The Lure of Variable Stars
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The future is shaping up to be different. Today's digital equipment is poised to revolutionize variable-star data-taking. A CCD camera on a small telescope, combined with cheap, powerful image-analysis shareware, can measure magnitudes of much fainter stars much more accurately than can be done by eye. More significantly, automatic wide-field surveys already have the potential to measure the brightnesses of millions of stars covering the whole sky several times a night while astronomers sleep (Sky & Telescope: October 1995, page 13).
Amateurs, however, are working to keep up. They are playing leading roles in CCD photometry (precision light-measuring). And the amateur-oriented American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) could find itself assuming the role of world archive and data manager for the tidal waves of nightly (or even hourly) automatic survey data that will crash over astronomers in the future.
That time may still be years away. And even when it arrives, useful roles will always remain for visual observers at least for bright stars that have been watched for decades using simple backyard telescopes the way they have for generations.