A surprisingly inexpensive setup of amateur equipment is helping astronomers on their quest to find Kuiper Belt objects of every size to better understand how planets formed in our solar system. Every now and then a star appears to flicker out for a fraction of a second, its light blocked when a small object in the outer solar system passes in front of it. While some of these objects are large enough to be seen by the sunlight they reflect, most are far too small and thus too faint to be detected directly. So-called stellar occultations, where the light of a background star briefly winks out, are one of the only ways to know these objects exist. Objects in the Kuiper Belt, one of which is depicted here in an artist's concept, are the pristine remnants of planet formation in our solar system, thanks to their dark, cold, and lonely environments.
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An astronomical survey is a general map or image of a region of the sky which lacks a specific observational target.
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He has assembled an extremely able team of fellow astronomers that have been able to write all of the software required, analyze and catalog the data and co-author sophisticated technical papers. These were distributed to members around the country, who placed them in their backyards and pointed them at the celestial equator.
Each camera made a continuous drift-scan image of the sky. Analysis of the data was handled by software written to identify stellar sources and measure their properties. One of the early goals of this most ambitious project was to map the night sky and discover variables and other night objects heretofore unknown.
Specifically, to map bright stars, of sixth to fourteenth magnitude, in a region around the celestial equator. The position and brightness of each star in several different passbands Johnson V and Johnson-Cousins R and I was to be measured. The first of these is running and taking data. Wilson and the Naval Observatory. Unlike the Mark III, it is operated in point-and-shoot mode, so a mount and control system was designed for it.
The Mark IV will be able to view all areas of the sky overhead, not just the strip around the celestial equator. It will reach about fourteenth magnitude from backyard sites. The project is entirely self-funded, with Tom Drodge doing the bulk of the heavy financing. Linux was chosen as the operating environment of choice and nights are spent among water filled tubing, electronics and an array of optical devices.
The group is currently writing the definitive scientific paper on line. The first very rough draft is included below. The group is presently writing the definitive scientific paper on their project on line. Watch this space to see how scientific papers are pulled together and edited.
The very rough words of this version will be smoothed as everyone works out exactly what the group wants to say. This document is the result of many years of painstaking research and development, laborious data collection and collation, and system refinement by Tom Droege and the contributors listed in the credits.
However, as time went by, and with ever increasing membership in the TASS group, others have added significantly to the success of this venture.
When the comet Shoemaker-Levi 9 collided with Jupiter in , I started following the news on the sci. As an instrumentation specialist with no previous experience in astronomy, I was attracted to the idea of building a machine that would perform an "all the sky all the time" search for such objects.
A few posts to sci. From the beginning, it was obvious that the apparatus was only a small fraction of the effort for such a search. The problem was not how to build hardware, but how to develop a scheme that would assemble the right sort of team to attack this problem without spending a fortune. Meanwhile, the "establishment" efforts for such searches  seemed to be fading for lack of government support.
My thinking was to try to design a scenario where it is possible to perform such a search with no more resources than might have been available to a nineteenth century gentleman amateur.
Further motivation was to design a project that would provide stimulation during retirement. While a lot of hardware can be built with modest resources, hiring full time programmers is expensive. Faced with the problem of finding programmers, I was reminded of Willie Sutton who, when asked why he robbed banks, replied "That's where the money is.
The effort was started by making information requests to the sci. After a little knowledge was gained, a note was put on sci. The positive response encouraged me to set out on the attempt. Little did I know what an ambitious project I had undertaken. An early plan was to assemble an array of CCD cameras using camera lenses. The array was to consist of 10 lanes each covered by 3 cameras spaced at intervals of one hour in right ascension.
This was to be accomplished by the design of a CCD camera that could be semi-mass produced at low cost. This design was to be done in real time on the internet so that the process could attract the inhabitants many of them programmers that happen also to be interested in astronomy. Later, the work on the various prototypes was reported to the news group, and a following was developed.
This was, at first, moved to the CCD mailing list  then later a TASS listserv  was established by a programmer who volunteered to do it. While my goal was to do real science, the process had to be entertaining if it was to be done by amateurs using their own time and their own resources.
Therefore, I accept the fact that it would not be possible to "control" this effort. It has been designed from the start with a "laissez faire" structure. The plan was to ship out the telescopes to those that seem to want them, and to simply hope that they will try to pursue some resemblance of the group scientific goals with the apparatus.
The objectives of this project were not tightly defined and it was hoped that goals would be generated as time and accumulated data define them. NOTE: Professionals out there, just try getting a grant with this approach!
The original goal was to search for comets. As time went on, however, more and more professionals showed up on the mailing list. They would ask questions like "as long as you are searching for comets, why not look for xxxx their favorite object. With the operations and data are open to anyone by design, there is always the possibility that someone will analyze data improperly and make erroneous publications.
We consciously take that risk, and hope that the advantages of the open structure outweigh this possibility. Anyone can publish from the TASS data - true to the scientific paradigm, it is open and available to all. However - no one, to my knowledge, can publish as TASS without proper authorization.
At first, it was my plan to require 24 hour internet publication of data that was taken with the cameras which I had provided for free. This rule has not been enforced, indeed there is no way to enforce such a rule even were it so desired. An even greater reason for lack of enforcement is that we are drowning in data. In time we hope to correct this, at which time quick turn around will again be desirable, and we will encourage prompt reporting of all measurements.
It is my hypothesis that when a researcher acquires a large astronomical catalog he or she never intends to actually read it in its entirety, front to back. What the researcher wants is either a small subset or summary statistics. The conventional method, however, is to publish the complete catalog.
The researcher physically acquires the requisite computer data file and processes it locally to produce the small subset or summary statistics that are actually desired. This model is not well suited to the present state of computing technology or to the needs of the TASS project.
Today raw computing power is cheap and readily available. However, high speed long distance data transport is expensive and rare. The TASS data will never be complete as the project has no plans to ever stop collecting data.
The project, being cumulative, has the potential to outlast any one individual. The TASS system operates continuously, so any snapshot of the data would be obsolete as soon as it was made. Given this, it seems reasonable to put a computer with software that can accept any manner of ad-hoc requests for subset or summary statistics physically close to the TASS data.
This way only a small amount of data - the data that is actually desired - has to be transported over today's relatively slow network. The problem of data obsolescence is also solved because the transmitted data is always up to date. It is, in itself, a research project to determine how best to solve the above problems and many more which are discussed below. It is a combination of software and tabular data. A database exists on a network and accepts electronic requests of the form ''From your tables X and Y, compute a table with columns a, b, c, It is the job of the database system software to figure out how best to compute the requested table from the information the system holds internally.
The TASS system as a whole, in its first year of operation, has placed more than 18 million photometric measurements into the database. This number is expected to grow to the hundreds of millions soon. Sever factors influence this expectation. All of the first generation cameras are yet to be put into operation, while a new generation of much more capable cameras are due to begin operation in a few months.
There is also a backlog of unprocessed data "in the system''. It is quite likely that over the life of the project a billion or more photometric measurements will be entered into the database.
The authors and rewriters of these programs are named in parenthesis. Details on these programs can be found via the references in another section of this note. Also uses dark vector from "dark". Produces flat vector data. Also uses dark and flat data from "dark" and "flat". Produces corrected image FITS file.
Also produces star list of RA, dec, magnitude. Produces two sorted subset star lists, pass and fail. Also uses "good Tycho" star catalog as reference. Produces in pass 1 a correction vector for magnitudes.
Produces in pass 2 a modified set of star lists based on correction. Output from flatcomp is suitable for entry into the TASS database. Produces list of stars found in same location in more than one list. Computes the V and V-I transformations using all matched standards.
Produces an output file of transformed magnitudes. Finds all objects with 3 or more observations in each filter. Produces a list of all stars that still have 3 or more observation s Also produces a file with two tables: 1 a histogrammed list of magnitude bin, mean error in that bin, and number of stars in that bin; 2 those objects whose magnitude variation is greater than ' average'.
Also processes star lists from "transform" and "collate" Compares star list items to Master items.
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Next generation astronomical survey to map the entire sky
I recently posted on the forums area unconfirmed stellar variability discovery results I obtained by analyzing available photometry data from a CCD survey telescope. These results indicate that maybe for the first time this legacy star is shown to be variable. Suppose, for e. In actuality I have been part of a small not-so-Citizen Sky nor Zooniverts team of amateurs analyzing CCD photometric data from a survey instrument.
So far I have "discovered" around 50 stars that exhibit periodic behavior where none had been noticed before. Mostly these are pulsating variables, but a couple offer clear signs of eclipsing binary transits. I guess I am looking for a place to park my unconfirmed results where they may be of use to variable star enthusiasts. Hi, John, The answer is yes. BUT, as long as you are able to provide a complete analysis of the data. Actually there are more new stars added to VSX from data-mining different sky surveys than original discoveries with original I mean based on the own observer's data.
Although the submission of individual stars is welcomed, if you have a lot of stars and you can solve them properly, that sounds like a good project for publication in a journal. VSX is not an official publication venue although it ensures you that your stars will be added to VizieR and available to the community. Or you could have your own group's webpage where the results can be presented and that can be given as a reference, as long as you are able to provide tables with all the required data Good positions -preferrable from UCAC4-, cross-identifications, variable type, elements, range.
If you decide only to submit them to VSX individually, don't submit many stars a day because we have stars being submitted by many other observers as well start with an individual submission so we can review it and you can get a feeling of how the moderation process works and if something needs to be changed.
If the variable star is found by data-mining a specific sky survey, use the star ID in this survey as the primary name of your star e. Use the New Star Wizard the first time you submit a variable, it is a step by step process with useful examples. So, you should be able to classify your star based on its light curve. Give a period if it is a periodic variable with a phase plot as a supporting document a JD light curve if it is an irregular variable.
Determine an epoch of maximum for pulsating variables or stars with hot spots or an epoch of minimum for binary systems, RV and dark-spotted stars. Use that epoch as phase 0 in the submitted phase plot.
The phase plots should show more than one variability cycle for clarity phases 0 to 1. If you are going to submit results based on survey data, combine the results from all the available surveys. You can shift the magnitudes to the zero point of the survey that shows standard magnitudes. For normal stars the amplitudes will be similar, for red stars the V amplitude will be larger. Use the V amplitude. Kepler will give you millimagnitude precission.
Try to use data from several quarters to get the best result. In all cases, the longer the time baseline you have, the more accurate the period will be.
Remember to keep in mind some database vagaries. That is just to give you an idea. Brighter stars will cause contamination at larger distances.
Also you need to check the error figures or data flags presented by each survey to see if the results are reliable or not. Flags , , 50, and others mean NSVS data are also bad. There are too many databases.
Each has its own pros and cons. You need to use them and get used to them to underestand their limitations. Don't rush to submit new variables if the data are sparse. You'll probably be able to solve them all combining data from different sky surveys, do it you can go directly to the survey's data for your star if you make a VSX positional search. You'll get no result if the star is not known to be variable but you'll have the external links menu available so you can click on the survey you choose and get the data.
If you can't, try to get additional observations so you can at least give a possible type, and always a magnitude range. Skip to main content. Search form Search this site:. Print This Page. Log in to post comments. Last post. Thanks, John. Sebastian Otero. Data-mining results in VSX. Some points you should keep in mind. Give the reference to the survey used in the VSX form reference section. Contact Us :: Join Us :: Donate. Cambridge, MA aavso aavso.