American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Tue, 10/10/2017 - 15:46



It has been a year since we launched and populated our "Student Observation Projects" page (, and I woudl like to hear from you about projects you have pursuit with your students! Can you please share?


Best wishes - clear skies,


American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Student Projects -- Ideas Needed!

Hi All,

I've worked with a number of high school and college students on photometry-based projects, ranging from near-Earth asteroid light curves to the more typical short pulsators, most often RR Lyrae stars, as well as eclipsing binaries.  These are great projects for learning the analysis steps, and if timed right, only one night's observations are needed.  For an interesting twist, 2-color observations can be made (usually B & V), so the change in color temperature can be observed.  I'll attach a B & V time series done in MaxIm DL to illustrate.

Now i'm looking for a few very special targets.  The ideal candidates would be interesting short-period variables that also have interesting spectroscopic features that can be detected with a diffraction grating in the filter wheel (low resolution).  The equipment is a 17" aperture and a nice Apogee CCD camera with BVRI photometric filters, and an SA-200 in the filter wheel, yielding 11.1 angstroms/pixel. Photometric targets work well from about 8th mag to about 16th, with a spectral range of perhaps 6th - 14th magnitude (with stacking).

I've played around with the AAVSO Target Tool, and it seems there are some possible eclipsing binaries that involve Wolf-Rayet stars, which might be really fun.  I don't HAVE to have targets that are good for both photometry and low-rez spectroscopy, but it shure would be nice, and could make an interesting paper at the end.

If anyone has ideas or even favorites thay woudl recommend, I'd be much obliged, as Andy & Opie used to say.  Ideal target limits would be 0 - 10 hrs RA, and northern hemisphere, or not much below 0 DEC -- perhaps -10 -- as we typically don;t use the lower shutter in the winter.

Thank you kindly,

Brad Vietje, VBPA

Newbury, VT

American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Recent Student Projects

Since retiring, I've been able to put more effort into one of my long-term dreams: mentoring of advanced high-school students. In the past year or two, my students have tackled the following with me:

1) Period determination and modeling of the eclipsing binary V1160 Cas. I turned over about a dozen primary and secondary eclipse image sequences to this student (this was a HS Senior Project), who calibrated and analyzed them with AstroImageJ, created a folded lightcurve to find the period, and pushed the lightcurve into the modeling program Nightfall, to estimate orbital parameters.

2) Analysis of the contact binary KIC 9832227: This was a class project that I did with the Astronomy 1 class at a local public high school. I maintained an online blog and showed the class how photometry is done, how a folded lightcurve is created, and began exploring techniques for measuring period changes. (This was severely interrupted by the shutdown of schools for COVID-19.) This was a big hit with the class for two reasons: most had never considered the possibility that two stars can touch each other, and the star's recent coverage in the popular press was a great eye-opener about scientific discovery, scientific mistakes, and the importance of skepticism when repeating someone else's experiments.

3) Cepheid distance determination using V1206 Cas. This was cool, because this was a follow-on project with a student I started working with 2+ years ago. Her first project was the measurement of parallax to the local star Wolf 359. That was successful, and gave her a strong understanding of data analysis techniques (and she taught me a lot about the power of Google Sheets as a collaborative analysis tool). As a follow-on for her high school Senior Project, she wanted to extend the distance ladder, so chose a classical Cepheid. Again, I fed her raw images, and she calibrated and analyzed with AstroImageJ. The twist on this was that V1206 Cas is far enough away (and sits in the galactic plane), so that extinction needed to be considered. This gave her a chance to learn about multi-color photometry and reddening due to extinction.

4) Another student was more interested in software than astronomy, and chose to pursue a summer project with me to develop an exoplanet transit scheduling tool. The resulting Python tool creates a plot of airmass and elevation angle vs local time, with annotations showing ingress start, egress end, local sunset, local sunrise, and meridian crossing. Although she didn't finish the tool by the end of the summer, her progress inspired me to further develop the tool enough that I use it regularly for exoplanet transit observation planning. Here's an example of the tool's display:

Sadly, more and more schools are dropping Senior Project requirements. My experience has been that students who pursue these intense, multi-month-long projects get a much stronger understanding of how the scientific method plays out in real life and where their own strengths and interests are.

- Mark Munkacsy