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
Monitor a scientifically interesting variable star in collaboration with a
local amateur astronomy club. For example, you could study
A bright R CrB star (a star surrounded by a dust shell)
that is undergoing brightness variations. A brief article on R CrB stars
is in the August 2002 Sky & Telescope (page 24).
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
A bright cataclysmic variable undergoing an outburst. For example, see
the August 2002 Sky & Telescope (page 25) for an article on SS Cygni.
newly discovered binary star (these are regularly announced).
Alternatively, if you are quite dedicated and have a CCD-equipped telescope
you could try to monitor
A bright supernova in a nearby galaxy.
See the this page
for a list of the brightest active galaxies.
An interesting comet.
A bright active galaxy. For example, 3C273 or BL Lac. You can learn about
these active galaxies using this site.
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).
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
An update is given in the December 2000 Sky & Telescope page 90.
Alternatively, you could use these data to study solar surface activity.
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
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
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
Alternatively, you could numerically examine solar system dynamical phenomena
(for example, the effect of Jupiter on cometary orbits).
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
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
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.
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.
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"!
You could measure double stars using a telescope and a CCD video
camera. See the July 2002 Sky & Telescope pages 117-120.
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.
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.
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.
You could monitor a major dust storm on Mars. See the July 2003
Sky & Telescope pages 107-113.
You could study cosmic rays using a simple cloud chamber. See
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
You could analyze publicly available radio pulsar data. See the
this one and