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Variable stars for beginners: where to start from?

See also: Stars Easy to Observe (AAVSO)

If you're new to variable star observing, here you can find a few basic recommendations as to what are the easiest stars to start from. For your convenience we compiled a list of stars with large amplitude grouped by season. Nowadays most observations a made with CCD providing the best quality of photometric data, but visual experience still plays its role for passionate observers. Moreover, learning how to estimate light curve properties allows deeper understanding variable stars processes. To get a basic idea of which stars to look at for the first time, you may also read Sky&Telescope's article: The Top 12 Naked-Eye Variable Stars by John Isles.

Below are listed ten stars each for Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter - five binocular and five telescopic. Most stars are irregular or semi-regular Long Period Variables, but there are several interesting eclipsing variables included as well. Actually, these stars list can be originally found at British Astronomical Association's Variable Star Section webpage, where observers can find a lot of relevant information along with extensive observational programs from the BAAVSS. Here we list some stars for a quick overview. For details on variable stars types please check out the Variable Stars Classification section. Stars brighter than magnitude 8 are better observed with binoculars or a very small telescope.

First you need to identify the star. For large-amplitude variable stars from the list it's better to search for comparison stars or neighborhood layout, since the target variable star's brightness may be beyond (fainter) your device limit, thus never be found. For most of the stars listed below you don't need to observe them each night. Often it is quite enough to measure the light once a week. This is possible due to a large period of variabilty. You can find this information in the tables. Also you have to remember that visual observing of red stars are tricky: for human's eye it may be difficult to measure the light from red variables reliably. Comparison stars should be selected carefully in this case as well. De-focusing technique may be applied to the variable and comparison stars to make your magnitude estimate more precise.

Estimating magnitudes is a real challenge for beginners. The are some useful books on the subject out there. One of the most authoritative and fundamental is the AAVSO's Manual for Visual Observing of Variable Stars. This is an essential reading for everyone who wants to start variable stars observing.

CCD observers should use the AAVSO CCD Observing Manual.

Another really useful source of variable star charts is http://nhk.mirahouse.jp/chart by Mr.Hirasawa (Japan Variable Stars Study Association).


Bright variable stars by season

*  = both binocular and telescopic object
** = circumpolar object

Frequency shows how often you need to measure the light to build the light curve.

Spring

Binocular
 Star  Type  Range  Period  Freq  Charts & Data
V CVn SRa 6.5-8.6 192d 5d-7d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
AH Dra ** SRb 6.4-8.6 158d 5d-7d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
X Oph ** Mira 5.9-9.2* 338d 7d-10d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
Z UMa ** SRb 6.2-9.4 196d 5d-7d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
RY UMa ** SRa 6.5-7.9 310d? 7d-10d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
Telescopic
 Star  Type  Range  Period  Freq  Charts & Data
U Boo SRb 9.8-13.0 201d 5d-7d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
V Boo * SRa 7.0-12.0 258d 5d-7d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
R CrB * RCB 5.7-15.2 NA Nightly A  B  C  D 
[dss 15']  [simbad]
V CrB * Mira 6.9-12.6 358d 7d-10d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
X Leo UGSS 11.1-17.2 16.9d Nightly A  B  C  D  E 
[dss 15']  [simbad]

 

Summer

Binocular
 Star  Type  Range  Period  Freq  Charts & Data
W Cyg SRb 5.1-6.8 131d 5d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
CH Cyg * ZAND
+SR
5.6-10.1 NA Nightly A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
AC Her RVA 6.8-9.0 75d 5d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
ST Her SRb 6.8-8.3 144d 7d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
R Sct RVA 4.2-8.6 146d 7d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
Telescopic
 Star  Type  Range  Period  Freq  Charts & Data
chi Cyg * Mira 3.3-14.2 408d 7d-10d A  B  C 
[dss 15']  [simbad]
SS Cyg * UGSS 7.7-12.4 50d Nightly A  B  C  D 
[dss 15']  [simbad]
SS Her Mira 8.5-13.5 114d 5d-7d A  B  C 
[dss 15']  [simbad]
YY Her ZAND 11.1-<14.0B 575? Nightly A  B  C  D 
[dss 15']  [simbad]
V Vul RVA 8.1-9.7 76d 5d-7d A  B  C 
[dss 15']  [simbad]

 

Autumn

Binocular
 Star  Type  Range  Period  Freq  Charts & Data
U Cam ** SRb 7.7-8.8   ? 5d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
SS Cep ** SRb 6.5-7.7 90d 5d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
AF Cyg SRb 6.4-7.7 92d 5d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
Y Lyn SRc 6.5-8.3 110d 7d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
Z Psc SRb 6.4-7.5 156d 7d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
Telescopic
 Star  Type  Range  Period  Freq  Charts & Data
Z And * ZAND 7.7-11.3 NA Nightly A  B  C 
[dss 15']  [simbad]
RX And UGZ 10.3-14.8 13d Nightly A  B  C 
[dss 15']  [simbad]
X Cam *  ** Mira 7.4-14.2 144d 5d-7d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
omi Cet * Mira 2.0-10.1 332d 7d-10d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
RU Peg UGSS 9.0-13.2 74d Nightly A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]

 

Winter

Binocular
 Star  Type  Range  Period  Freq  Charts & Data
X Cnc SRb 5.7-7.0 180d 7d A  B  C 
[dss 15']  [simbad]
TX Dra ** SRb 6.6-7.9 78d? 5d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
RY Dra ** SRb 5.9-8.0 300d? 7d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
BU Gem SRC 5.7-7.5 325d? 7d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
U Mon RVB 5.5-7.7 91d 5d A  B  C  D  E 
[dss 15']  [simbad]
Telescopic
 Star  Type  Range  Period  Freq  Charts & Data
T Cas * Mira 6.9-13.0 445d 10d-14d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
U Gem UGSS+E 8.2-14.9 105d Nightly A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
U Ori * Mira 4.8-13.0 377d 10d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
AX Per * ZAND+E 8.0-13.0 680 Nightly A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
RV Tau RVB 8.9-11.1 79d 5d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]

 

Bright Eclipsing Variables

 Star  Type  Max  Min II  Min I  Period  Charts & Data
Algol EA 2.1 2.2 3.4 2.87d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
RZ Cas ** EA 6.2 6.3 7.7 1.2d A  B  [dss 15']  [simbad]
U Cep ** EA 6.8 6.9 9.3 2.49d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
beta Lyr EB 3.3 3.9 4.4 12.91d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]
W UMa EW 7.8 8.4 8.5 0.33d A  [dss 15']  [simbad]

 

For more historical information and properties of variable stars please see also
AAVSO: Variable Star of the Season Archive.

More charts can be found at AFOEV - Charts and BAAVSS Charts webpages.



Related Articles:

Selected Issue (#5)

Issue #5
March-April 2014





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PDF Bulletin on Variable Stars


Amateurs' Guide to Variable Stars


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In this issue:
KOI-3278: A self-lensing binary star system by Ivan Adamin

BL Bootis stars - anomalous Cepheids by Ivan Adamin

A revision of NSV 13538 = NSVS 17231162 by Alexandr Ditkovsky

NSVS 11075037 = Dauban V53:
updated elements of a Mira variable in Hercules
by Siarhey Hadon

RS Puppis: the light echoes calibrate standard candles for accurate distance measurements
by Ivan Adamin

SS Lacertae: The non-eclipsing eclipsing binary by Ivan Adamin

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