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Observe variable stars with your own telescope

Observe variable stars with your own telescope

Before starting this project, read the following information carefully.

Since its launch in 2002, the INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory, INTEGRAL, has been helping to further our understanding of some of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe.

INTEGRAL carries four cutting-edge instruments. IBIS, the Imager on Board the INTEGRAL Satellite, and SPI, the Spectrometer on INTEGRAL,  detect high-energy gamma rays emitted by celestial sources. The other two instruments: JEM-X, the Joint European X-Ray Monitor, and the OMC, or Optical Monitoring Camera, study other types of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the astronomical objects that are studied by IBIS and SPI; JEM-X detects X-rays, and the OMC observes visible light.

While capturing visible light from a selected, high-energy source, the OMC also gathers information about other objects that happen to be within its field of view. Over the years, many of these objects have been found to be variable stars - a type of star whose brightness fluctuates over time.

Of these variable stars, there are many types: Cepheid Variables rhythmically shrink and swell; FK Comae Berenices variables rotate so quickly they are not spherical in shape; and Eclipsing Binaries form a system of two stars orbiting a central point, one of which passes in front of the other, thus blocking the light of the other star from our line of sight.

Take up the challenge – observe variable stars

In this project, you will observe a number of variable stars using your own telescope and obtain images of them using a CCD camera. After processing the image, you will produce the light-curve for each of the variable stars.

A list of variable stars, all observed by INTEGRAL’s OMC, is provided for you to observe. They have been selected as they are visible from the northern hemisphere during the period of the competition and are easily observable with amateur telescopes. The exercise will require you to compare and combine the light-curves from your own observations with those obtained with OMC data. In the right-hand menu, under ‘See also’ you will find links to the following information that you will need to complete this project:

  • Guide to observing and processing variable stars for this project
  • Observing list – variable stars selected to observe for this project
  • Information about variable stars
  • OMC variable star data
  • Example observation log
  • Glossary of terms

Record your project – make a poster

To enter the competition, you are required to submit your observations and analysis as a scientific poster. Your poster should be submitted electronically, with a format no larger than A0 in size (or equal to 8 x A4 pages). In the poster, you are expected to detail the work that you have done and what you have found out (for examples of scientific posters, see this image). For instructions on submitting your poster for the competition, see Submit entry

Judging the project

The poster will be evaluated by a panel of judges that includes scientists who are working on the INTEGRAL mission. It is important to ensure that the poster does justice to the hard work you have done for your project. The judges will assess the following criteria:

  • The description of how you completed the project. This should be in the form of a typical science experiment report: aims, procedure/methods, results, discussion and conclusions.
  • The quality and detail of your description of the project.
  • Your planning and record of your observing sessions. A sample observation log can be found in the right-hand menu.
  • The clarity of the information presented in the poster and its overall quality.

Hints and tips

  • Make sure you carefully choose the stars you want to observe, considering, for example: when you will have access to a telescope, how much time you have for each observing session, your location and the amount of light pollution.
  • You should plan in detail which stars you are going to look at during each observing session.
  • Do not forget to record each of your observing sessions in an observation log. You should keep records even when you are unable to observe due to bad weather.
  • When locating a variable star, don’t forget to double check and make sure that you are looking at the right one, even if your telescope automatically aligns to the star.
  • When analysing your images, you should take into account any errors in your observations.
  • For your observing session you will need your observation log, a notebook and pen, a clock/watch, a dim red light source and warm clothing.
  • When writing up your project, remember that it is to be presented as a poster, and make sure all the information is clear.
  • Entries will be accepted from individual students only.
  • Posters must be A0 in size (equivalent to 8 x A4 pages), and written in English.

Check these pages regularly throughout the duration of the competition for any updates and further information.

If you have any questions about the competition or would like to be notified of any updates, contact Rebecca Barnes at

Last Update: 1 September 2019
28-May-2024 10:22 UT

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