Citizen Science: Help Solve the Mystery of Epsilon Aurigae

Epsilon Aurigae is a mystery. This variable star changes in brightness over time, and is thought to be an eclipsing binary. Some things about the way that this star fades and then regains it brightness are still not fully understood by astronomers, even after over 175 years of study. But now, you can help. The next eclipse of this star is predicted to begin in August 2009. Citizen Sky is a citizen science project providing you with a chance to do real scientific research to help solve the mystery.

Epsilon Aurigae is a very bright star — a third-magnitude F-type supergiant star — located in the constellation Auriga, the charioteer. This star is bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye even in the most light-polluted cities, and it is visible every autumn, winter, and spring. Because of its brightness, it can be observed by almost anyone regardless of background, training, or equipment. All you need are a good pair of eyes and know where to look.

Epsilon Aurigae model.  Credit: NOAO, AURA, & NSF.
Epsilon Aurigae model. Credit: NOAO, AURA, & NSF.

This star has two-year-long eclipse that occurs every 27 years. But no one knows what eclipses the star, and the eclipse is very unusual. One of the possible models for epsilon Aurigae is that a large opaque disk seen nearly edge-on eclipses the primary star. The center of the disk might be partly transparent, due to the presence of one or more massive main-sequence stars. Because the disk is seen nearly edge-on to our line of sight, the supergiant star isn’t completely obscured even at the eclipse minimum.

Citizen Sky has put together materials guide you through the process of how to observe epsilon Aurigae, how to send in your observations, and then how to see your results, analyze them, and even publish them in a scientific journal! No previous experience is required. Citizen Sky hopes to involve thousands of people all over the world in real, active scientific research.

To learn more and get involved, visit Citizen Sky.

For more about epsilon Aurigae.

2 Replies to “Citizen Science: Help Solve the Mystery of Epsilon Aurigae”

  1. Its a partial Dyson Sphere, closes at regular intervals to comunicate with other inteligent civilizations!

  2. I’m so in!

    Is anyone going to the Citizen Sky workshop in Chicago from 4th-7th August ?

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