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Variable Star Director

Section Director: Tony Markham

I never intended to become a variable star observer. It was only by accident that I started to observe them. Soon, however, I was hooked!

Towards the end of 1977, I decided to investigate how faint I could see using my 10x50 binoculars. The easiest way to do this was to see which of the comparison stars that I could see on a finder chart for the variable star R Ursae Majoris. I did this on several occasions. On the first few nights, R UMa itself was too faint for me to see. Then, on one night in early November it had brightened enough to become visible. I compared its brightness with that of the comparison stars and estimated it to be of magnitude 8.6. I repeated this on each clear night and found that my observations produced quite a nice light curve.

I then tried observing some other variable stars. Some produced quite nice light curves. For others, to be honest, my light curves looked like scatter diagrams!

Over the years, the number of variable stars that I followed steadily increased. The vast majority of the observations have been made using binoculars, with 11x80 binoculars taking over from the 10x50's during 1992-93. I have also made observations with the naked eye but have never made a variable star observation using a telescope (I almost did once. Someone showed me the Perseus double cluster through a telescope and I came close to estimating the brightness of a variable star within it ... but I resisted the temptation ...).

In the early years, my variable star observing had to compete with my meteor observing - I once carried out over 100 hours of meteor watches in one year. However, since my move to Leek in late 1989, variable star observing has dominated. Whereas meteor observing requires long clear spells (which are rare in Leek), variable star observers can make good use of short clear spells and quickly take advantage of any gaps in the clouds.

In 1992, I was invited by John Isles to take over from him as the Variable Star Section Director and held the post for 8 years. Now I'm back again!

I have had many variable star highlights over the years. I particularly remember how the summer of 1984 produced a dramatic fade in the star CH Cygni and an unusually prolonged Nova in Vulpecula. More recently, chi Cygni has produced some unusually bright and unusually faint maxima and R Scuti has also shown some rather interesting activity.

The joy of variable star observing is that you never know which star will surprise you next.