Planning Resources

Here are a handful of basic resources that you can use to assist you in your planning. Many others, some quite comprehensive, exist and will become useful as your experience grows. If all of this seems like too much trouble right now and you just want to get out and look at some variable stars, forget all of this and go outside. Eventually you'll discover the need for a little planning but don't let it get in the way of some fun right now. You'll be back to work on your plan.

The Combined General Catalog of Variable Stars (GCVS) - This is considered an essential document to variable-star observers. You don't need a printed copy in your bookshelf since it's available on the Internet ( The Combined General Catalog of Variable Stars is the primary source of information on variable stars. The current GCVS contains the combined computer-readable version of the GCVS, Vols. I—III (Kholopov et al. 1985-8) and Name-Lists of Variable Stars Nos. 67-75. The total number of designated variable stars has now reached 36,064. Within this catalog you will find the variable stars listed by their names, position in the sky, brightness (magnitude) at maximum and minimum, spectral and luminosity types (when known), and much more information. When beginning to observe variable stars, this is the catalog to use.

Bright Star Catalog ( amase/MissionPages/YALEBSC.html) -This catalog is not used much as a source for variable-star data, but it is widely used for basic astronomical and astrophysical data for stars brighter than 6™5. Within the catalog you will find 9110 objects of which 9096 are stars. There are many stars listed as variable found within this catalog.

The Variable Star Network (VSNET) - The VSNET is a comprehensive Web site maintained by professional astronomers from Kyoto University, Japan ( The Web site is in English and you will find information on many variable stars here, along with the latest stars of interest.

TA/BAAVSS Recurrent Objects Programme - The Astronomer and the British Astronomical Association Variable Star Section ( maintains a recurrent object program consisting of variable stars that have been well observed. You'll also find an eclipsing dwarf nova program, eclipsing binary program, and binocular observation program.

Information Bulletins on Variable Stars (IBVS) - The Information Bulletins on Variable Stars (http://www. are published by Konkoly Observatory , Budapest, Hungary. These bulletins are an excellent resource for amateur astronomers and you will find much information regarding many variable stars. Another Web site that you must visit.

AAVSO Bulletin - The American Association of Variable Star Observers Bulletin ( bulletini) contains predicted dates of maxima and minima of long-period variables in a schematic representation and shows when a variable will be brighter than magnitude 11.0 or fainter than magnitude 13.5. Along with the bulletin, you will find several other publications that will assist you in planning a night of observing. The following publications are available online and can be downloaded from the AAVSO site:

AAVSO Manual for Visual Observing of Variable Stars - This is a good guide to variable-star observing. It incorporates a lot of the basic information from the Manual for Observing Variable Stars, that was published in 1970, as well as information from various AAVSO observing publications that have developed since then.

Catalog of variable star charts - Several types of charts are available including constellation finder charts presented in wide-field plots that encompass an entire constellation, standard charts for variable stars that have been in the AAVSO visual observing program for decades, preliminary charts for variable stars that have comparison star sequences that many not be well established and special-purpose charts such as those used for observing eclipsing binary or RR Lyrae stars or for observers with photoelectric photometers or CCD cameras.

AAVSO Alert Notices are published irregularly and these serve to alert those interested to the discovery of novae, unusual activity of variable stars and requests from astronomers for simultaneous observations.

The Eclipsing Binary Ephemeris is available and shows the predicted time of mid-minimum for eclipsing binaries in the AAVSO Eclipsing Binary observation program.

The RR Lyrae Ephemeris is available and shows the predicted time of maximum for RR Lyrae variable stars in the AAVSO RR Lyrae Stars observing program.

Supernova Search Manual, 1993, written by Robert O. Evens, Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia is available and is considered an excellent manual for supernova patrols.

The Catalog and Atlas of Cataclysmic Variables, Living Edition - This is a marvelous resource for cataclysmic variable observers ( -downes/cvcat/)-, a Web-based version of the previously published catalogs (Downes and Shara 1993, PASP 105, 127; Downes, Webbink, and Shara 1997, PASP 109, 345). Over a thousand CVs are listed at the Web site.

Your log or record book - As it matures, your log or record book will become a great resource that you can use during your planning. Look for any unfinished projects, notes that indicate your interest in something for which you didn't have the time to explore or objects seen but not indicated on a chart. These are reasons it's a good idea to write down everything.

Now it's time to use your plan to make the necessary preparations so that you can observe variable stars.

Somebody said that it couldn't be done,

But he with a chuckle replied

That "maybe it couldn't," but he would be one

Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.

So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin

On his face. If he worried he hid it.

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

That couldn't be done, and he did it.

Edgar A. Guest

"Are preparations different from planning?"

A plan is a detailed method or arrangement of details for the accomplishment of a project. Preparations are the measures that serve to make ready for a specific purpose. Without a good plan, your preparations will probably be found to be incomplete since you're not going to have a well-defined goal; you're not going to know exactly where you're going, what you need to get there or how to tell when you get there. Without proper preparations, you're not going to have available the equipment or special items that you will need to execute your plan.

It really isn't that difficult or time-consuming. A little research, in the form of a plan to lay the groundwork for your preparations and a solid understanding of your goals, are the bare essentials. You don't need an advanced degree in astronomy or astrophysics to enjoy observing variable stars any more than you need an advanced degree in engineering to enjoy driving a well-built automobile or a degree in sports medicine to enjoy physical fitness. And you don't need to spend a good portion of your yearly income to have the

Observing Variable necessary equipment. To observe variable stars all that is required are desire, binoculars or a small telescope, a good plan and adequate preparation.

I want to make some suggestions regarding preparation, and in doing so I hope to increase the time you can spend actually observing something that is interesting. Preparation seems to be a serious stumbling block, after deciding what equipment to purchase, when it comes to really getting out under the stars and doing something. Speculating as to what you'll need each evening can become tedious; perhaps you're wondering if you should take every piece of astronomical equipment that you own or leave some stuff in the house or in the car (what items though?), how should you dress, do you need food or something to drink, how about extra batteries, how will you carry everything, will things get lost in the dark, do you need electrical power? You can be paralyzed into doing nothing if you don't approach your efforts with some method in mind.

If you're not sure where to begin, refer back to your plan for guidance. During your planning process, you've considered which stars are available to you, based on the season, your geographical location and the capabilities of your equipment. By doing so, you've identified a good number of variable stars that are possible to observe. You should have a list of stars available for your viewing. Its time to think about what equipment you will need to meet the objectives set forth in your plan. Simply apply some common sense.

Think about your equipment first. Setting up a one hundred pound (50 kg) Dobsonian telescope to observe fi Persei doesn't make much sense because it's a bright star, best viewed with binoculars. On the other hand, preparing to observe BY CMa, a 13™0 Cepheid variable, using 10 x 50 binoculars will be disappointing. Take only the equipment needed to observe the stars listed in your plan. You may not need all of your oculars; take only those needed. Do you need batteries or an electrical outlet to run your telescope? Do you have a flashlight? Red filter?

Consider your dress carefully. If it's January and you live in Belgium, you had better think of your feet, hands, and head. Good boots, thick socks, gloves or mittens and a hat are essential; they are not luxury items. On the other hand, during August in New Mexico, it's still 80°F (25 °C) at midnight. Shorts and a light shirt will make the evening more enjoyable.

Observing Variable

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Food and something to drink can make a long evening of viewing more enjoyable. A sandwich or two, some cookies, or some fruit will provide the energy needed for several hours of observing and an empty stomach won't distract your viewing. Of course, this can cause problems too. Melting chocolate bars, especially when using someone else's equipment, should be avoided. Alcoholic drinks are not a good idea for a number of reasons but water is always a good idea. Greasy chips, fried chicken and corn-on-the-cob are probably best left at home. I'm sure that you get the idea.

Storage and carrying cases are well worth the cost. Not only do they make carrying everything a little easier, it's easy to develop a loading plan, designating a specific place for each item, that will also allow you to check and ensure nothing is left behind at the end of the evening. Realizing that you've left your best Nagler ocular on the desert floor is an excellent way of inducing an adrenaline high. Make a checklist and list everything that you take for an evening of observations. When it's time to come home, get your checklist out and check everything. That's why it's called a checklist.

Initially, you'll want everything that you own with you when you observe. As you spend more time observing, you'll revise your list of items and begin to select those things that you really need. It gets easier as time passes.

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