory.
But work, family and life ended that several year run of variable observing.
With retirement, I tried CCD observing. It literally took years, working alone, and finally with a recent “urban refugee” to get my CCD observing on track.
Variable stars are a hobby for most of us. It will always take a back seat to career, family and friends.
ONE VERY IMPORTANT objective of AAVSO should be to make observing variable stars as easy as possible. There is enough going on with life that hobbies should NOT be a problem. This is a huge issue for a technical hobby. Many, many folks drop out and the AAVSO needs to address this issue. They drop out for lack of support and expertise, not interest in most cases.
Point Two....AAVSO was founded as support for professional astronomers.
That is its history. It is the mission today. AAVSO's future will be determined by professional astronomers.
With the purchase of Sky and Telescope by the American Astronomical Society I am personally thrilled that Sky and Telescope has the ability to inspire amateur's to do scientific work. Go back to Starlight Nights and read about the relationship between Peltier's and the astronomy magazines of the time.
This impacts more than AAVSO, but other amateur astronomy organizations as well.
The world changes, but the need for citizen science will probably always be there. Just last month, I was asked to help with a program looking at “light curves” from Kuiper Belt objects. I couldn't do it....fishing and hunting season is in full swing!!
It is probably a topic worth discussing at length with professional astronomers. Kuiper Belt objects might not have much to do with variable stars, except that from a amateur perspective your just looking at a light curve!!!
I would hate to see the “STAR” dropped from AAVSO, but the expertise of AAVSO observers really has more to do with “light curves” of objects.
Point Three.... Volunteers and Clubs.
Nobody has ever joined AAVSO, as a amateur, because somebody made them do it.
There are lots of reasons why people volunteer and join clubs, but the primary reason is to contribute and make a difference in some manner.
I spent some time with the Forest Service Volunteer program on the agency side. Almost EVERYBODY views it as the Campground Host Program. About 90% of the volunteers are campground hosts.
BUT, you can volunteer to do ANYTHING on the National Forests!!! So in later years, we had trail maintenance volunteers and then they became “common”.
But from a science perspective, we also had a butterfly survey of native butterflies on the local National Forest. Yeah, go ahead and try to get funding from Congress on that one!!!
Way back in the 80's we had a individual walk into our small, rural Forest Service office. He wanted to upgrade his skills in COBOL programming and wondered if the Forest Service used any COBOL programs.
We signed him up as a volunteer. Gave him a desk, a Forest Service password to the Ft. Collins mainframe that the Forest Service used AND a primitive GIS program that was limiting our Forest Planning efforts.
He upgraded his COBOL skills and solved our issues with the primitive GIS program. Another National Forest quickly offered him a full-time job. The taxpayers got a incredible return on investment from a volunteer. It is a matter of perspective...are you limited in how your view the world??
The important part is the realization that amateur's have "little to lose". In my professional career, I took on some assignments that I was not sure I could complete. In later life, I might have turned those down. As a "volunteer" we need to recognize that it is the perfect field for "wild goose chases".
When we discussed the COBOL volunteer we realized we had little to lose and much to gain. We had no clue as to whether he could even program. We didn't ask, it would become clear soon enough. It took him three months part-time to fix our programming problem. An incredible return on investment. Amateur's are perfect for "wild goose chases' in science.
My guess is we need to broadened the perspective in AAVSO from just VARIABLE STARS to data analysis particularly focused on light curves.
There are incredible talented folks out there that just need a bit of encouragement to move into areas outside of just variable stars.
In amateur astronomy we inherited a tradition of ALPO, AAVSO, meteor observing, etc. etc. Those skills are now crossing across the traditional “club” areas and we need to focus on translating the tools and skills that amateurs have to “new” astronomy problems.
On a closing note. Astronomy is not viewed as a social activity. But volunteering and doing science at no pay needs a social payback to make it work over time.
Final note on Janet Mattei on this. For years my wife read Janet's comments to AAVSO members. Yes, she would look at a comet or Jupiter. She has never looked at a variable star. But somehow, she connected with Janet's words. Always paid my membership without comment to me, except how much she enjoyed reading her comments.
AAVSO does need to work more on those “social” aspects of astronomy. Humans are social animals.
I liked SVD's comment, enough that I've saved the email. I have little interest in taking pretty pictures. I have a science background and I come at AAVSO as a place where I can continue to do science and support the professional community. This is what the AAVSVO does. I've read that, to the big survey telescopes coming on line, 15th mag. is too bright, therefore we go toward those bright stars. We've added the exoplanet division. I think there is enough to keep us busy for years to come. And by the way, I volunteer at the National Air & Space Museum on the Mall. It is being completely renovated. When the Explore The Universe gallery is renovated they will add a section on the contributions of amateurs including the AAVSO. I've bugged them repeatedly about that.