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Historical magnitude estimates of Betelgeuse

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A R Pratt's picture
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Historical magnitude estimates of Betelgeuse

In Mark Kidger's excellent webinar on 'Supernova Betelgeuse?' he suggested that Members should search for old visual observations of this star, particularly for the years 1906 to 1918. (Until recently, the VSS database contained estimates of Betelgeuse from 1893 to 1896, then from 1899 to 1906, followed by a huge gap until 1967). 

A long-term project has been underway since 2017 to process the document archives of the late Melvyn Taylor. At the time of writing this has uncovered more than 61,000 unrecorded magnitude estimates of variable stars (38,000 by Melvyn, 23,000 by other Section members). It also unearthed the Observing Log of Alphonso King (1882 - 1936)containing 1,500 of his unrecorded visual estimates, including 290 of Betelgeuse for the years 1920 to 1932. These have been uploaded by Roger Pickard's data input volunteers, filling some of the post-First World War gap in coverage of the star. (See also VSS Circular 180).

It's very satisfying that we were able to add King's estimates to the VSS database in time for their 100th anniversary. Are any other valuable observations resting on Members' bookshelves waiting to be discovered...?

Clear skies,

Alex.

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Historical VS obs

This is excellent work, Alex. Thank you to you and the team, including Roger Pickard, Tracie Heywood, Terry Miles, John Fairweather and Bob Dryden, for working hard to get Melvyn's and other observers' obs into the VSS database. Brilliant news about King's observations!

Only this week we were contacted by Prof Edward Guinan and his student for BAA VSS data on Betelgeuse from the 1890's. Edward is at Villanova University and has published on the recent fade of Betelgeuse and these data will help his research.

As you say, there is likely other data out there, in observing books and elsewhere that could be very valuable. One potential source I have thought about is the English Mechanic. In the 19th century it was quite common for people to write letters to the newspaper with their VS observations. However, in many cases some details are missing. It would be quite an arduous task to go through all the editions, even though the scanned EM is available on disc. Another project for the future....

A R Pratt's picture
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Historical VS obs

Hi Jeremy,

It wouldn't be possible to process such a large volume of unrecorded VS observations without the tenacious commitment of these Section members. I'm aware of cases where valuable observations have been lost after members passed away, e.g. by a house clearance or by wiping their computer drives. Thankfully, Melvyn's family gave us full access to his extensive hoard.

As I mentioned in VSS Circular 180, the BAA Memoirs contain some useful VS data, but perhaps like in the English Mechanic not all salient information is to hand. Yes, they are certainly worthwhile and rewarding projects to search for old observations and add them to the Association's archives and databases.

I've promised Roger I'll write an update for the December VSS Circular.

     Alex.

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Thanks Alex. I look forward

Thanks Alex. I look forward to your forthcoming VSS Circular article

Jeremy