Examples of PJAS astronomy projects

For additional ideas beyond those listed here, check out PJAS projects from earlier years and also the projects by winners of the National Young Astronomer Award at the PJAS page

Idea #1:

Monitor a scientifically interesting variable star in collaboration with a local amateur astronomy club. For example, you could study Amateur support organizations for such work include the Center for Backyard Astrophysics (CBA), the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), the Variable Star Network (VSNET), and the AstroAlert News Service. See the links to these organizations on the PJAS page

Alternatively, if you are quite dedicated and have a CCD-equipped telescope you could try to monitor See the this page for a list of the brightest active galaxies.

For a review of some of the exciting (and scientifically important) astronomical observations being done by amateur astronomers, see Nature, Volume 426, pages 116-117 (13 November 2003).

Idea #2:

You could hunt for comets detected by the SOHO spacecraft using the Internet. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has been detecting many comets as they pass near or even plunge into the Sun. Amateur astronomers with Internet connections have been helping to sift through all the data and find new comets. One amateur has discovered more than 65 comets to date, including 6 in one day!

For details check out the October 2000 Sky & Telescope pages 89-92 as well as this page and this one An update is given in the December 2000 Sky & Telescope page 90. Alternatively, you could use these data to study solar surface activity.

Idea #3:

You could monitor an asteroid with photometry to determine its rotation period. Most asteroids are shaped more or less like potatoes. As the asteroid's broad side rotates into view, it reflects the most sunlight; when the narrow end swings toward us, the asteroid dims.

Such work is often done by the Collaborative Asteroid Lightcurve Link (CALL). Check out page 90 of the December 2000 issue of Sky & Telescope. Also check out this page

Idea #4:

If you're into computers and programming, you could perform numerical studies of the stability properties of triple star systems (like a binary star but with three stars instead of two). You would simulate triple star systems interacting under the force of gravity to determine when they are stable and when they fly apart. For example, how close can the three stars start together without one of them being ejected? Triple star systems have complex and mathematically fascinating stability properties that are a subject of research even today.

To get the basic idea, you can have a look at this page although this program will not be sufficient to do this project.

"Numerical integrators" are available for this project (these are fairly powerful, user-friendly, and reasonably inexpensive). Check this page and this one

Alternatively, you could numerically examine solar system dynamical phenomena (for example, the effect of Jupiter on cometary orbits).

Idea #5:

You could study lunar occultations of a particularly interesting class of objects, although you'll have to think up an appropriate hypothesis to test using the scientific method. See the January 2001 Sky & Telscope pages 117-121 and this page

You could also study occultations of stars by asteroids. See the February 2001 Sky & Telescope pages 116-120, the March 2002 Sky & Telescope pages 92-97, the March 2004 Sky & Telescope pages 102-109, and this page

Idea #6:

You could analyze the light curves of dwarf novae using CBA, AAVSO, and VSNET data available over the WWW (see the links to these organizations on the WWW site).

The outburst properties of dwarf novae (for example, rise time, outburst length, decline time, and quiescent interval) show interesting correlations with each other as well as with basic system parameters. Records of the outbursts of dwarf novae are straightforward to obtain but yet they have not always been used to their full advantage.

You could systematically study a dwarf nova that has shown a large number of outbursts or study the overall properties of a sample of such objects.

Idea #7:

If you are an experienced amateur astronomer, you could help to search for transiting extrasolar planets. See the March 2004 Sky & Telescope pages 77-81 and this page for further information.

Idea #8:

You could use some of the more sophisticated Java applets on astronomy to carry out a systematic scientific investigation of an important astronomy problem. For example, you could use one of the Java applets at this page to study systematically the effects of various parameters (for example, galaxy mass) on galaxy collisions. For some further discussion of this issue, check pages 23-27 of the July/August 2001 issue of _Mercury_ magazine (I could send a photocopy of this article if needed). Note that, in a project like this, you must be careful to perform a proper scientific investigation with hypothesis testing and depth of thought. You want to avoid simply "playing with a computer"!

Idea #9:

You could measure double stars using a telescope and a CCD video camera. See the July 2002 Sky & Telescope pages 117-120.

Idea #10:

You could study, observe, and report on one of the famous meteor storms such as the Leonids. Many amateur astronomy organizations observe these. See the November 2001 Sky & Telescope pages 109-115 and the March 2002 Sky & Telescope pages 102-106 for details.

Idea #11:

You could monitor brightness variations of the bright star Delta Scorpii. This is a rapidly rotating B0 star that occasionally flings gas from its equator. See the May 2002 Sky & Telescope page 23.

Idea #12:

You could monitor a bright star undergoing eruptive mass ejection. For example, the naked-eye star Rho Cassiopeiae may be a good target. See the July 2003 Sky & Telescope pages 96-99 and the Jan/Feb 2004 Mercury pages 13-19.

Idea #13:

You could monitor a major dust storm on Mars. See the July 2003 Sky & Telescope pages 107-113.

Idea #14:

You could study cosmic rays using a simple cloud chamber. See this page for some basic information about cosmic rays. Note that, if you do this project, you should be certain to connect your project to astronomy. For example, you could discuss the astronomical sources of cosmic rays. Also see this page

Idea #15:

You could analyze publicly available radio pulsar data. See the this page, this one and this one.