The Warren Astronomical Society Paper
Volume 32, Number 3March, 2000

astro chatter Astro Chatter
by Larry Kalinowski

The eclipse of the Moon almost washed out at Camp Rotary, where nearly two hundred people came out to share the event. The first half of the eclipse was visible but finally disappeared, around midnight. It was cold, [continued]

by Blaine McCullough

Well, the January 20 lunar eclipse was a great success. We stood up to the cold and made it work; temperatures of about 5 to 6 degrees below with wind chill were reported. I would like to thank all of the members [continued]

New Editor
This WASP was put together by our old editor and our new editor, Jamie Judd. Jeff and Jamie are going to be making one or two more issues together, then Jamie is going to take over the WASP completely. Please send your articles to both Jamie at lordfred@gatecom.com and Jeff at bondono@iname.com

The WASP 25 Years Ago
by LoriAnn Skonieczny

This is an excerpt from the February 1975 edition of the W.A.S.P. I thought it would be of interest to those members who did not know John Searles, whom our yearly banquet award is named after. After reading this excerpt [continued]

Making and Reporting Variable Star Estimates
by Mike Simonsen

In the last issue we talked about the different types of variable stars and the reasons why an amateur astronomer would want to study these objects. This month we'll discuss how to make the observations and how to report [continued]

1st Meeting of the Variable Star Subgroup
by Jeff Charles

December 30, 1999. We had the very first meeting of the Variable Star subgroup of the WAS, held at the home of Jeff Charles in St. Clair Shores, and led by Mike Simonsen. Also attending were our WAS treasurer Joe Van [continued]

Board Meeting Minutes
by John Herrgott

New Members
by Joe Van Poucker

The Swap Shop

Cranbrook Meeting Minutes
by John Herrgott

astro chatter Astro Chatter, continued

but very little wind and a depressed area around the warm up building kept the wind chill almost non-existent. Hot coffee, cocoa, tea and donuts helped keep everyone contented. We even picked up two new members.

Congratulations go to Mark Feminineo, the newest member of the WAS mirror making group. Mark was able to finish his six inch mirror after repeated attempts to polish the last eighth of an inch became quite frustrating. Putting the mirror on the bottom and polishing with the lap on top brought the edge to a polish. The parabola on his F5.7 mirror came in after repeated attempts to correct the 70% zone. His mirror checked out at 0.0790 wave of yellow-green light, almost 1/13 wave, according to the computer.

Comet Linear (C/1999 S4) appears to be the next naked eye comet to cross the northern skies. It won't be as bright as Hale-Bopp (mag 3.7 predicted) but will certainly be well worth watching. Close approach is in mid July.

The great planetary lineup coming up in May is starting to develop in the western sky. Jupiter, Saturn and Mars are closing into each other and will make interesting naked eye views during March and April.

The February computer meeting will be held at Gary Gathen's home on Thursday, the 24th. 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 March computer meeting will be on the 23rd. You can reach him at 248-543-3366 for further information.

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Eclipse, continued

that stuck it out and made it happen. Mike Simonsen, Joe VanPoucker, Dave Ciali, Lou Faix, Steve Greene and Bob Watt. Inside the activity center Frank Spisak, Larry Kalinowski and I served coffee, donuts, hot chocolate and chips to about 175 people.

Larry did three great slide presentations about basic astronomy and each time the place was full, lots of questions and answers were handled. We also signed two new members that night. The clouds rolled in just as totality was happening and that was about the end of the visual part of our program. The guys outside broke down about midnight, then came back into the center to thaw out for about a forty minute or so bull session. We finally finished cleaning the activity center and were on our way home about 1:30 a.m. The Metroparks people also get a round of applause as they did another fine job at traffic control. Thank you, everyone.

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The WASP 25 Years Ago, continued

you will realize why our award is named after him.


This month's salute goes to a new Warren member, John Searles. John is an active member of the Adams Astronomical Society in Toledo, Ohio. Most of us got to know him at the 1974 National Convention of the Astronomical League held in East Lansing this past summer. John was quick to lend a helping hand during the convention, usually without even being asked. Since the convention, he has shown a dedication equaled by few other members; he drives the distance from Toledo to attend the monthly general meetings. We could use a few more members like John.

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Making and Reporting Variable Star Estimates, continued

your findings.

Once you have decided which stars to include in your observing program it's time to get out and make some observations. The first step is to find the variable. This can be accomplished any number of ways. The most basic tool you will need is a good star atlas showing stars down to at least 7th or 8th magnitude. Most of the variables you'll be trying to find will be located within a few degrees of a fairly bright star. You need to find a "jumping off point" and star hop through the field until you get to the variable. The degree of difficulty in doing this depends mainly on how much time you have spent in preparation for your observing session and your ability to recognize star patterns or "asterisms" as you star hop.

The best thing you can do is to invest some time before your observing session in locating the general area of the variable in your star atlas and finding a bright star that is visible in your finder scope and included in the field of the variable. Star charting software like The Sky, Mega Star or Guide is invaluable for this. You can print out your own finder charts with a wide field of view, including stars down to whatever magnitude you chose and you can print reversed charts for use with refractors or SCTs utilizing a star diagonal.

Don't get discouraged if you have trouble locating the variable or recognizing the field right away. Until you are familiar with the field of view shown in your eyepiece and how that relates to the scale of your chart you will undoubtedly struggle a bit. I think it took me 3 hours to find my first variable, R Leo, and now I can find it, do the observation and write down my notes in less than a minute.

If you are accurately polar aligned you can use setting circles to get you within a degree or less of the variable and then refer to your charts for the asterisms or star patterns that will help you identify the field of the variable. If you have a computerized scope you may be able to point right to the variable just by entering the coordinates into the key pad.

Once you're sure you have the right field, look around and familiarize yourself with the stars that are labeled with magnitudes on your AAVSO chart. These are the comparison, or comp stars for short. You'll see stars marked 123 or 96, for example. These translate to magnitude 12.3 and 9.6 respectively. The decimals are left out so they won't be confused for stars on the chart. Locate the variable in the field and center it. Now you have to make some judgement calls. Find a comp star that is just fainter than the variable and a star that is just brighter than the variable. Let's say the fainter one is 131 and the brighter one is 125. Now you have to consider the relative brightness of the variable and these two stars. Is the variable just slightly fainter than 125, at 126. Or is it right in the middle of the brightness scale at 128. Maybe it's almost as faint as 131, but not quite, at 130.

If you can't tell because they look nearly the same to you, defocus slightly. This will give you more rounded star images that are sometimes easier to tell apart. Another thing to try and remember is to center the variable, then the comparison stars in the eyepiece to reduce the chance of distortion due to the eyepiece or a difference in the apparent magnitude of objects on different parts of your eye. This is known as position angle effect, and it can be quite noticeable in some cases.

What if the variable you're looking for is too faint to be seen the night you choose to observe it? In that case you find the faintest comp star you can see on the chart and your observation will be <(the less than sign) the magnitude of the comp star, <135 for example. Is there any value to these negative or less than observations? YES! You may be the only person in the world at that moment observing that star. If it suddenly brightens tomorrow at least we will know that it wasn't brighter than your observation until some time after you recorded it. This will be very useful in filling in the holes in the light curve for that star later and yours may be the only observation to fill the gap!

There are some things which you should be aware of while making observations. The first one is that many of the variable stars are quite red. This can make them tricky to estimate. The first consequence of this is that bright moonlight will tend to make them stand out and appear brighter than they really are, so it is best not to observe Mira type variables in bright moonlight. The second consequence is something known as the Pukinje effect. Red light tends to build up on and excite the retina. If you stare at a red star it will get brighter the longer you stare. So when estimating red variables it is best to glance at them and then at the comp stars rather than staring directly at the variable to avoid this problem.

Weather can play a part in the accuracy of your observations. If there are clouds moving through the field of view, especially high cirrus that you can't always tell is there, this can affect your observations.

Your comfort and warmth play a role also. If you are cold and tired and your back is sore from hunching over the eyepiece all night, you are less likely to make accurate estimates. Do what you can to make yourself warm and comfortable, and when you're tired quit. There is always the next clear night.

OK, you've found your star, made the estimate and you're ready to log your observation. You will need to write down the following information, in this order, to fill out your report to the AAVSO.

1- The designation of the star. This is equivalent to the 1900 coordinates of the star and is usually written 1626+21 or 1626-21. Don't worry, the designations are included on the charts.

2- The variable name, such as SS Cyg or U Gem.

3- The Julian day and decimal. AAVSO gives its members a calendar and chart for converting the month/ day/ year into Julian dates and decimals. This will be a number like 2451498.6424 which corresponds to 11/15/99 at 10:25 PM. These numbers are used because it makes it easier to find the period or epoch of a star if you can just add or subtract the differences in whole numbers. Try to figure out how many days there are between 6/23/97 and 11/15/99 and you'll see the benefit of this.

4- The magnitude estimate such as 12.9 or <136. If for some reason you are not sure because a cloud was passing by or the moon was very bright or someone drove into Stargate with their headlights blaring just as you were trying to make your estimate, you mark the estimate as 12.9: or <136:, which means there is some uncertainty.

5-If you do this, you then need to enter a letter designating the reason for your uncertainty, such as U, which stands for clouds, or M, which stands for moon. There is also a space for reporting any comments such as "dummy with headlights ruined observation". The letter code is printed on the AAVSO monthly report form.

6- Enter the magnitudes of the comp stars you used to make your observation, and finally

7- The scale and date of the chart you used.

At the end of the month you collect all your data and fill out the monthly report form and send in your observations to the AAVSO. You are now a variable star observer.

See; nothing to it. No, really. It may sound intimidating at first, but once you devise your own system for finding the stars and recording the data, things will go along as fast as you want them too with a little practice.

Next month we'll get more into star charting, using software applications like Mega Star and Guide. Making your own finder charts, tailored to your equipment and needs is a great help in locating variable stars. If you use a refractor or Schmidt-Cass with a star diagonal, you are going to have to learn to make some of your own charts for these stars because reverse charts (north up, east to the right) are not available from AAVSO for many of these stars.

If you're starting to get intrigued, come to one of the Variable Star Subgroup meetings and we'll help you get started. Contact me at mikesimonsen@mindspring.com and we'll hook you up.

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1st Meeting of the Variable Star Subgroup, continued

Poucker, longtime member Kim Dyer, and brand new WAS member Lee Hartwell. We had a very nice small-group mix and a very active 4 hour session that could have gone longer by everyone's enthusiasm if not for the fact that we were hitting the midnight hour. Other members have expressed interest also and we plan to have a follow up meeting at Mike Simonsen's house on Saturday, January 29, 2000, at 4:00 PM.

Several in the group are members of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, or the AAVSO, and the others have enthusiasm in joining this active and historic society.

What few non-AAVSO folks in the Warren club may know is that Mike is a VERY active AAVSO observer. Although he only began serious variable star observing about a year ago he already has more observations logged last year than any other AAVSO member in Michigan. Mike is visiting these enigmatic stars at a pace that makes him one of the leading observers in the world. Additionally he has been a very active "armchair" variable star student studying books on variable stars for the past 15 years so he is also very knowledgeable of the processes in these fantastic stars. Additionally he has attended some of the AAVSO annual meetings and seminars. In every sense of the word Mike can be considered an expert in this field—at least as far as amateurs can possibly go, and we are very fortunate to have him host these meetings. The other AAVSO observers also have different experiences and show the variety possible in which types of stars can be observed with instruments small or large.

You don't have to be a "superstar" like Mike to contribute to variable star science. Even a few observations per month are valuable and make for a very rich experience.

In looking at the AAVSO records we sometimes see that a person, perhaps in poor health, makes only one observation per year—and that is also deeply appreciated by all as this person shows how much they value the AAVSO and adding something to its vast database even though it may be difficult for them to get out and observe. You can add something to science and to your hobby with one observation per year or thousands as your health, time and enthusiasm may allow, but it is an enrichment of our hobby at any level.

Having longtime club member and variable star enthusiast Kim Dyer present added depth to the meeting. He has contacts with astronomers across Michigan and is enthusiastic about getting the Warren club involved in scientific studies of all types.

The meeting was even better since we had several attend who are just beginning variable star work—and the relaxed atmosphere and knowledge in the group helped ease the otherwise daunting task of setting up an observation program that can plague new isolated observers who don't have the luxury of AAVSO members nearby.

There are only 8 AAVSO members in Michigan and 203 in the US. Many states don't have a single one, while we in the Warren club are blessed to have several. If this sounds like something you might be interested in why not call Mike or one of the other subgroup members and join in?

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Board Meeting Minutes, continued

A board meeting was held at Blaine McCullough's home on Jan. 4, 2000. All officers were in attendance and club members Larry Kalinowski And Bob Watt.

The board noted the reception of unwanted letters by some members of the club recently. These letters have a harassment type content but have not been threatening. Should any member receive one of these letters in the future, please contact an officer as soon as possible.

The public star party planned for the upcoming lunar eclipse was reviewed and discussed in detail. The concensus is that a large public turnout is possible and the club will have the resources to accommodate everyone.

The board next reviewed Bob Watt's proposals for the new printing of the club's business cards. The new cards will have the club's Hotline phone number. Bob has championed the use of these cards and the board wishes to express its thanks. Great job Bob!

The board next addressed issues related to the cost of producing and distributing the club's journal. After a lively discussion the board has decided to continue the present system of mailing all members a copy of the WASP. However, a motion was approved to ask those members who are on-line to decline a mailed copy of the WASP. Since a significant number of members are on-line the board hopes printing and mailing costs will go down. Members will be given a form to sign in - dictating their preference on this matter. Related to this an applicant for the job of editor was discussed. Jeff Bondono has indicated a desire to be relieved of the job of editor for personal reasons. The approval of the applicant for the editor's job is contingent on software training and board approval.

The evening's agenda continued with a review of our observatory's operating status. Noted was the need for cleaning the mirror, installing digital setting circles, recollimation and correcting a problem with one of the dome's support rollers. Also brought up for discussion was the desirability of opening the dome's shutters without the need for a ladder.

With the agenda completed the board turned to new business. Bob Watt came forth with a criticism of the club's annual awards. Specifically, the lack of recognition given to one of our society's most dedicated members. That individual is Ken Bertin. The board wishes to correct this oversight and an award will be given for Ken's services to the club and in particular for arranging for Fred Espenak to give a presentation to our members.

The board meeting ended without a date being set for the next meeting.

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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 January of 2000. Please extend them a warm welcome. W.A.S. Anniversaries for March 2000: (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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Cranbrook Meeting Minutes

The Society's first meeting of the New Millennium was held at the Cranbrook Institute of Science on Monday January 10, 2000. Newly elected president Blaine McCullough opened the meeting with a planetarium presentation narrated by Cranbrook's Jeff Bass. This particular program was unusual in that the often difficult subject of special relativity was included in the presentation.

General news and discussion included in the meeting centered on Stargate operating status and a call for help to meet the demands of the club's next public star party. This event will replace our usual Macomb meeting on the evening of the upcoming lunar eclipse. A sign-up sheet was passed for volunteers to assist. Our new observatory chairperson, Mike Simonsen, requested any keys to stargate members might have be turned into him.

The newly formed variable star subgroup is up and running with 5 members. Contact Mike Simonsen for info on participating in this form of observing. Two new prospective members visited the club for the evening. Doug Bock gave a show and tell with his new binoculars, and members reported their latest and most interesting observations. Our secretary, this writer, reported that members will be able to significantly help the club's financial picture by agreeing to decline a hard copy edition of the WASP if they are on-line. Each member on-line will be contacted in the near future. The evening concluded with a telescope presentation by Marty Kuntz.
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This page was created by Jeff Bondono, and last changed on February 9, 2000.