Variable stars change brightness; slowly and ponderously, rapidly or explosively, or anywhere in between. The phenomena relate to much, maybe even most, of stellar research, and professional astronomers rely to a large degree on amateur observers. The observation of such stars is the easiest way for the amateur to cooperate and interact with professional astronomers.
You don’t necessarily need a dark sky. In fact, the closer you work to your back door the more productive you will be and work crucial to the profession can be done in twilight or from light polluted sites. I’m fortunate to live under a reasonably dark sky, but to prove this point I recently did an observing session from Sydney Observatory in Australia, in the heart of CBD. Very successful it was, too, and great fun.
As adviser for visual research, I’d like to invite all visual observers to participate in a first research project: the Dual Maxima Mira Project, instigated by Stan Walker of the VSS. These are long period variables that have double peaks in their light curves. Some of these stars are thought to be undergoing evolutionary changes now and are bright enough to observe with binoculars; others are definitely challenging. For more information, please contact me.
We amateurs get paid, too. How? By learning and seeing the sky as few others can do. One can make a point of touring the galaxies, nebulae, clusters, beautiful colored stars, planets, and asteroids along the way while participating in a wonderful science.
VSS has several visual research projects, including Beginners’ Visual Observing – a good way to start. Our project on Bright Cepheids is an important one for detecting period and other changes. Dual-Maxima Miras are a neglected field – we don’t understand why some Miras should behave like this. R and Eta Carinae are in need of long-term monitoring.
To get started on any of these projects, contact the organiser whose name appears on the linked pages. We’ll give all the assistance we can to get you going.