For various reasons, I've been inactive for quite some time and have just recently gotten back into variable star observing.
I had forgotten how much fun this is! I primarily do the binocular program and I really enjoy it. For over twenty five years, I've always really enjoyed star hopping. In some sense, star hopping to a variable star is the ultimate challenge as your destination looks just like your signposts -- no fuzziness to give it away!
Plus, when you arrive at your destination, you get to actually do something. I've always wanted to "do more than just look" and variable star observing certainly grants that.
Moreover, as I get older, it is important to me to "do astronomy" whenever I can and I feel up to it. For something that is so core to who I am, the six-to-eight nights a year I get to spend at a dark site just isn't enough. With the binocular program, it is astronomy I can do from my driveway, even on a weeknight (in Bortle 8 skies no less!). My setup and teardown time (10x50s mounted on a Peterson binocular mount) is less than twenty seconds.
When I was young and my parents let me (finally) have a subscription to Sky & Telescope, I remember liking the occasionally variable star light curve that would show up. There is something aesthetically interesting about those graphs. It feels good to contribute to keeping them going.
--Michael in Houston (RMW)
Re your, "Plus, when you arrive at your destination, you get to actually do something."
You know what the "something" is for me? Step 2. Now that I located my variable star in Step 1, now the sometimes even more challenging part for me is locating the comparison stars. Like you, I enjoy the stepping across the skies using the map and the patterns and mini-asterisms trying to locate my target star and my comparison stars.
I'm in a highly light polluted Orlando suburb where there is no night sky. That restricted me to bright, high in the sky stars. During January thru March, Orion and Gemini and a little bit of their adjacent neighbors was all I could see. Arcturus is high in the sky now in late April so I am estimating ZZ Boo and will find a few more to observe. Being my first year, I look forward to the 4 seasons and the changing constellations but I assume it is the December thru March time that will be my favorite time of the year with Orion et al. unless some summer constellations surprise me.
do you allow me a question. I'm from Germany and there's a long tradition in observing eclipsing binary stars. I started with them, now I observe pulsating stars with (very) long periods.
Eclipsing binary stars are interesting, because you can observe an eclipse during a time span of some hours - I know that there´s a tradition in the States to make single observations. My first observations I ever made were on RZ Cas (EA) - every five minutes you can see him fainter, later the same when the star brightens again. RZ Cas is easy to find and a very good object for binoculars - of course at the moment low at the horizon.
For me it was very interesting to observe this light change, and a lot of fun to do so - I was fascinated about, to see the movement of two stars "live". Also, to see this fast change in brightness at a normally immutable sky.
I'm not sure whether you can see a star for some hours or not, and of course you have to do some preparations to know in which night you can observe an eclipse. But observing such a fast light change is very thrilling, not many variable stars offer you such a fast light change. I'm much older now, I enjoy it today to observe slow variables.
Stay healthy and clear skies
Peter -- I'm also thinking of pulling in some stars with shorter, but visually noticable periods. I was looking at RV Tauri stars, which have periods ~90-100 days or so. But your suggestion of eclipsing binaries is a great idea.
--Michael in Houston (RMW)
I also observed RV Tauri stars for some time, as also some CEP with very long periods. EQ Cas was one of my favorites. I stopped this program for two reasons.
First, this typical RV Tauri light curves are in fact very rare, even stars who show them, show them often only during some time. In the end these stars are often not that easy to observe as it seems at the first moment. Also, this is some decades ago, by far not the means as today! Old charts, bad sequences etc.
But much more bad weather was a reason. We have often longer periods with bad weather, very seldom longer periods with good nights. This means, you always miss larger parts of the light curve, I was not happy about this. With better weather conditions these are in fact interesting targets.
A remark. I've the feeling, that we have more and more good nights, especially during the last two or three years. No longer these periods with bad weather for weeks, even months! Well, in my youth we had snow for weeks and very cold nights, this winter we had zero - nada! - days snow. Especially the last weeks the weather was fantastic - and I sit at home because I'm a cook in a restaurant. I thought about to begin again to observe EQ Cas, but what I do is a lot of Deep Sky observing.
I wish you good nights with your stars.
Hi, My real interest is young stars (I run the YSO section) but I still like the RVTs. An especially good one that's becoming easy right now is AC Her. It's one of the first 'serious' stars I observed. Lots of variation, visible always in binoculars, a good range AND it's in a pretty little fan of stars!
Michael, your absolutely right, after almost 40 years of VSOing it's still fun!
Rich Tyson (TYS)
When I first became interested in astronomy about 60 years ago, I would ask my friends if they wanted to go astronomying. For us "astronomy" was a verb, something you do. Years later when I became a member of the AAVSO, that just became even more the case.
I have enjoyed observing the eclipsing binary star SZ Herculis. It has a magnitude range of 9.86 to 11.87. It goes through an entire eclipse in about 3.5 hours. You can, with care, make estimates every 15 minutes during each eclipse and create a decent profile of the primary minimum in a single obsering session. A fascinating aspect of this EA-type binary is that you can plan observations starting at almost the same precise minute every 9 days; i.e., every 11th eclipse. Eleven eclipses stuffed into a 9-day time frame indicates 0.818182* days for its period. The variations are bright enough that the system can be seen in an eyepiece during its entire eclipse in a typical backyard telescope, say 5 inches of aperture.
* The Variable Star Index gives a period of 0.8180979 d.