Variable Objects For Visual Observers
|Volume 33, Number 2
Unusual Variable Objects For Visual
by Mike Simonsen
Many of you are familiar with the three typical classes of variable
stars. These are:
1- pulsating variables like Miras and Cepheids
2- eclipsing variables like Algol and Beta Lyra
3- eruptive variables like R Corona Borealis and U Geminorum
There are a host of other objects which show variations in brightness
that can be monitored by amateur astronomers.
Novae- These are stars that suddenly brighten in our galaxy, sometimes
becoming visible to the naked eye. (To be accurate, there are
novae in other galaxies as well, but they are much fainter and
more difficult to detect from earth.) They are thought to be binary
systems much like dwarf [continued]
by Joe Van Poucker
by Larry Kalinowski
by Larry Kalinowski
The annual awards banquet was well attended last year. A quick
glance around the room showed about fifty people of all shapes
and sizes. All with a common interest, the universe we live in.
Dr. Gary Ross headed [continued]
Cranbrook Meeting Minutes
|Cranbrook, January 8, 2001
The Cranbrook meeting started at 7:30 p.m. It started with welcoming
new guests or any members to Cranbrok for the first time. Mike
Simonsen passed out an article titled "NASA shoots for the
'spectacular' landing". [continued]
Board Meeting Minutes
The club had it's first annual board meeting at Mike Simonsen
place. The meeting started at 7:20 p.m. The first thing that was
voted on was to make Jamie Judd the club's Secretary, unanimously.
Everything was exchanged [continued]
novae. A small dense star, like a white dwarf or neutron star, rotating around
a more average sun-like star, accreting material into a disc around the dwarf.For
hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, these systems remain quite stable until
something tips the balance and a thermonuclear runaway reaction occurs. The
processes that trigger these events are not well understood, so scientists
are eager to study such events when they happen.
Supernovae- These are stars in the final catastrophic death throws of stellar
evolution. When all the lighter elements in a star have been used up and the
star is forced to create energy by converting metals into heavier elements,
there comes a point at which the process takes more energy than it produces.
At this point, the star begins a giant collapse that ends in a cataclysmic
explosion that can be brighter than the entire galaxy in which it resides.
Astronomers have been using the apparent brightness of supernovae to refine
our measurement estimates to distant galaxies, so supernovae are of particular
interest to professional astronomers also.
Gamma Ray Bursts- Satellites with sophisticated detectors are now able to
determine the position of these outbursts which are the byproduct of something
happening that matches the energy output of entire galaxies. Some of these
outbursts produce enough energy that there is an optical counterpart visible
for perhaps a day or so. Amateurs from an astronomy club in Buffalo, NY recently
recorded the optical counterpart of a gamma ray burst using a homemade 12"
Newtonian and a cookbook CCD camera. The AAVSO is creating a network to notify
observers with CCD equipment, via beepers, email and other notification, of
the relative positions of these bursts when they happen so that they may try
to record them in a timely fashion. We really have no clear idea what the
cause of these massive outbursts are, so needless to say, professional astronomers
are very keen to study these events.
X-Ray Transients- Like gamma ray bursts, satellites also pick up sources producing
x-rays. Occasionally these flare up in the visual range and we can study the
light fluctuations of these objects. Recently the black hole binary XTEJ1118+480
was visible for a few months around magnitude 12.8. In this case, it is the
accretion disc around a black hole that is emitting visible light. Obviously,
you can't see a black hole, but we can see the effects of one. Joe Van Poucker
and I have both logged observations of this object and reported them to the
AAVSO. It has now faded below 16th magnitude. Professional astronomers are
interested in observations of these objects at all wavelengths, including
Planetary Nebulae- Although many claim to have seen the central star in M57,
I have never seen it visually, even in scopes up to 22 inches. There are,
however, some planetary nebulae whose central star is easily seen, and these
stars, at times, can show fluctuations. One such object in my current observing
program is V651 Monocerotis. This is the central star in a planetary nebula
in Monoceros. Since the theories of the formation of planetary nebulae are
still evolving, these objects are of special interest to some astronomers.
Active Galactic Nuclei- AGN are known by a number of different types.
Seyfert galaxies , named after Carl Seyfert, come in two types based on spectroscopic
differences. Type 1 Seyferts show broad emission lines, indicating hot tenuous
gases moving at high velocities. Type 2 Seyferts show narrow emission lines,
indicating more slowly moving gases.
Quasars were originally described as Quasi Stellar Radio Sources, which was
contracted to the word Quasars. They were the optical counterparts of what
were originally believed to be "radiostars". As it turns out, they
are galactic nuclei, not stars at all. Furthermore, many were eventually discovered
that were radio quiet. The name is still used in spite of its inappropriateness.
Blazars are AGN that are radio loud/ bright and show visual flux over short
time scales, days or, in rare cases, hours.
As it turns out, many named variable stars turned out to be active galactic
nuclei. Notably, BL Lacertae, which is the prototype of galactic nuclei that
have rather featureless spectra but exhibit rapid fluctuations in brightness.
Other former variable "stars" which have turned out to be AGN are
W Com, AP Lib and BW Tau.
The current models explaining the characteristics of AGN all include a supermassive
black hole surrounded by an accretion disc and clouds of ionized gases moving
at high velocities. The blazar OJ287 is thought to be a binary black hole
The fact that amateurs can make valuable visual observations of these objects
is almost as amazing as the fact that we can see them at all. Markarian 421,
a BL Lac object in UMa, is believed to be 400 million light years away. 3C66A,
another BL Lac object is estimated to be 4 billion light years distant.
I would like to end with this analogy of visual observers who study cataclysmic
variables and many of the objects discussed in this paper. We are much like
the fire spotters in the forest service. We keep a watchful eye on hundreds
of objects that the professionals don't have the time or resources to monitor
themselves. When we spot a flare-up, or something unusual happening, we notify
the astronomical community. Then the professionals who have an interest in
and the facilities to study these events turn the "big guns" on
During this last year, I have made over 5000 variable star/object estimates.
In that time, I have personally detected three events of some interest to
the astronomical community, the most recent outbursts of QY Perseii, W Comae,
and V725 Aquilae.
W Comae was a recent addition to my program. I had only made a half dozen
or so negative estimates of it before I detected an outburst. QY Perseus I
detected on a rather crummy night in December from my back yard, where you
can see stars all the way down to second magnitude! I was actually just anxious
to try out a new Nagler eyepiece that night. V725 Aql was detected after leaving
the Monday Cranbrook meeting early when it looked like the weather would cooperate.
One might consider all these discoveries a matter of luck or "being in
the right place at the right time". For me, the right place is 'at the
eyepiece' and the right time is 'as often as possible'.
New Members for December 2000:
- Bill & Julie Blevins, Sterling Heights, MI
- Shelly Champion & Debbie Tuchinski, Clinton Twp., MI
- Lawrence Majetic, Sterling Heights, MI
W.A.S. Anniversaries for February 2001:
- 14 Years: Kim Dyer, Detroit, MI
- 14 Years: Marty Kunz, Livonia, MI
- 14 Years: Thomas MacLaney, Royal Oak, MI
- 14 Years: Riyad Matti, Madison Heights, MI
- 14 Years: Dan Olah, Huntington Woods, MI
- 14 Years: Jon Root, Redford, MI
- 14 Years: Timothy Skonieczny, Memphis, MI
- 14 Years: Ken Strom, Washington, MI
- 14 Years: Paul & Judy Strong, Clinton Twp., MI
- 13 Years: Francis & Elizabeth Stabler, Troy, MI
- 12 Years: Michael Cyrek, Detroit, MI
- 4 Years: Thomas Bader, Farmington Hills, MI
- 3 Years: Clayton Kessler, Woodhaven, MI
- 3 Years: Gary Repella, Southfield, MI
- 2 Years: Steve Begovich, Orion, MI
- 2 Years: Frank Poma, Clinton Twp, MI
- 1 Year: Tom & Patty Cokley, Waterford, MI
- 1 Year: Al McDonald, Leonard, MI
- 1 Year: Daniel Murphy, Warren, MI
- 1 Year: Craig Schley, Harrison Twp., MI
- 1 Year: Ken Strayer, New Baltimore, MI
This column is for those who are interested in buying, trading or selling
items. Call 810-776-9720 (firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
- FOR SALE. Pier for CG5 or EQ4. E-mail email@example.com.
for pics, details and price. (7-01).
- FOR SALE. Seventeen inch monitor, Visual Sensations, .30 dot pitch,
Power and video cords included. $75. 810-757-4741. (7-01).
- FOR SALE. Celestar-8, 4 1/2 years old. Excellent condition. Complete
with tripod, wedge, original finderscope, 25mm eyepiece, manual and boxes.
Also included are an Orion dew shield, nylon dust cover and a delux Latitude
Adjuster. $750. 248-542-9426. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- WANTED. Meade LX-50 or older 10 inch in good condition. 248-542-9426,
e-mail at email@example.com. (7-01).
- WANTED. Pentium laptop computer with floppy and CD-ROM drives. 810-776-9720.
the presentation with a treatise on art and science and why astronomy can
be both, depending on the individuals taste. He backed up his talk with a
slide show, A Night At Big Jack's, created by The DOAA (Detroit Observational
and Astrophotographic Association), a now defunct astronomy group in which
he and a few other people from the DAS and WAS, were members. The dialog for
the show was all his, the slide presentation was assembled and melded to a
superb, digitally recorded, stereo sound track by John (big Jack) Szymanski.
The main reason for the banquet was to honor those who have achieved in the
name of astronomy. Awards went to Frank Spisak for the work he's done with
club activities. Robert Halsall, for the grand completion of our domed, computer
operated, 12.5 inch, convertible, Newtonian-Cassagrain telescope. Steve Greene
for the completion of an eighteen inch Dobsonian. Jamie Judd, for her fine
work at producing the clubs monthly WASP newsletter. Joe Van Poucker for astronomer
of the year and Jeff Bondono for his dedication to our club website. If I've
missed anyone, let me know and I'll correct this announcement in the next
issue of the WASP. All awardees fully deserve those awards and a standing
The raffle, the event most of the members were waiting for, produced some
fine products. Third prize, a 22mm, Plossl eyepiece, went to Bill Whitney.
The second prize, a copy of Real Sky, that amazing reproduction of the Palomar
Sky Survey, went to Steve Greene, a past president and top prize, a marvelous
8.8mm, super wide angle, eyepiece was won by our outgoing president, Blaine
McCullough. It looks as though it pays to be an officer in our club, based
on the raffle alone.
Mike Simonsen, our new president, has chalked up another discovery of an unscheduled,
cataclysmic, variable, found while observing during December 25. Mike's discovery
has been reported to the proper authorities and confirmed by other observers
around the world. We kid Mike about it a lot, but he is Michigan's most prolific
variable star observer. Congratulations Mike.
Bob Watt, has boosted his accomplishment of telescope building, for UAW members,
by finishing two more classes for Cleveland Woodworking. His total of finished,
six inch Dobsonians now stands at seventy-one. Bob says he's going to continue
running more classes, hopefully increasing the total even more. Incidentally,
If your're handy with common hand tools and familiar with how a Newtonian
telescope works, contact Bob, he could have a job waiting for you.
The members of the mirror making group sadly witnessed the dissasembly of
the mirror grinding machine that was setup in Blaine McCullaugh's basement.
The group will continue grinding and polishing without it though. It had to
be moved to make room for a basement upgrade, promised to Blain's wife Marylou.
An interesting question came up on the web site heavens-above.com. It was
"Will the ISS be brighter now that the new solar panels are installed"?
The answer: maybe. The solar panels will always be facing the Sun. As a result,
any reflection will always be back to the Sun. In fact, the possibility exists
that any shadow produced by the panels could even help reduce some reflection
from the ISS to the Earth. Only time will tell just how much of a gain or
loss of light there will be. Right now the ISS varies in brightness from zero
magnitude to about fourth, depending on how high it is above the horizon.
The addition of a visiting space shuttle will increase the brightness considerably,
making the combination appear another magnitude brighter.
The January computer meeting, on the 25th, will be at Gary Gathen's home in
Pleasant Ridge, MI. He's located at 21 Elm Park, three blocks south of I-696
and about half a block west of Woodward Ave. The February meeting will be
on the 22nd. All meetings occur on the fourth Thursday of the month. Exceptions
will be announced at the regular WAS meetings.
It is basically saying that the Shoemaker craft is running out of money, out
of time, and will be out of fuel soon. Astronomy Day will be April 28th at
Cranbrook. Steve Greene talked about the Open House that was at Stargate the
weekend before the Cranbrook meeting. Marty Kunz had asked anyone if they
saw the Partial Solar Eclipse on Christmas, and everyone raised their hands.
Mike asked if any one did any recent observing and then passed out some pictures
of the Partial Solar Eclipse that the Variable Star Group had taken. There
were four from Joe Van Poucker and one from Rick Gossett. Clay Kessler invited
anyone to come to Lake Erie for some observing on January 20th. Contact him
if you are interested in going. Dave Ciali had mentioned that he observed
a meter shower on Dec. 23 that had -1 to -2 magnitude meteors with some colors.
Steve Greene recommends that if you are interested in variable stars, you
should go out and get the variable star chart software called ProjectPluto.
It will help you finding the things that you want. Project Pluto is on the
web- you just type ProjectPluto.com and it should take you right to it. There
is an anouncement that if you want to be trained on the 12 inch scope you
should talk to Steve Greene. Mike Simonsen found another outburst on Christmas
Eve with a new eyepiece that he got.
Marty Kunz is doing something new, what he calls Orbit Challenge, where you
would go out and find the variable stars around something and then give a
talk about it. This month is the constellation Orion, so go out and find Orion
and look for the variable stars and anything else around it.
Kym Dyer has added that there are approximately 433 asteroids that have not
been found and if anyone is interested on helping out you should talk to him
or Ray Travis. If you want to go on your own you can go to the U of M Science
Library on the 3rd floor and look up unrecovered asteroids. We took a break
at 8:45. Returned from break at 9:05 and followed with a talk and a video
of the Partial Solar Eclipse from Ken Bertin.
from the existing officer to the new officers. There are some goals that we
are hoping to accomplish this year, like increasing the membership, treasury,
participation of the members and the sub-group activities, improving the style
and content of the WASP, updating the WAS library, and most importantly build
the shed for the 22 inch scope. Improvements done to Stargate are also planned.
Here are some issues that were voted on at the board meeting: First, the library
budget. The vote was to spend $200 or soon new books and to replace the ones
that are getting old. Secondly, to buy a case for the 8" SCT and decide
how much we would spend on it exactly. The next issues brought up were about
doing improvements to Stargate and the 22" shed. One thing that everyone
agreed on was to drop our membership to the Astronomical League, another was
discuss the dues and to bring it up at the Macomb meeting. We also talked
about updating the WASP newsletter and the WASP web site. If you have any
ideas we would like to hear about them. The meeting ended at 9:50 p.m.