Hypothetically, suppose that you add a long series of observations all taken one day apart to the blinking queue.  Would it be possible to detect large amplitude variable stars with periods of...

Hypothetically, suppose that you add a long series of observations all taken one day apart to the blinking queue.  Would it be possible to detect large amplitude variable stars with periods of 1 day, 1/2 day or 3/4 day? 

Asked on by cfoster4

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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To be able to answer your question, you'll first need to gain a full understanding of exactly what variable stars are and how fluctuations in brightness are measured in variable stars. Below are a few ideas to help get you started.

A variable star is one seen from Earth as changing in brightness. Variations in brightness can be caused by the fact that the star swells and shrinks or by changes in the amount of light that reaches Earth because of some obstruction, like something orbiting the star ("Variable Star").

We can use several methods to measure the fluctuations in brightness in variable stars and "produce light curves" ("Variable Star"). If the changes are regular, the light curve will appear as a wave pattern, which we can use to measure the frequency at which the brightness changes and the amplitude of brightness. The term frequency describes a "measurement of how many cycles can happen in a certain amount of time" ("Lesson 44: Frequency, Wavelength, & Amplitude"). In other words, a plot of frequency shows us how long it takes for the star to change from dim to bright to dim again. The term amplitude, when applied to a wave pattern, refers to the measurement of how big the wave is. We can measure amplitude in two different ways: (1) by measuring "the height from the equilibrium point to the highest point of a [wave's] crest"; or (2) by measuring "the depth from the equilibrium point to the lowest point of a trough" ("Lesson 44"). In terms of measuring fluctuations in the brightness of variable stars, our measurement of amplitude will show us just how bright the star becomes.

However, it should also be noted that changes in brightness usually occur on "long timescales" (Temming, "Why Do Stars Twinkle?"). While it can be possible to measure changes over hours, they are more typically measured "over days, weeks, or years" (Temming).

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