You’re invited: join the variable star observing community

Hubble Space Telescope observers need your help.

Did you know that Hubble Space Telescope (HST) observers rely–sometimes–on the ground-based observations of amateur astronomers to determine the best use of their space-based instrument? Below is an American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) announcement of a request for help: observers plan to view a (“cataclysmic“) variable star on January 11 and 12, but can only get the data they need if the star is behaving at a certain way (“not in outburst”) for the Hubble to observe it.
2013-01-04_1416 Trouble is, the pattern of behavior for the star isn’t well enough known for the team using the Hubble to be sure that star won’t be in that unacceptable state. So they are asking from help from the broader community of variable star observers. (You can join, by the way…they’ll train you. Visit At the Notre Dame QuarkNet Center, we’ve had high school teacher and student teams participate in this sort of citizen-science for years. (See Bremen HS astronomy educator Aaron McNeely’s blog on his team’s asteroid discoveries; here’s one student’s investigation into variable stars and the work of the AAVSO.)

When teachers and students are effectively invited into the research community in this way, it looks a lot like science education. What else, other than effective invitation into the community, would we want out of science education: when new members take on the values, the tools, the culture of the research community as members, what else are they lacking? But if they remember long lists of facts and can spout theories without even being aware of, let alone belong to, the community that generates those facts and theories, we might well ask: “so what?” Perhaps it is the centrality of the research community that has been missing in STEM education. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The AAVSO and many other organizations are developing a craft of issuing effective invitations into STEM community. In my view, the best way to promote STEM education–and the associated prosperity that comes with a vibrant STEM community–is to promote integrated STEM community where ever you can. Make connections wherever you can, and maintain them. That’s what AAVSO is doing.

Here’s the text of the AAVSO announcement. (Just click it to view the published notice.)
AAVSO Special Notice 319

One thought on “You’re invited: join the variable star observing community

  1. What a great opportunity! I got on the AAVSO site and looked at their star training tutorial to walk you through how to do the observations, and how to report them. I LOVE it!