Our research projects

Research is loosely organised into projects (established by project leaders, frequently with specific timeframes or goals) and programmes (established by programme coordinators, with ongoing goals and which may have related projects to investigate specific objectives).

Here’s the list of VSS research projects. Find a project that suits your interests, equipment and situation, and contact its project leader to find out about joining in.

Dual-Maxima Miras

Project Leader: Stan Walker

The Mira stars are an interesting group of variable stars, well suited to visual observing. (And little observed in colours such as UBV) In most cases there is a quick rise to maximum brightness, followed by a slower decline to a rather faint level. The amplitudes are usually quite large, and the periods of 200-600 days make them easy to observe for the casual observer.

Amongst these stars there are a few unusual objects. These are Miras which, at times, show two distinct maxima minima. The most well-known of these stars in the 1960s were R Centauri and R Normae. Since then, two other southern objects have been observed – BH Crucis, discovered by Ron Welch in Auckland, and NSV 4721, now V415 Velorum, the existence of which was drawn to our attention by Peter Williams. The periods of these stars are all in excess of 400 days and usually 500 days. Colour photometry reveals another interesting feature, namely that the first maximum in R Centauri is bluer, hence hotter, than the second maximum, whereas the reverse is the case with BH Crucis.


Eclipsing Binaries – Insight into Stellar Evolution

Coordinator: Tom Richards

“Everybody knows” that wide, visually separated binaries provide an indispensable first step to astrophysics as well as the distance scale ladder. All we need to know is their distance by parallax methods, their orbital period P, and the apparent size of the orbit. True orbit follows, then their masses. Magnitudes at that distance give true luminosities which with their colour gives temperatures, thence their size. There’s no other way of making this first interstellar step.


Eta Carinae Photometric Campaign: 2019+2021

/ dslr, ccd

Principal Investigator: Augusto Damineli VSS Coordinator: Mark Blackford

Eta Carinae is now so bright that its 400-year long history of photometry risks being interrupted. Ironically, this could happen in a phase when we finally can see the central stars almost un-obscured. Very few CCD observers today are able to continue this historical monitoring since the star saturates with 1 sec exposure time even using small aperture telescopes.

Continued visual estimations are strongly encouraged to monitor long term trends; however, Augusto Damineli and other professional astronomers also require precision photometry data for their models.


QZ Carinae

Project Leader: Stan Walker

One of the most difficult observing targets in our galaxy is QZ Carinae, a massive EB system. It comprises four stars arranged in two pairs: an eclipsing secondary pair with a period of 5.99875 days and a non-eclipsing primary pair with a period of 20.74 days. Masses are 16.7 and 28.0, and ~40.0 and ~9.0 respectively. Separation of the two pairs is about 50 AU and the absolute luminosity about –7.5. It’s almost naked eye at 2500 parsecs!


V0454 Carinae spectroscopic and photometric campaign

Campaign Coordinator: Mark Blackford Professional Advisor: Ed Budding

Ed Budding and Roger Butland are currently investigating this relatively bright but neglected eclipsing binary (range 6.96 to 7.16 V Mag, period 0.980417d). They’ve measured radial velocities from high resolution spectra recorded with the HERCULES spectrometer on the 1m McLellan telescope on Mt John and proposed that V0454 Car is probably another quaternary system – not unlike QZ Car, but a bit less massive.

The RV curve of the close binary system (eclipsing pair) is well covered, and they can get a reasonably good picture of it from both its set of spectral lines. However, the third component shows unexpected short-term variations superposed on a much longer-term trend. They think that it is in a binary arrangement with a lower mass companion having a period of order a week or two. However, they don’t have enough information to form a very clear picture at the moment.


V0745 Sco Campaign

Project Leader: Tom Richards

Rod Stubbings observed V745 Sco in outburst (mvis=9.0) on 2014 February 6.6 after observing it fainter than 13.0 24 hours prior. The nova has subsequently been confirmed by Paul Camilleri (CMQ) and Steve O’Connor (OCN), with more data coming in.

Jeno Sokoloski has requested as much photometry as possible and is also requesting spectroscopic follow-up from the community as well. Several professional researchers are already working on getting X-ray and radio data for this nova, and optical data from the AAVSO community will be very useful for comparison to other wavelengths.