The Warren Astronomical Society Paper
Volume 32, Number 2February, 2000

astro chatter Astro Chatter
by Larry Kalinowski

Welcome to the year 2000. When I first started talking about the turn of the century, back in the fifties, 2000 seemed more than a lifetime away. I never expected to be seeing this year. The predictions for this year were stupendous back then. Everyone was expected to be flying around in their own airplane or flying automobile. The Buck Rogers back pack was supposed to become as common as table salt. The Y2K kitchen was supposed to be something like cooking on the space ship Enterprise. We were all hoping that those predictions would come true because they sounded so good. Well, guess what, I'm disappointed. The microwave oven is the closest thing our kitchen can see of that future. Flying got faster, but better? Personal air transportation still doesn't exist and if it did, I'd be afraid to attempt it with the crowded sky like it is. Even travel on the [continued]

Thanks, Donors
by LoriAnn Skonieczny

Please join the W.A.S. in thanking the following list of donors for their generosity towards our 1999 Annual Awards Banquet raffle:
  • MMI Corporation: CD's
  • Roger Tuthill, Inc.: Solar Screen
  • JMI: $35 gift certificate
  • Meade Corporation: 8.8 mm Ultra Wide Angle Eyepiece
  • Lumicon: $20 gift certificate
  • Sky & Telescope: City Astronomy and Deep Sky, An Introduction books
  • Orion: 6-pocket filter case, four 1.25" filters and DeepMap 600
  • Kalmbach Publishing: 1 year subscription to Astronomy magazine
  • Astronomical Society of the Pacific: RealSky North CD-ROMs
  • Bob Watt: Full Moon book
  • Gary Gathen: 3 books
  • Joe Van Poucker: Redshift 2 CD
  • Stephen Greene: Hale Bopp photo
  • MTG Products (Stephen Greene): Miller Planisphere
  • Frank Spisak: Mars video tape
  • Mike O'Dowd: 2 books and Star Trek CD
  • Optech (Bob Johnson): 6 celestron eyepieces
  • Larry Kalinowski: 2 CDs and exposure guide book
  • W.A.S.: David Levy book, Stargate Observatory T-shirts, Club logo
  • patch and coffee mug and Wonders of the Universe calendar

Congratulations, Winners
by LoriAnn Skonieczny

The W.A.S. would like to congratulate the following list of members on their 1999 Awards Banquet raffle winnings:
  • Mrs. Kalinowski: Meade 8.8mm eyepiece
  • John Root: Real Sky North CD-ROMs, Red Shift 2 CD-ROM, Deep Sky book, Prehistoric CD-ROM, DeepMap 600
  • Frank Spisak: filters and case
  • Blaine McCullough: 25mm eyepiece, Lumicon $20 gift certificate
  • Fred Judd: City Astronomy book, Coffee mug
  • Bob Watt: eyepiece, T-shirt, Astronomy magazine subscription, Solar Screen, WAS patch
  • Duane Birrel: eyepiece
  • Nancy Greene: Full Moon book, Exposure guide
  • Al Rothenberg: Children's T'shirt, Mars video, Prehistoric CD-ROM, Autographed David Levy book
  • Larry Kalinowski: eyepiece
  • Gary Gathen: Moon Morphology book
  • Ken Bertin: Measurement of Stars book
  • Paul Strong: Wonders of the Universe calendar
  • Doug Bock: 6mm eyepiece, Hubble CD-ROM, Space Shuttle CD-ROM, Vision of Saturn CD-ROM
  • Mary Lou McCullough: JMI $35 gift certificate
  • Lou Faix: book on stars
  • Clayton Kessler: New Horizon's Amateur Astronomy book
  • Riyad Matti: Omni Space Almanac
  • Mark Bieniek: Autographed David Levy book
  • Gerald Greuling: Star Trek CD-ROM
  • Michael Simonsen: planisphere
  • Robin Bock: Hale Bopp picture

Observing Variable Stars
by Mike Simonsen

Throughout most of history people have assumed that the stars were not only eternal, but also constant and unchanging in their luminosity. We now know that this is far from true. Stars are born, live for millions or billions of years and then fade away in giant puffs or die in violent explosions. During different stages of a star's evolution it can exhibit great fluctuations in brightness, size, temperature, color, density and the nuclear processes going on in the core. Our nearest star, the Sun, is a variable star. In a few billion years it will use up the Hydrogen in its core and become a red supergiant with it's outer layers reaching to the orbit of Mars. Let me introduce you to the rest of the family of variable stars.

Like members of any family, variable stars have names. The nomenclature that is used to name variables was started by Friedrich Argelander. Because the lower case letters and first part of the alphabet were already used to name other objects in each constellation, he decided that the first variable discovered in each constellation would be named R. The next to be discovered would be named S, T, U, V and so on to Z. After Z, we start over with RR, RS, RT to RZ; then SS to SZ and so on to ZZ. Then we go [continued]

A Day in the Life
by Mike Simonsen

After receiving an Email from my friend in Arizona complaining about the weather and obligations preventing him from doing any variable star estimates I sent him this message.


If you ever start to take for granted your 80-degree November days, hundreds of clear nights and 18" scope in your backyard remember this story.

Friday I took Irene to the movies and when we got out I noticed it had rained lightly, but the sky was now very clear and it was about an hour after sunset. I was in such a hurry to get out to Romeo I forgot to take the coffee I made. It's a half-hour drive that I do in about twenty minutes when I am going through starlight withdrawal. I get set up, another fifteen to twenty minutes, make one observation- HP And <140- and clouds roll in. I waited it out for a while before realizing it was over, packed up and drove home.

Saturday, the forecast is good. I was planning on going to my Romeo site, which is actually the north drive on my fathers property ( good country sky, I can see all the stars in the Little Dipper and the neighbors are [continued]

Club Hotline
by Mike Simonsen

The WAS is proud to announce that we now have a telephone hotline number. The number can be called 24 hours, seven days a week for information regarding club activities and events. You may also leave a message requesting information regarding events, meetings or observing programs. We are hopeful that this will help keep our members informed as well as provide a way for the public to contact us. The number is 810-447-2424.

New Members
by Joe Van Poucker

The Swap Shop
by Larry Kalinowski

The WASP 25 Years Ago
by LoriAnn Skonieczny

The following is an excerpt from the January 1975 edition of the W.A.S.P. entitled Can You Spot One? By Kenneth Wilson

The hobby of amateur astronomy is not the most popular pastime in America. According to the most optimistic estimate, there are only about a million amateurs in the whole country. And, since he comes in all sizes, shapes and colors, location and identification of the amateur astronomer is difficult for another amateur and almost impossible for a non-amateur. The following guidelines should be of use to these people.

The amateur astronomer (or celestus fanaticus) is commonly a nocturnal creature. As a result, he is frequently found singly or in groups, in the middle of a country field, on a dark moonless night, peering through his telescope. If there is a flock of five or six present, strange noises [continued]

astro chatter Astro Chatter, continued

ground has become more dangerous. When it comes right down to it, we predicted wrong. We made it to the Moon but never took advantage of it. Now we plan to do the same with Mars. Maybe the human mind is too far reaching. Practicality seems to be the target for the future. If an idea isn't practical, it may grow but it won't bloom.

The Leonid meteor shower did make a spectacular showing in November. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the western hemisphere. The middle east was the focal point for the shower. Meteor counts showed activity around 2,000 per hour or one every two seconds. The display wasn't as grand as the '66 shower out west but I wish I could have seen it anyway. It peaked at around 2:00 o'clock UT or 9:00 PM EST.

Video astronomy seems to be getting quite popular with amateur astronomers. Not only are the cameras getting smaller, they're being designed more for astronomical functions. SBIG revealed their latest auto-guided camera in SKY and TELESCOPE recently. It's a stand alone unit that also includes a five inch LCD screen. You can couple to a separate, larger monitor if you desire. More information is available at their website, WWW.SBIG.COM. The TV setup that Bob Watt displayed during the Leonid meteor shower public star party made quite a hit with visitors. Bob has been asked to set it up again for the January 20th lunar eclipse. Publicity for the eclipse has already appeared in The Detroit News, Macomb County section, so the society will be hosting another large public star party at Stargate Observatory. Members are asked to bring their 'scopes for public use.

Look for the beginning of the umbral portion of the Earth's shadow to show about 10:01 pm. EST. Mid totality is at 11:44 and the last portion of the umbral shadow leaves about 1:25 am.

Ken Bertin wowed the sixty or so WAS members at the Annual Awards Banquet. All ears were glued to the speaker as he tried to convince the members that intelligent life was surely out there somewhere. However, he didn't convince anyone that there was a good enough reason for that intelligent life to come and visit the Earth.

Sky and Telescope readers for January 2000 were surprised when they opened their magazine. Included with each issue was a CD entitled CLEAR SKIES. The title of the CD made it sound like another planetarium program, but after closer examination, it was revealed to be a computer course in basic astronomy. Even "basic" astronomy isn't a strong enough description. It might be better to call it college level basic astronomy. The CD covers concepts concerning the solar system, all the way up to variable stars and evolution of galaxies. This is the second CD given to readers free of charge. The first one was a REDSHIFT V3.0 demo disc.

As of January 29th, four of the five people working on telescope mirrors have finished polishing and are now in the process of creating a spherical surface. It was hoped that we would all be finished by Christmas but the holidays seemed to slow things down. The finished polishers all showed an assortment of hills, holes and zones in their polished mirrors. However, they are all slowly disappearing. Onward glass pushers!!

Gary Gathen has officially accepted the title of computer chairman from yours truly. I will continue with Astro Chatter, The SwapShop and distribution of the WAS software library until further notice.

The January computer meeting will be held at Gary Gathen's home on Thursday, the 27th. His address is 21 Elm Park. Three blocks south of the I-696 expressway and about half a block west of Woodward in Pleasant Ridge. The February computer meeting will be on the 24th. You can reach him at 248-543-3366 for further information.

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Observing Variable Stars, continued

back to the beginning of the alphabet with AA, AB, and continue on through QZ. Argelander believed that variable stars were a rare phenomenon and that only a handful would ever be discovered in each constellation. Boy, was he wrong! This system can only accommodate 344 designations. In many constellations, particularly in the Milky Way, we need to go further, so the next variables in line are given numbers beginning with V335, V336 and on and on. One of the stars I observe regularly is V1504 Cyg, the 1838th variable discovered in the constellation of Cygnus!

Variable stars can be divided into three broad categories. Pulsating variables, eruptive variables and eclipsing variables. Many of the more specific sub-categories are named after the first known or prototype of the class.

Pulsating variables include the Cepheid variables whose period from maximum to minimum light changes like clockwork. The relationship between their period and luminosity has made them yardsticks to measure stellar distances. Miras, named after Omicron Ceti, are long period pulsating giants. It can take hundreds of days for a Mira to go from minimum to maximum magnitude. Irregulars are slow changing with irregular changes in brightness. Semi regulars are somewhat periodic, but show irregularities in their periods. RR Lyr stars have approximately the same absolute magnitudes and a period/ luminosity relationship like Cepheids, so they too are useful in calculating stellar distances in our own galaxy. RV Tau type stars are pulsating supergiants that exhibit alternating brighter and fainter maxima in their light curves.

Eruptive and cataclysmic variables are very unpredictable and come in a great variety. Orion type stars are young stars embedded in nebulosity. T Tau types are similar to Orion stars, but have different spectral characteristics. FU Ori stars exhibit slow rises to maximum which then may last for years. UV Cet or flare stars can actually show fluctuations on the order of minutes. R CrB types will shine happily at maximum light for months or years and then suddenly fade by as much as six or seven magnitudes. From January this year until July, R CrB was a naked eye or binocular star. Then suddenly, in a matter of weeks it faded. It dropped to 13th or 14th magnitude and has begun a fitful recovery to around 9th magnitude as of the end of 1999.

Most of the cataclysmic variables are actually close binary pairs of stars interacting with each other due to their proximity and mass. U Gem types are known as dwarf novae. They are close binary pairs with material being accreted to a disk around the white dwarf component. When this accretion disk becomes unstable the system will suddenly undergo a nova-like explosion, or outburst, jumping up five or six magnitudes in a day or two. These outbursts are usually short lived and the star fades back to its normal level and begins the process over again. U Gem SS, named after SS Cyg, are dwarf novae with outbursts lasting several days. U Gem SU, named after SU UMa, have outbursts like SS Cyg but also have super outbursts lasting five times longer and up to two magnitudes brighter than usual. U Gem Z or Z Cam stars are dwarf novae with outbursts interrupted by standstills at magnitudes in between that can sometimes last for months. Z And types are known as symbiotic stars. They are a pair of hot and cool stars so close they are actually touching, reacting with each other and exciting an envelope of gas surrounding them. AM Her stars are close binaries with extremely strong magnetic fields that actually polarize the light we see coming from them. In the realm of the really far out, there are the X-ray binaries. These are close binaries with a compact object like a black hole, neutron star or white dwarf emitting X-rays.

Novae are the result of a thermonuclear runaway on the white dwarf component of a close binary pair. SS Cyg gone post office! NL, or Nova-Like types are stars that exhibit nova-like outbursts but whose actual classification or the processes causing the outbursts are not fully understood. Supernovae are the cataclysmic explosions of stars at the end of their evolutionary cycle, and the source of all the heavier elements in the universe, including the stuff you and I are made of.

Eclipsing binaries are not actually intrinsically variable. Their fluctuations in brightness are caused by a line of sight effect. They are two, or more stars rotating around each other and as one member moves in front of the other, from our point of view, there is an eclipse, which causes a dimming in the light from the pair. They, like other categories of variables, are named after the first discovered or most famous prototype of the system.

Algol systems are named after Beta Persei. They exhibit two distinct eclipses as the bright component moves in front of the dimmer star and the dimmer star moves in front of the bright star. Beta Lyra systems combine two giants in such close proximity that their gravitational pull on each other has distorted them into egg shapes. As they rotate around each other they show varying degrees of surface brightness to our line of sight creating what is known as a sinusoidal light curve. Their period is usually several days. W Ursa Majoris variables are two dwarfs that are rotating around each other in close proximity and like Beta Lyra systems, the stars shapes are distorted. However, their orbital periods are relatively short. W UMa's period is only 8 hours. In both these type systems mass is being exchanged between the components much like SS Cyg cataclysmic variables. In fact W UMa actually exhibits small outbursts of up to .3 magnitudes.

So why should we observe variable stars? The best and most common answer I hear from fellow VSOers is that we can make a contribution to the science of astronomy. There are over 28,000 known variables and another 14,000 or more suspected variables. Professional astronomers don't have the time or resources to study even a fraction of that number so the main work is left to skilled amateurs who make the observations and organizations like the AAVSO to maintain the data for professional astronomers to use. As an observer of cataclysmic variables I have been involved in projects with the AAVSO where professional astronomers were waiting for and counting on our ground based observations to notify them when to point the Hubble Space Telescope and other satellites at specific targets during limited windows of opportunity. Some of my friends on the East Coast recently presented a paper defining the period of a previously unknown eclipsing binary.

Another good reason is that variable stars are a transient phenomenon. They are not only changing all the time, but many of them are highly unpredictable. Messier and NGC objects don't change in appearance unless there is a supernova or variable star involved! How many times can you look at a faint fuzzy and get excited just because you found it? If you want to learn how to star hop try finding the field of a cataclysmic variable that probably isn't even visible in your scope tonight. Or better yet, recognize the field when there's a star that seems out of place. Oh my, that must be it!

Some other things to consider are the fact that you don't need absolutely perfect seeing or weather to do variables. If it's first quarter moon and you want to find faint galaxies before midnight- you're screwed. If there's a haze and light pollution you're packing the scope back in the car-if you even bothered to go out and observe. Planetary detail can be lost on Mars or Jupiter but you can still see and estimate the brightness of points of light. And there are variable stars for every type of instrument and aperture. If you only have a pair of binoculars and live in the city, no problem. There are at least 250 variable stars you can observe from your backyard. If you have a small refractor and the desire to learn the sky there are more variables than you can study in a lifetime. With an 8" or larger telescope you can study stars that get as faint as 14th magnitude at minimum and push your observing skills to the limit.

You can tailor you observing program to your schedule, enthusiasm and experience. If you're new to VSOing and only have time on the weekends, you can observe long period variables, since once or twice a month is plenty considering the pace at which they vary. Or try some eclipsing variables. Many of them have short periods and you can actually watch them dim and brighten in one evening. Try out a Cepheid or two and compare your observations with the known period and fluctuation in brightness.

Next month I'll tell you how to do observations and submit reports to the AAVSO. If you'd like more information in the meantime check out the AAVSO website at www.aavso.org. Or come to a meeting of the Variable Star sub-group. Contact me at mikesimonsen@mindspring.com. A good book to start with is David Levy's Observing Variable Stars, A guide for the beginner.

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A Day in the Life, continued

trained to kill all security lighting on clear nights) when I got a call from Joe, the treasurer of the WAS (Warren Astronomical Society). He really wanted to get out and asked if I'd join him at Stargate, the club observatory. So I told him I would meet him around 6:30. We are just about set up and dark adapted when a visitor arrives, headlights blaring and a thousand questions. When I get rolling and am doing familiar stars I can do them in 2-4 minutes each, but I have to concentrate.

After our visitor got too cold to hang anymore I finally got rolling. I must admit I took time out to show Joe RX And in outburst and had him do an estimate, but it was fun and I got a lot of observing done before the moon and the cold finally chased us away.

As I'm leaving I notice the amp meter on the Caravan is pegged in the negative. After running the scope and dew heaters off the battery for hours it should have been charging like crazy. I asked Joe to follow me, which he did for about a mile and a half before the van died. I had him give me a lift home and then had to turn around and go fetch the scope and valuables from the van in the pick-up. After doing my report and a few Emails it's about 4am. I leave a note for Irene to wake me up by 10 so we can go get the van.

Sunday morning 9:45 my dutiful wife has me up and sucking down the java. We go get the stupid van, (ran it home on the battery after charging it), take care of our typical Sunday morning errands and then relax to watch some football. The forecast is for clouds and snow flurries after midnight so I don't feel too bad taking a nap during the second game.

I wake up and look outside and I'll be damned if it isn't CLEAR! I kiss my wife good-bye, load out the scope, charts, accessories, coffee (I remembered this time) into the pick-up and head for Romeo. Twenty minutes exactly and I'm pulling everything out and setting up. I decided to get the stuff I missed the night before, Sge, Vul, Cyg, Cas, Per, Aur so I aim at RZ Sge and look through the eyepiece....the few little cumulus clouds I noticed while setting up have become streamers of cirrus coming from the NW. I point to GX Cas hoping to get at least a few before being skunked again, but too late. I didn't cry, but....

I get home and unpack all the gear. Normally I don't have to do this; that's why I've kept the stinking van. It's my portable observatory, red lights and all. It's the only thing I use it for. I come in dejected, my wife is on the computer and I've read every book in the house twice. At least Atlanta made the Sunday night game interesting. At the beginning of the third quarter I look outside and it's CLEAR AGAIN!

I could set up in the back yard and get a few in before the moon gets too high...

The forecast is for clouds tomorrow too, so I'll probably be packing the pick-up around dinnertime just in case.

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New Members

The thing that makes the Warren Astronomical Society a great are its members. We are very happy to announce the following new members who joined during December of 1999. Please extend them a warm welcome. WAS Anniversaries for January:
12 Years 11 Years 10 Years 3 Years 2 Years 1 Year (Corrections should be submitted to Joe Van Poucker)

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The Swap Shop

This is a new column for those who are interested in buying, trading or selling items. Call 810-776-9720 if you want to put an item for sale or trade in this section of the WASP. The ad will run for six months. The month and year the ad will be removed, is also shown.
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The WASP 25 Years Ago, continued

may be heard such as: "I think my nose is frozen to the eyepiece!"; "I found M91!"; "Did you see that 27 bolide?"; "Yeah, in the fourteen inch with what used to be my right eye!"; "Where's my Skalnate-Pleso?"; "You're standing on it!"; "Hey, let's go spin Dave's setting circles!"; and, "*%!# it, here com the $%&*! clouds!". But, such fields are likely to be remote and a careless flashlight easily spooks the amateur. So, it might be easier to find an amateur during the daylight hours.

During the day, the amateur is usually well camouflaged as a normal human being. But, there are a few characteristics that may help. First, an amateur astronomer is prone to tripping over curbs, chuckholes and other objects as he stares into the sky looking for solar halos and daytime novae. If the amateur drives a car, this often results in frequent minor accidents.

If you happen to spot a likely amateur, follow him to his habitat to confirm your identification. His neighborhood is likely to be marked by numerous smashed streetlights. His garage will have two occupants; his dented car and his telescope. Inside you will find on the coffee table, along with a copy of "Reader's Digest" or "Playboy", the current issue of "Sky and Telescope". If this habitat belongs to a Michigan amateur, the closet will be full of heavy winter clothing.

The personality of the amateur astronomer is usually a bit eccentric. For example, a married amateur is often heard telling his wife "Wait for a cloudy night, or one near the full moon!". If he has children, they will find their father is often tired and grouchy after a long clear night. His neighbors will find that the amateur reacts violently when any new street lights are erected nearby (often giving the impression that he is a sex fiend or some other kind of criminal).

Now that you know how to identify the general amateur astronomer, here are some sub-species to look for:

The Amateur Telescope Maker or ATM (pyrexus grindus)- distinguished by the red rouge stains under his fingernails.

The Astrophotographer (camerus fanaticus)- usually found with a copy of the LFK exposure guides glued to one arm. Often found lurking in camera stores. Their homes are usually filled with the odors of fixer and Glacial acetic. Deep Sky Astrophotographers (guidus longus) are distinguished by their neurotic mumblings of "reciprocity, reciprocity, reciprocity..." and "grain, grain, grain...".

The W.A.S.P. writer (journalisticus amateurus)- Perhaps the most unusual sub-species, he writes articles like this one.

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This page was created by Jeff Bondono, and last changed on January 6, 2000.