Welcome to Episode 28 of the Urban Astronomer Podcast. This episode features an interview with Dr Stella Kafka, current director of the AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers). I met Dr Kafka at the 2018 Symposium of the Astronomical Society of South Africa, where she delivered several excellent talks on the AAVSO and citizen science. I was so impressed by what she had to say that I just had to invite her onto the show. Amazingly, she beat me to the punch by approaching me after my own talk, to talk about podcasting. Several weeks later, I got hold of her on Skype, and we recorded this episode!
In this interview, we discussed the history of the AAVSO, and the multiple roles available for volunteers and observers. She explained how even in this age of massive survey projects, amateur observers still have the advantage in freedom and range of targets, and the data they submit are often critical in filling the gaps left in the record by professional astronomers using large telescopes.
I was concerned that the serious scientific nature of variable star observing puts it out of reach of more casual observers, but Stella laughed this off as nonsense – as she put it (paraphrased), “Even if you only ever submit one single brightness estimate, that could be the only data point captured worldwide of that object at that time”. If somebody needs that data, and uses it in their research, your name could be included on the resulting paper, which is something of a big deal!
- The American Association of Variable Star Observers
- The Variable Star Section of ASSA
- The 2018 Symposium of the ASSA