Saturday, July 26, 2014

AM Thursday July 24, 2014 - First Variable Star Estimate This Year

  After several warm, humid, and hazy / foggy nights that were useless for doing any kind of amateur astronomy, we had some stormy weather on Wednesday morning the 23rd and a cold front moved in behind them with milder and drier air. Cloud cover for the rest of Wednesday kept the ground from drying out, I was at work until after midnight. When I was driving home from Greensburg to Indianapolis I ran into some surprisingly thick but brief low fog banks on the Interstate and the back roads. The sky was clearing out, the air was cooling, and the moisture from the rain storms was condensing near the ground in places.

  I was home by 2:30 AM Thursday, and things still didn't look promising for doing any observing. There were alto-cumulus clouds drifting across the sky from the north to the south, with stars visible in the gaps between them. At least there wasn't much fog around in my neighborhood. My plan had been to do a Meteor Watch, but I needed at least an hour of clear sky to do an IMO report. By 4:00 AM the sky was still mostly cloud-covered, with only about an hour to go until the start of dawn. That made this night "a wash" as far as the meteors went. This was also a shame because there was no moonlight interference tonight. The thin Waning Crescent Moon wasn't due to rise until the start of dawn.

  However, by 4:15 AM it looked like the clouds were finally starting to move out, and I had a backup plan in mind. There was an Eclipsing Binary Star that I'd found out about over the weekend, that was bright enough for binocular viewing. I got the 16x50 binoculars out, mounted them on the camera tripod, and took them out to the patio. I sat in a deck chair and tilted up the tripod looking east. Dawn was still half an hour away, and this star had just risen high enough to clear the roof of our house. I had the charts for it next to me, printed out over the weekend. This was actually my first variable star estimate of the year (though I'm a little embarrassed to write that!).

  At 4:34 AM (8:34 UT July 24) I estimated V1268 Tauri as 7.0 magnitude. I used the stars TYC 1811-1548-1 (approximately 6.9 V magnitude) and TYC 1811-1859-1 (approximately 7.4 V magnitude) as comparison stars. V1268 Tau was just slightly dimmer than the 6.9 star but much brighter than the 7.4 star. I think my error is easily plus or minus 0.1 magnitude. The binocular limit was 10.0 mag. or better and the naked eye limit was 5.1 where it was cloud-free (by this time most of the altocumulus had moved south of me and this part of the sky was very clear. The elevation of the star was 30 degrees east.

  This EA-type Eclipsing Binary has a period of 8.161235 days (8 days 3 hours 52 minutes) and it wasn't predicted to be in eclipse tonight, but I wanted to get an idea of how bright it was out of eclipse. The VSX site that I use lists the range as 7.42 - 8.62 V mag. What's interesting about this, however, is that the AAVSO Database has only 17 estimates in it from two observers, and all of the estimates show it brighter than the maximum given. One observer made 14 visual estimates of V1268 Tauri from late September to late October 2005. All of them were 6.9 - 7.0 magnitude. A second observer made three CCD or Photometric estimates from the end of December 2010 to early January 2011. All of these were also close to 6.9 magnitude. I wonder how the listed brightness range and period were generated? Also interesting; there's no eclipse duration listed in VSX, so I'm not sure how much time the fall and rise in brightness takes. This makes this star well worth observing in the future!

  The next predicted eclipse for V1268 Tauri is 2:57 UT July 29, or 10:57 PM EDT on Monday, July 28. If skies are clear next Tuesday morning I'm going to try to make another estimate of it and see if the prediction is accurate. Here's the finder chart I printed using the AAVSO's VSP tool online. V1268 Tauri is very easy to find since it lies between Zeta Persei (the bright star at the top of the chart) and the Pleiades Cluster (shown near the bottom).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

PM Thu. July 3 - AM Fri. July 4, 2014 - Meteor Observing

  Thursday evening the 3rd started out with the sky partly covered in low clouds, and these clouds persisted through midnight. I had been hoping to get in more meteor observing now that high pressure had moved in and cleared some of the humidity away, but I nearly gave up until after 2:00 AM. I looked outside to see that the clouds were gone, and it was very clear. An hour later I had the lawn chair set up on the patio, and I had my charts and my note-corder ready. It was chilly enough that I needed to put a sweatshirt on, and the cooler and drier air discouraged mosquitoes. I didn't need any repellent. The fireflies were also gone tonight; probably due to the chillier conditions.

  I ended up having a very productive night. I was able to observe and plot five meteors, and a couple of them were bright and impressive. I also spotted several interesting artificial satellites. Here are the details:

  SESSION = 3:05 AM - 4:35 AM (7:05 - 8:35 UT July 4)
  Center of Gaze = 23:00 + 35° (345° +35°)
  Effective Observing Time = 79 minutes (out of 90).
  Cloud Obstruction = 0% (No clouds at all the whole time. Very clear. No moonlight interference since the Waxing Crescent Moon set several hours earlier.)
  Tree / Other Obstruction = 10% or less.
  Visual Limiting Magnitude = 5.03

  5 Meteors Seen During This Session:

  Meteor #1 - 3:14 AM (7:14 UT July 4). Sigma Capricornid (SCA). (The more I check my plot it seems it came straight from this radiant, and the speed also matched.) +2.0 magnitude. Speed = 3. No wake or train and no notable color. This meteor went from just barely west of Delphinus to close to the center of the Northern Cross of Cygnus. I plotted this meteor on Page 6 of the BRNO Atlas.

  Meteor #2 - 3:29 AM (7:29 UT July 4). Sporadic. (See detailed notes.) 0.0 magnitude (As bright as Vega at least!) Speed = 3. Wake that lasted about a second. No long-lasting train. Unfortunately I caught this meteor on the edge of my field of vision as it passed between Cepheus and Cassiopeia heading north. It was the best one of the night! I plotted this meteor on Page 1 of the BRNO Atlas.

  Meteor #3 - Approximately 3:45 AM (7:45 UT July 4). Sporadic. + 3.0 magnitude, Speed = 3. No wake or train seen and no color noted. This meteor whizzed right through the constellation of Cepheus. Like meteor #2, there’s a slight possibility that this one could have been an ANT or SCA, but my plot’s accuracy this far away in the sky leads me to believe that I should probably just label it as sporadic. I plotted this meteor on Page 1 of the BRNO Atlas.

  Meteor #4 - 3:55 AM (7:55 UT July 4). Pi Piscid (I’m very sure of this). + 4.0 magnitude. Speed = 4. No wake or train and no color noted. This one zipped by quickly through the “forelegs” of Pegasus. It was so fast and dim that I barely saw it. I plotted this meteor on Page 6 of the BRNO Atlas.

  Meteor #5 - 4:01 AM (8:01 UT July 4). Sporadic. +1.0 magnitude (about as bright as Deneb). Speed = 3. This meteor had a noticeable wake for a second or more, but not a long-lasting train. This was the only meteor that showed any color tonight. I thought that it looked yellowish. It zipped from the “neck” of Pegasus to the Water Jar area of Aquarius. It wasn’t a long path but it was a very bright, showy meteor. I plotted the path on Page 6 of the BRNO Atlas.

  Several Satellites Seen During This Session, these were the Notable Ones:

  Satellite #1 - 3:40 AM - 3:41 AM (7:40 - 7:41 UT July 4). Flared to -4.0 magnitude (as bright as Venus at least!) when I saw it, several degrees below the "Water Jar" in Aquarius, then faded to +4.0 as it passed through Pegasus. Lost sight of it when I saw Satellite #2. (I did not plot this satellite, but see notes for Satellite #2 and detailed notes.)

  Satellite #2 - 3:41 AM - 3:43 AM (7:41 - 7:43 UT July 4). Flared to -4.0 magnitude (as bright as Venus at least!) when I was trying to grab the 7x50 binoculars to look at Satellite #1! The flare took place very close to where Satellite #1 had flared; several degrees south of the "Water Jar" in Aquarius. It faded rapidly at first and then gradually and I was able to follow it into the Great Square of Pegasus. At 3:43 AM it passed the star pair of Tau and Upsilon Pegasi about four times their distance to the east. By that time it was about +4.0 magnitude or fainter and I lost sight of it. I plotted this one on Page 6 of the BRNO Atlas and I believe this satellite was in the same orbit as Satellite #1 and followed a very similar path. (See detailed notes.)

  Satellite #3 - 4:05 AM (8:05 UT July 4). I spotted this one as a slowly varying object just north of the Great Square of Pegasus, pulsing slowly between about +3.0 and +4.0 magnitude. When it was within the Great Square and a little northwest of the stars Tau and Upsilon Pegasi, it briefly flared up at least as bright as Vega (0.0 magnitude) and then fell back to about +4.0 magnitude. I saw it pass just west of Tau and Upsilon Pegasi using the 7x50 binoculars, then it faded completely out of view and I lost it. It was headed toward the area of Pisces and Aquarius, and I kept looking, but saw no more flare-ups. I plotted this satellite on Page 6 of the BRNO Atlas, but it was from memory after the session was over, and I’m not entirely sure about the accuracy of the start and end of the path that I drew.

  Satellite #4 - Approximately 4:35 AM - 4:37 AM (8:35 - 8:37 UT July 4). I spotted this one as it flew between Cassiopeia and Perseus, headed toward the Great Square of Pegasus. It seemed to be +3.0 magnitude normally but flared up a little in brightness now and then. Just before entering the Great Square of Pegasus it flared briefly up to at least +1.5 magnitude in brightness. Then it dimmed and passed just east of the stars Tau and Upsilon Pegasi before fading out of sight. I plotted the path of this one on Page 1 of the BRNO Atlas, but this plot was from memory after the session was over and there may be errors to it.

  Here are the plots of the meteors seen tonight:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

PM Sun. June 29 - AM Mon. June 30, 2014 - Meteor Observing

  For the second night in a row, well after midnight this time, the sky cleared out enough for me to get some meteor observing done. The minor showers that I looked for on Saturday evening through Sunday morning were all still predicted to be active. Here's how it went:

  SESSION #1 - 2:00 AM - 3:00 AM (6:00 - 7:00 UT June 30)
  Effective Observing Time = 55 Minutes
  Center of Gaze = 21:30 +30 (From the “Eastern Wingtip” of Cygnus to the “Forelegs” of Pegasus)
  Cloud Cover Obscuration = 0% (No clouds seen and the clarity of the sky improved quickly between 2:30 AM - 3:00 AM)
  Tree / Other Obscuration = 10% (Approximately)
  Visual Limiting Magnitude = 5.15 (See Notes).
  (3:00 AM Conditions) Temperature = 70°F, Dew Point = 67°F, Humidity = 90%, Wind = SW at 9 mph (with some gusts that were enough to rustle the leaves on the trees), Pressure = 29.99” and Fairly Steady.

  Other Notes - Like last night it was comfortable enough to wear a T-shirt and Jeans outside on the lawn chair. I put on plenty of repellent. There were some Crickets chirping away in the background but not too many. The air was full of Fireflies and this was a real distraction when they flashed around me in the treetops or flashed while whizzing overhead and imitated meteors. It definitely felt humid but the occasional breezes helped. There was dull roar of distant traffic and a few high jet aircraft passed overhead, and the occasional dog barking. But it was a very quiet Monday morning in the neighborhood overall.

  When I started this session I could see almost all of the Great Square of Pegasus over the roof of the house from the lawn chair (except for Gamma Pegasi) but by the end the whole Great Square could be seen along with most of the bright stars of Andromeda. The Milky Way was obvious like a long faint cloud through Cygnus and all the way to Cepheus and Cassiopeia. I thought the sky looked murky when I started but, especially between 2:30 AM - 3:30 AM, the sky transparency improved dramatically and even faint stars appeared like bright pinpoints against the darkness. It was clearer than last night!

  2 Meteors Seen During This Session:

  Meteor #1 - 2:22 AM (6:22 UT June 30). Sporadic. 4.0 magnitude. Speed = 4 (Swift). No wake or train and no color. This meteor flashed from just east (below) Omicron Andromedae to just east (below) Iota Pegasi. I determined that it had to be sporadic because, tracing the path back, the radiant would have at least had to have been in Southern Cassiopeia. I plotted it on Page 6 of the BRNO Atlas.

  Meteor #2 - 2:56 AM (6:56 UT June 30). Pi Piscid (PPI) meteor almost for sure! 2.0 magnitude. Speed = 2 (Slow but see details), This meteor left a wake or train that lasted a second or more. It was near the radiant for the Pi Piscid Shower and I think this was the reason it seemed slower than these meteors should be. It seemed to come from right behind the roof between near Eta Andromedae to past Delta and Pi Andromedae. It was a pretty spectacular meteor! I plotted this one on Page 6 of the BRNO Atlas.

  1 Satellite Seen During This Session:

  Satellite #1 - Seen around 2:53 AM (6:53 UT June 30). 3rd magnitude in brightness and steady. This satellite passed from just west (above) Deneb to just west (above) Alpha Cephei.

  (Visual Limiting Magnitude Determination for Session #1 -
  2:17 AM - 6 stars in Area 7 (5.12), 7 stars in Area 14 (4.94), 6 to 7 stars in Area 13 (5.20).
  2:28 AM - 7 stars in Area 13 (5.42), 7 stars in Area 14 (4.94), and 6 stars in Area 7 (5.12).
  2:35 AM - 6 stars in Area 7 (5.12), 8 stars in Area 14 (5.06), and 7 stars in Area 13 (5.42).
  Average During This Hour = 5.15.)

  SESSION #2 - 3:15 AM - 3:25 AM (7:15 - 7:25 UT June 30)

  This one was a bust. The sky conditions were deteriorating as I sat outside with a lot of high cloud cover moving over the sky. I’d thought that high clouds had started to cover the Northern part of the sky  by the end of my first session, but now they were definitely over the rest of the sky. I could see faint bands and mottling, and the Visual Limiting Magnitude had dropped to about 4.36. (3 stars in Area 7 and 4 stars in Area 14). It was getting the point where 4th magnitude stars were hard to see and only 3rd magnitude stars were obvious. There was just a general bright haze over the sky. It looked like the cloud cover I’d seen moving our way on satellite images online had arrived for good.

  Here are the two meteors seen tonight, plotted on the BRNO Atlas.

PM Sat. June 28 - AM Sun. June 29, 2014 - Meteor Observing

  After two weeks of moonlight, clouds, haze, fog, stormy weather, and so on, the sky finally cleared out enough over the weekend to do some meteor watching. I had five minor showers in mind that are visible in late June to early July.. For the evening the June Bootid and IMO #95 were well placed in the sky, and for the predawn hours there were three more, the Pi Piscid, c-Andromedid, and IMO #94 showers. Though none of these (usually) produced spectacular shows in the sky, I was eager to try to observe and plot some meteors and get my first report sent to the IMO. Here's how everything went:

  SESSION #1 - 11:30 PM - 12:30 AM (3:30 - 4:30 UT June 29)
  Effective Observing Time = About 55 minutes.
  Center of Gaze =17h +30 (Near Keystone of Hercules) high in the South.
  Cloud Cover Obscuration = about 5% (10% high clouds near the first half hour to 0% during the last half hour. Sky clarity improved dramatically during this session helped by increasing breeze.
  Tree/Other Obscuration = 10%
  Visual Limiting Magnitude = 5.07
  Temperature = 75°F. Dew Point = 69°F. Humidity = 82%. Wind = South at 12 mph. Pressure = 30.06".

  Other Notes - In lawn chair on the patio. I was comfortable in a T-shirt and Jeans. I also had on plenty of repellent. There were lots of distracting fireflies in the trees and zipping through the air and these were very distracting. Some Crickets could be heard. There was also a lot of neighborhood noise from Saturday evening parties including voices, cars revving, music, and so on. Low planes occasionally flew over. When I started this session there may have also been some residual smoke in the air because of fireworks being lit off all over the place earlier in the evening, and a professional fireworks show in Greenwood. During this session I heard a distant fireworks explosion every now and then. There was enough breeze to stir the leaves on the trees out there, especially during the last half hour. I think this also helped to clear some of the “murk” out of the air.

  0 Meteors Seen During This Session:

  I saw no meteors at all; not even Sporadics or Anthelions. Much less any sign of JBO or #95 meteors. This was pretty disappointing.

  3 Satellites Seen During This Session:

  Satellite #1 - Seen around 11:56 PM. This seemed to be a slowly tumbling object, 3.0 magnitude at the brightest. It went from the area near Pi and Rho Herculis to just west of Beta and Gamma Draconis (the twin stars of the “Head” of Draco). (I played this satellite path on Page 3 of the BRNO Atlas.)

  Satellite #2 - Seen around 12:04 AM. This one was very faint and steady. This one glided through Eastern Hercules. (I didn't bother to plot this one since it was steady and I’m more interested in looking for tumbling or flaring satellites.)

  Satellite #3 - 12:11 AM - 12:12 AM. This was a very interesting satellite. This passed from Southeast Hercules to Northeast Ophiuchus and though it was usually 2nd magnitude, it flared up twice to 1st magnitude or more (at least as bright as Deneb) as I watched it slowly move south and east. Then it faded into the Earth’s shadow in Ophiuchus. (I plotted this satellite path on Page 9 of the BRNO Atlas.)

  SESSION #2 - 12:30 AM - 1:30 AM (4:30 UT - 5:30 UT June 29)
  Effective Observing Time = About 57 minutes.
  Center of Gaze = 18h +30 (Eastern Hercules) high in the South.
  Cloud Cover Obscuration = about 5% (0% during the first half hour to about 10% high cloud cover during the last half hour, though the thickest high cloud cover stayed to the North).
  Tree/Other Obscuration  = about 10%
  Visual Limiting Magnitude = 5.02
  Temperature = 74°F. Dew Point = 69°F. Humidity = 85%. Wind = South at 12 mph. Pressure = 30.06".
  Other Notes - Same setup as before. Things quieted down a lot outside with fewer party noises heard around the neighborhood.

  0 Meteors Seen During This Session.

  0 Satellites Seen During This Session.

  SESSION #3 - 3:00 AM - 4:15 AM (7:00 - 8:15 UT June 29)
  Effective Observing Time = 67 minutes.
  Center of Gaze = 22:30h +45 (Lacerta) fairly high in the East.
  Cloud Cover Obscuration = about 10% (It ranged from 10% - 30% during the first half hour with high cirrocumulus bands but 10% or less during the second half hour. High thin cloud cover increased to the point where I had to call off observing during the final 15 minutes).
  Tree/Other Obscuration = 10% or less.
  Visual limiting magnitude = 4.86
  (4:00 AM Conditions) Temperature = 73°F. Dew Point = 67°F. Humidity = 81%. Wind = South at 8 mph (though there were gusts now and then that felt stronger than the ones I'd felt earlier in the evening). Pressure = 30.03".

  Other Notes - Same setup as before. It was very quiet now with just distant traffic heard. There was a soft Cricket chorus like before and fewer Fireflies. There was an even gustier breeze this time than there had been earlier in the night.

  By 4:00 AM there were some fairly thick high clouds starting to move in from the West, and though I wanted to stay out until dawn to get in a 4th hour of meteor observing tonight, conditions just didn’t let this happen. I stayed out as long as I could until the clouds had moved into the high Eastern part of the sky where I was watching, and then I had to call it quits for the night.

  2 Meteors Seen During This Session:

  Meteor #1 - 3:44 AM (7:44 UT June 29). Sporadic. 3.0 magnitude. Speed = 4 (Swift). No wake or train and no color. Went from the middle of Cepheus to just north of Iota Cephei. It had a very short path, and I had to count it as sporadic since it didn't correspond with any radiant that I knew of. It didn't even seem to be from a radiant where the JBO or IMO #95 showers would be. (I plotted the path for this meteor on Page 1 of the BRNO Atlas.)

  Meteor #2 - 3:54 AM (7:54 UT June 29). c-Andromedid (90% sure!) 3.0 magnitude. Speed 4-5 (Swift to Very Swift). No wake or train and no color. The more I looked at the path both out under the stars (and also on the chart where I plotted it) I was convinced that this was a CAN meteor! (I plotted the path of this meteor on Page 6 of the BRNO Atlas.)

  Several Satellites Seen During This Session: (1 Plotted)

  Satellite #1 - Spotted at 4:02 AM (8:02 UT June 29). This was by far the most interesting of several satellites seen during this session. I spotted it as a very bright object of at least -2.0 magnitude or brighter; much brighter than any star in the sky and possibly as bright as Jupiter (but less bright than I remember Venus to be). It was just Southwest of the Circlet of Pisces. I trained my 7x50 binoculars on it and it faded to 3.0 and 4.0 magnitude as it crossed the Circlet of Pisces. I then lost it. I kept looking toward Pegasus to see if it would flare up again, but it never did. (I plotted this satellite path on Page 6 of the BRNO Atlas.)

  I included my plots for the two meteors seen tonight; the Sporadic in Cepheus and the c-Andromedid seen in Pegasus. I'm actually a bit excited about the second one, since this is a fairly newly discovered minor shower and I don't think many of the meteors in this stream have been documented visually.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

V1403 Cygni Notes

  Monday June 16 started out with thunderstorms brewing. During the middle of the morning a hefty cell rumbled through Indianapolis with frequent lightning and thunder but only scattered heavy rain. My rain gauge at home had just a Trace in it, and the storm center seemed to mainly pass south of us. By late morning the sky cleared out somewhat and we had partly to mostly skies for the rest of the day. There was a lot of haze that made even the blue sky look whitish. And though there were no more storms or rainfall in Indianapolis for the rest of the day, the humidity was just awful! The dew point reached 70°F by afternoon and stayed there through sunset. It was a real steam bath even though the afternooV high temperature only reached the mid-80's°F.

  I worked from Monday afternoon until a little after 1:00 AM Tuesday morning (June 17), and drove back from Greensburg to Indy by 2:30 AM. It was obvious that this wasn't going to be a night out with the telescope. The sky had scattered high clouds lit up by moonlight from the bright Waning Gibbous Moon (about 4 days past Full Moon) and even the cloud-free parts of the sky were covered in haze. It was difficult to make out 3rd magnitude stars with the naked eye. There was a breeze stirring the leaves, but the air felt thick and muggy. The eclipse of V1068 Cygni was underway. Maybe I'd luck out and have clearer skies on Wednesday morning when it should be near minimum brightness.

  So instead of observing one "neglected" eclipsing binary star, I'm going to go ahead and write about another one I've put on my list to observe, just a handful of degrees away. Here's the information that I've gleaned about it:

  Star Name: V1403 Cygni
  AUID # : 000-BDP-268
  Harvard # : None
  Variability Type : E (In other words, no one seems to know for certain what kind of eclipsing binary star it is. It could be an Algol type EA, a Beta Lyrae type EB, or maybe even a W Ursae Majoris type EW.)
  Magnitude Range: 10.8 - 11.2 P
  Period: Unknown
  Eclipse Duration: Unknown

  There's so little known about this star that it caught my eye. Though the brightness range is small, I should be able to detect a 0.4 magnitude change if I observe it on as many nights as I can. The AAVSO database has no estimates for this star at all. The Lichtenknecker-Database of the BAV lists three estimates for it, credited to Miller and Wachmann. These were measured from photographic plates. Two of the estimates are from July 15, 1950 and one is from November 6, 1950.

  To sum it all up, I may, very soon, be the first person to observe V1403 Cygni in 64 years! More importantly to me, I may be able to help determine its nature with some careful visual estimates. Now all I need are some less murky sky conditions!


Sunday, June 15, 2014

V1068 Cygni Notes

  Though I still haven't done any variable star observing this year, I've been slowly compiling a list of "neglected" eclipsing binary stars, gathering what information I can about them, creating charts for them from the AAVSO website, finding comparison star sequences for the variable stars that don't have them, and creating finder charts for them from my Starry Nights planetarium program. I've also been checking the VSX website for any eclipse predictions for these stars, though some of them have unknown periods, and therefore don't have predictions. It's been fascinating!

  One of the ten or so eclipsing binary stars on my list is fairly close (5° away) to the very familiar cataclysmic variable star SS Cygni. And, if predictions are accurate, it should go into one of its long eclipses during this coming week. Here's what I've gleaned about this star:

  Star Name: V1068 Cygni
  AUID #: 000-BFR-960
  Harvard #: None
  Variability Type: EA/GS/RS
  Magnitude Range: 10.5 - 12.1 P
  Period: 42.6813 days (42 days, 16 hours, 21 minutes, 4 seconds)
  Eclipse Duration: 7.5% (3 days, 4 hours, 49 minutes, 35 seconds)

  The VSX website notes "A migrating wavelike distortion with an amplitude ~0.1 mag. V is being observed outside eclipses."

  The AAVSO Database currently has no estimates at all reported for this star, visual, CCD, or otherwise.

  The website that I've started to check religiously for these stars, the Lichtenknecker-Database of the BAV, lists 158 estimates for this star. All of them are visual or measured from photographic plates, and they start in September 1929 and end in September 1980.

  As far as I can tell, no one has reported an estimate for V1068 Cygni for almost 34 years! This might be because it takes a little over six weeks between eclipses, and the time it takes to start fading, bottom out, and rise again takes a little over three days. There is also that minor fluctuation in brightness between eclipses. That could make this star interesting to observe on any clear night.

  The next predicted eclipse for V1068 Cygni is centered at 4:54 UT June 18, or 12:54 AM Wednesday June 18 EDT. This eclipse will start around 11:00 AM Monday morning June 16 and end around 3:00 PM June 19 (Eastern Daylight Time again). The next one won't happen until the very end of July.

  I am working Second Shifts for the next two weeks and I'll be able to observe with the telescope on any clear night, on workdays, from about 2:30 AM - 3:00 AM through the start of dawn (which starts around 4:45 AM, very early this time of year when we're this close to Summer Solstice). If the predictions are accurate, it might be possible for me to see V1068 Cygni declining in brightness before dawn on Tuesday June 17, near minimum on the morning of Wednesday June 18, and rising in brightness again before the sky gets light on Thursday, June 19.

  There will be challenges. Hot and humid weather is supposed to settle over Indiana this week including chances for rain and thunderstorms. Even if the sky clears out at night, the humidity could give me murky skies with bad transparency. The bright Waning Gibbous Moon will be in the Southeast sky every morning this week. And, of course, fatigue from work could always be a factor! Still, the next few days are giving me a real chance to get started on this year's personal "neglected eclipsing binary star program" and on variable star observing again after all of these months.

  If I get clear skies this week, it's Game On!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Variable Star Notes - Neglected Eclipsing Binaries

  Since the last post I've had some nights of meteor observing and a couple of opportunities to get the 10" scope out to do some lunar photography, but I haven't done too much else. With meteor activity at a lull early in the summer, I'm starting to get interested in variable star observing again.

  My enthusiasm for doing this kind of amateur astronomy has waxed and waned a lot in the past few years. When I joined the AAVSO way back in 1984, making visual estimates for variable stars was still the "norm" since CCD technology was in its infancy and there was still no such thing as the Internet. However, especially in the last decade or so, I've started to have my doubts about whether there was any value to making visual estimates at the telescope eyepiece any more. CCD cameras, when used properly, can see stars much fainter than the human eye can, and they can make measurements much more accurately. This kind of data seems to be preferred now by professional astronomers. Also, there have been several automatic all-sky surveys launched in the last decade that can cover the whole sky every few nights, and make very accurate measurements of the brightness level of many variables. It's seemed more and more clear to me that visual observing is something obsolete and that most professional astronomers think it's "quaint." Why try to make estimates of Miras or Semi-Regular stars when the automatic cameras record these things weeks at a time? And for that matter, why try to make estimates of an eclipsing binary going in and out of eclipse when someone taking images with a CCD will probably be gathering much more precise data at the same time?

  The answer to me is this ... cover the things that the all-sky cameras and the CCD users aren't covering! Try to find a niche that no one else is paying attention to.

  This was one of the reasons why, a few years ago, I started to get interested in YSO's. Young Stellar Objects can show very rapid and random light variations that the all-sky automatic surveys might not be able to catch. For example, I've seen UX Orionis fade from a star that can be easily seen in the 10" scope to a star that can be barely seen in just two or three nights, and an all-sky survey camera might catch the fact that it faded, but it wouldn't be able to see how much the brightness decreased night by night like I could at the eyepiece of my own telescope. It also wouldn't catch if UX Orionis had any brief brightening before resuming its fade during the time it wasn't imaging that part of the sky.

  I have always loved watching Eclipsing Binary Stars also, but again, the CCD users seemed to have taken over this area of variable star observing and left the visual estimators like me out in the cold. However, I started to realize last year that there are a lot of these stars that are under-observed, and that this could be a valuable field of research to pursue.

  I started with two "neglected" Eclipsing Binary Stars last summer; DF Pegasi and SY Andromedae. By the fall I was also looking at the rarely observed V1380 Orionis, which is very close to the nebula M-78. I plan to start observing these in a much more systematic way this year, and also start researching, making charts for, and observing several other stars of this type.

  In the last week I've made comparison sequences for two eclipsing binary stars near Delta Cephei, KL Cephei (which goes into eclipse every eight months and hasn't been recorded by anyone since October 2008) and OT Lacertae (which has a totally unknown period and ... get this ... hasn't been observed by anyone as far as I can tell since 1954!) I'm going to be adding more stars to my list of neglected eclipsing binaries soon and hopefully getting out to observe them when I can.

  This first half of June will find me working First Shifts at my job, and with these short nights, both evening and predawn observing is going to be next to impossible. However, by the second half of June through early July I'll be on Second Shifts, and, if skies are clear, I'll be able to get some predawn observing done during those weeks. In the meantime, I'll be posting some notes about some of these stars to this blog.