By Nico Comargo and courtesy www.citizensky.org
Epsilon Aurigae is just beginning its first eclipse since the early 1980s. In order to better understand this system, a large team has been assembled by the American Association of Variable Star Observers, Denver University, Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, Johns Hopkins University, and the California Academy of Sciences.
Best of all, this team wants and needs your help to study this weird star! As part of the International Year of Astronomy, the CitizenSky project has been created to recruit, train, and coordinate public participation in the study of epsilon Aurigae. It doesn't matter whether you have a PhD in astronomy or whether you wouldn't know which end of a telescope to look through, you are heartily welcome to help. (If you have a PhD in astronomy and still don't know which end of the telescope to look through, that's okay, too! It means you're a theorist, and you can probably come up with 30 new explanations for epsilon Aurigae for observers to test in the coming year.)
CitizenSky got a big boost earlier this week when it received three years of funding from the National Science Foundation for the project. So, instead of worrying how to pay for everything, the organizers can focus on getting the best science, instead.
Some professional astronomers will be studying epsilon Aurigae with big telescopes, too, but we can't look at the star 100% of the time for the next two years. In fact, the biggest telescopes can't even look at the star, because it is too bright. And, besides, there're other neat things going on in astronomy, too! So if epsilon Aurigae does anything unexpected, especially on day-by-day or even hour-by-hour basis, there's a good chance professional telescopes won't be looking. This gives you the chance to be the one making observations of epsilon Aurigae when something cool happens.
In order to succeed, CitizenSky needs your participation and help. If you have a nice telescope with some digital imaging equipment, great! If all you have is two eyeballs and a scrap of paper, that will work too! Just click on over to CitizenSky.org to read more about the project and how you can contribute valuable data to help solve the mystery of epsilon Aurigae.
And, if you know anyone else who might be interested, spread the word!