Advancing Variable Star Astronomy: The Centennial History of the American Association of Variable Star Observers

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Founded in 1911, the AAVSO boasts over 1200 members and observers and is the world's largest non-profit organization dedicated to variable star observation. This timely book marks the AAVSO's centennial year, presenting an authoritative and accurate history of this important association. Writing in an engaging and accessible style, the authors move chronologically through five eras of the AAVSO, discussing the evolution of its structure and purpose. Throughout the text, the main focus is on the thousands of individuals whose contributions have made the AAVSO's progress possible. Describing a century of interaction between amateur and professional astronomers, the authors celebrate the collaborative relationships that have existed over the years. As the definitive history of the first hundred years of the AAVSO, this text has broad appeal and will be of interest to amateur and professional astronomers, as well as historians and sociologists of science in general.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Advancing Variable Star Astronomy gives a rich, thoroughly documented account of a century of progress, through times of exhilaration and a period of traumatic stress. It is both fascinating and instructive." Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science, Harvard University

"Advancing Variable Star Astronomy is an insightful history of the development of variable star observing in America over the past century that is wonderfully imbued with the feelings and motivations of the various individuals involved in the conception and evolution of the AAVSO, dating from prior to its creation in 1911 to the present. The authors, with their lengthy personal involvement in the AAVSO, have drawn upon available documents and correspondence to infuse the contents with their impressions of the feelings and motivations of the various individuals involved, thereby breathing life into what might otherwise have become a mere recital of names, numbers and dates from the past. But Advancing Variable Star Astronomy is not simply a historical rendering of the AAVSO's first century; it also provides a fascinating glimpse into the development of the various branches of observational astronomy, particularly as they apply to the study of variable stars, and the interpersonal relationships that arose between individuals of often disparate temperament. The picture presented is that of an organization that is more dynamic and useful today then it was a century ago when it began as a gentleman’s club of mostly amateur observers with small refracting telescopes interested in making observations, initially of long period variables, useful for learning more about the nature of stellar light variability." David G. Turner, Professor, St. Mary’s University, Canada

"The pages of this marvelous book are like dipping into magic waters. Intertwined in the story of how stars behave is the story of the first century of the world’s largest organization dedicated to observing variable stars. This is a tale of ideas, anguish, and discovery, from the smallest telescopes to the great telescopes in space. I recommend this book very highly." Dr David H. Levy, Amateur astronomer, comet discoverer, and author

"Much of what we know about variable stars is due to the unsung heroics of a host of amateur astronomers keeping lonely vigils over them in backyard observatories with small telescopes, with remarkably little recognition for their efforts, and with no satisfaction other than the sense of having added their scintilla to the sum of human knowledge. This superbly researched and elegantly written book, published in the year of the centennial of the founding of the AAVSO, is a landmark volume that will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever looked up and wondered at the night sky. It is a compelling tale, well told; I for one couldn’t put it down." Dr William Sheehan, Amateur astronomer and author

"This is the definitive history book on the AAVSO which today is firmly established as the primary facilitator for photometric data on variable stars. The book also serves as an outline history of variable star discovery and research worldwide from its beginnings at the end of the sixteenth Century. With scientific researchers relying more and more upon amateur astronomers to provide photometry of variable stars the future of the AAVSO is assured. The captivating writing style of Williams and Saladyga in conjunction with the comprehensive research undertaken makes for a most compelling read." John Toone, British Astronomical Association, Variable Star Section

"This book was a fascinating read." Tony Markham, Astronomy Now

"is a well-researched, carefully-written and beautifully-illustrated volume that will long remain a classic in the history of variable star astronomy." - Wayne Orchiston, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage

"I highly recommend this book to those interested in the changing partnership between amateur and professional astronomy from the late nineteenth through the early twenty-first centuries." - Horace Smith, Journal for the History of Astronomy, Aug 2012

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521519120
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 5/26/2011
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Williams is the AAVSO Historian and has served in AAVSO leadership positions for over 20 years, including twice as president. He earned a Ph.D. in History from Rice University in 2000, after spending over thirty years as an industrial chemist and manufacturing manager. Since then, Dr Williams has served as a senior editor for the Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, 2007) and has written forty-three entries for that work. Over the past twenty-five years he has published book chapters, encyclopedia entries and over thirty articles and book reviews.

Michael Saladyga is Technical Assistant and Archivist at the AAVSO where he has written several articles on variable star astronomy history for JAAVSO: The Journal of the American Association of Variable Star Observers and has contributed to a number of AAVSO technical monographs and historical articles on variable stars. He earned a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Brandeis University in 1995. As AAVSO Archivist, he has arranged and catalogued the AAVSO's historical papers - the foundation for much of this book.

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Table of Contents

Preface; Part I. Pioneers in Variable Star Astronomy Prior to 1909: 1. The emergence of variable star astronomy – a need for observations; 2. A need for observers; Part II. The Founding of the AAVSO – The William Tyler Olcott Era: 3. The amateur's amateur; 4. Amateurs in the service of science; Part III. The Leon Campbell Era: 5. Leon Campbell to the rescue; 6. Formalizing relationships; 7. The Pickering Memorial Endowment; 8. Fading of the Old Guard; 9. Growing pains and distractions; Part IV. The Service Bureau – The Margaret Mayall Era: 10. Learning about independence; 11. Eviction from Harvard College Observatory; 12. Actions and reactions; 13. In search of a home; 14. Survival on Brattle Street; 15. AAVSO achievements; 16. Breathing room on Concord Avenue; Part V. Analysis and Science: The Janet Mattei Era: 17. The growth of a director; 18. Learning the ropes the hard way; 19. Managing with renewed confidence; 20. Expanding the scientific charter; Part VI. Accelerating Observational Science – The Arne Henden Era: 21. Bridging the gap; 22. Accelerating the science – the Henden era begins; Epilogue; Appendices; Index.
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