The first, Mati Morel, of Thornton, NSW, Australia, started preparing observing charts and comparison star sequences shortly after he joined the VSS in 1972. These were published in twenty series of “Charts for Southern Variables”, providing observers everywhere in the Southern Hemisphere with the information they needed to make reliable and mutually consistent magnitude estimates of the variables. From 2006 he revised all 1271 of these charts to incorporate more recent magnitude data and to replace the old letter labels with the now-known V magnitudes. This massive work is now largely incorporated in the databases of the AAVSO, the international archival centre for variable star measurements. Now anyone, anywhere, can generate charts for southern variables based on Mati’s long, painstaking, and accurate work.
In addition to this chart work, Mati has always undertaken to prepare and promptly distribute charts and sequences for each new southern nova discovery.
Perhaps only someone what has tried it, can appreciate the labour and care necessary to produce each one of these charts – even in the new era of extensive online magnitude data. Back in the days not long ago when they were manually produced, when star data could only be found in the occasional research library or on photographic plates, this work was far more tedious.
It is safe to say that without Mati’s long and careful labours, southern variable star research would never have reached the level of scientific rigour it has long enjoyed.
Albert Jones, OBE
Albert Jones of Nelson, New Zealand, is so well known, and has received so many signal honours, that it is hard to put together a brief account of his work. Perhaps we should look at something he wasn’t prolific at – discovering comets. He only discovered two, but even there he holds the record for the longest time interval between discoveries – fifty-five years. His variable star observations are legendary – around half a million, which is about half of all the recorded observations in the annals of the VSS. It is actually a bit hard to do any background research on a southern variable without finding a reference to a publication of his, or reference to his observations.
Albert joined the NZAS as it was then in 1937 and began variable star work with Nova Puppis in 1942. His work has always been with a simple and basic home built telescope – which sets an example to the more technologically minded who can forget that visual work is more important now than it has ever been. Albert writes “If a person is not a maths or physics wizard but just loves looking at stars, then visually making long term estimates of variables is a way of not only seeing how some stars change but also the estimates are used by professional astronomers in their analyses.”
Ranald McIntosh of Greymouth, New Zealand, was on a Southern Alps bus tour “somewhere around the middle of the last century” which detoured up Mount John where he met Frank Bateson. One thing led to another, and in the mid-70s Alan Gilmore convinced him to do some computational celestial mechanics for his and Pam’s comet and asteroid work – on an HP hand calculator. Frank Bateson then pushed him into trying to computerise the VSS observational data, which he did initially on an Epson CP/M micro-computer. But it was a few years on – 1987 – before real progress could be made on this gigantic task, aided by the arrival of database software for micros.
Aside from developing the software for data archiving and for data entry by observers, Ranald discovered the flow of observations “between 4000 and 8000 data items each month [was] somewhat of an unexpected consumer of time”. This load has continued almost to the present day, though now observers send their results direct to the far better resourced AAVSO. The entire VSS archival database that Ranald developed and (with the help of Don Brunt of Kawerau, filled), containing over a million observations, has now been integrated with the International Variable Star Database hosted by the AAVSO.
Without Ranald’s long and tedious task, VSS observations made before the 1990s would have stayed on paper, in boxes, in someone’s garage. The world would have little or no information about the behaviour of the thousand or more variables studied by the VSS in the last century. Only research reports, not hard data, would be available to researchers around the world and in the future.