Citizens take on the Sky!

In Chicago August 4-7th? Check out Georgette’s report on a citizen science workshop at the Adler Planetarium.

For 175 years scientists have been baffled by a star in the constellation of Aurigae, the charioteer.  The star is an eclipsing binary variable star, which means it circles another star around their joint center of mass.  From our perspective on Earth, there are long periods of time about every 27 years when the secondary star eclipses the other much brighter star.  Instead of appearing generally brighter from Earth, epsilon Aurigae appears dimmer.

What is this secondary star? Theories have ranged from black holes, to semitransparent stars to dark clouds of dust…

Take on the mystery of epsilon Aurigae with the American Association of Variable Star Observer’s Citizen Sky project. The project will use citizen observations to unravel the truth behind the seemingly invisible secondary star during its extremely long eclipse of epsilon Aurigae. The wealth of reading material on the Citizen Sky website is a good place to start if you’ve never done any observation before, I personally recommend walking through the 10 star training and then reading the section on “Visual Observing” to learn how to estimate the brightness of a star (its easy!). As the summer progresses, more information will be added about submitting your data and how to analyze your results in preparation for the Fall and Winter, when epsilon Aurigae will be visible to the naked eye in the Northern hemisphere. If you’re in the Chicago area, the first workshop will be taking place at the Adler Planetarium from August 4th-7th, 2009.  If not, follow along through the forums and blog, all located off of the main Citizen Sky website.

Project Snapshot:
Topics: astronomy, citizen science
Location: from anywhere
Duration: Fall-Winter, as long as you want
Cost: free
Gear: computer to submit results, telescope (not required)
Level of Difficulty: can be easy or difficult, depending on your level of involvement