Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Twinkle Twinkle Little Variable Stars

My astrophysics professors always TALKED about variable stars and how particularly important the Cepheid and RR Lyrae variables have been in helping establish interstellar and intergalactic distance scales. They would show "Light Curve" graphs like this one from McMaster University in Canada that depicted the changes in stellar brightness over time.

I realized intellectually, that many of the variable stars had periods on the order of a day and rather large changes in magnitude, but for some reason, nobody had taken any decent movies to really highlight the ubiquity or true visual impact of these stars. But contrast this traditional static image of the M3 Globular Cluster

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

with this relatively recent four-frame movie take by Krzysztof Stanek and Andrew Szentgyorgyi over the course of one night in 1998 on the 1.2 m. telescope at F.L. Whipple Observatory in Arizona.

M3 Color Movie

Wow. That really gets the idea of variable stars across. And now with the temporal information across field of view, you start to notice other things that weren't obvious before, and that leads to new questions such as, " why to several of the stars separated by many light years seem to flash in synchrony? What is the mechanism for synchronization?"

If you like that action, you'll love what the forthcoming LST telescope will turn out. Stay tuned for more.

Images courtesy (APOD)

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