American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Sun, 04/08/2018 - 17:17

I'm involved with an observatory that's very active in community events and education.  We cater to students from K thru college, scouts, exporers, and anyone who's seriously interested in astronomy.  Occasionally we get high school and college students who want to volunteer because they like astronomy and because they'd like to add astronomy to their resumes. 

A year or so ago, Stella Kafka gave a wonderful talk at one of our monthly lectures.  Several of us "caught the bug" and are now contributing to the AAVSO database.  To take this one step further, I'm now in the process of setting up a formal Variable Star Observing Program.  I believe I can convince our Board of Directors to purchase a Photometer (SSP3A).  Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, I'm reaching out to other groups and educators for information on similar programs that I can learn from and leverage off of.  Any and all guidance and recommendations will be appreciated.  Thanks!


American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Perhaps a camera would be a better choice

If you have good reasons to use a photometer, then by all means, please do so. 

However, it might make more sense for you to acquire a camera for your system.  The camera would allow you to make measurements of variable stars (perhaps not as precisely as the photometer), but also to take pictures of the Moon, planets, nebulae, and other objects.  It might provide more opportunities for outreach and educational projects than the photometer.

Whatever you choose to do, good luck!


American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Variable Star Observing Program

Hey Mike,

Glad you are getting excited about measuring variable stars!  I found it to be more addicting than I expected, and its a great way for amateurs and citizen scientists to help advance astronomy.

I'm involved in an observatory like yours (, though our emphasis is mostly to support education, with public events and star parties taking a smaller role.

If you can figure out what sort of variables you want to observe (not that easy -- there are so many types!), and the telescope you'll use, you can get advice on the magnitude range and equuipment that would be suited to the task.

I agree with the earlier comment that a digital camera (and the software to control it) might be a better investment than a photometer.  The exact type and features would depend on the variables you'd like to study, but also the type of astrphotography you'd like to do -- the right camera shoud be able to do both.

CCD cameras are usually a better option than DSLR's for this, and mono cameras with filters allow you to do more precise work.  While it's possible that a few AAVSO members might have a used camera you could buy(?), there are also grants that might help buy a new one.  If you send me an e-mail, I'll look for a link to a possible source of funds.

Good luck, and clear skies,

Brad Vietje, VBPA

Newbury, VT

SSP-4 photometer

Hi Mike, 

I have an SSP-4 (H and J infrared bands) photometer on loan from the AAVSO. I'm not using it now, but perhaps it would be an addition to other dectors you might aquire. To do good photometry with it you could organize folks into teams, perhaps 2 or 3 per team. It takes some effort to change the filters and slew the scope to comparison stars, record data and slew back to the variable star.  

What kind of telescope do you have?  Where are you located?  etc.  


American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
SSP-4 photometer

Hi Rodney,

Thank you for the offer!  There's very little written about Near Infra-red Photometry and the SSP4 in the AAVSO PEP Manual.  I have no experience with photometry but i am very curious.  You obviously have experience in this area.  Is using the SSP4 much different than using the SSP3? 

Our observatory has a 16" LX200 with a Sidereal Technologies controller, we also have a couple of 10" LX200s or LX6s, a 10" Dob, a Takahashi FSQ106 and an Explore Scientific 102 Triplet APO.  Most have tracking/go-to mounts.  The Tak and Explore 102 can go on our Celestron AVX mount.  Once properly aligned, all seem to do a good job at finding and tracking stars, and they're all very repeatable.

Our observatory is located in southern Connecticut.  Please take a look at our website.

I'm sure I can find volunteers to make up teams, as you suggest above.

I'm very interested, please let me know what you think.

Thank you!

Mike   ( )

American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Variable Star Observing Program

Thanks for getting back to me.  Lots of questions and comments, I'll try to address them all. 

I'm a member of the Westport Astronomical Society in Connecticut.  I am planning on attending NEAF.

We're a 501C3 non-profit educational organization.  We spend more time with outreach and community involvement that anything else.  Every Wednesday, weather permitting is free "Public Night".  Once a month we have someone from AMNH or Columbia U or similar organization give a talk, also free to the public.  We lug scopes to local events like "First Night" at the public library  and "Space Day" at the Discovery Science Museum.  Our community involvement and education list is quite long.

We have a 16" LX200 (converted to Sidereal Techology system) in our dome, the dome is on top of an old concrete Nike Missile Radar tower.  We use several scopes on the ground, sizes range from  100mm to the 25" Obsession, with a variety of sizes and flavors in between. 

We're presently set up for DSLR Variable Star observing and we have CCD cameras too.  I'm being mentored by another club member who's a regular AAVSO contributor.

I'd like to do higher precision Variable Star Observing than we're capable of doing now.  The Sidereal Technologies system on the 16 does a very good job at slewing, it's surprisingly accurate.  We have other computer controller goto/tracking mounts also, so jumping from a variable star to a comparison star is not a problem.

I believe I've covered all the bases.

Thanks everyone for your suggestions and comments.