Guest blog: The BLAsT Class Sees Double with Graeme Jenkinson

Posted by Nicole Kiefert
on Tuesday, September 05, 2017

By Zoe Pappas and Jeffrey Berg 

Jenkinson's backyard observatory near Brisbane, Queensland.‚Äč // Photo credit: Graeme Jenkinson

We had the honor of hosting Graeme Jenkinson, who was visiting Wyoming all the way from Australia, for a presentation about observing double stars on a tight time budget. 

Unlike many of our speakers, Jenkinson is an amateur astronomer that does not have the luxury of observing full-time, or even for more than a few hours a week. He explained that double stars are a great way to do some observing that will provide useful data, particularly if you lack a significant amount of time. Double stars also do not require pristine skies to observe, which makes this easier for Jenkinson to observe even from his backyard in Queensland. He is not retired so he is has a fulltime job that he works at during the day, and then during his free time which is at night, he observes the binary systems because they are “cool, quick and easy.” They are so easy to observe; in fact, you are able to observe them with even a good amount of light pollution present, which automatically eliminates the ability to observe many other cosmic object.

Publishing isn't just for professional astronomers. // Photo credit: Graeme Jenkinson
Observing binary stars helps astronomers determine the total mass of a binary system, and then they can look closer at the motions to figure out each star’s mass. Jenkinson told us about a star he had observed that had last been studied by William Herschel in the 1800s, so he was able to update the data on it.

Jenkinson plans his observations by first going to the Washington Double Star Catalogue (http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astrometry/optical-IR-prod/wds/WDS).

He looks for objects that haven’t been updated in a while – apparently sometimes quite a long while -  and then uses his relatively modest equipment to take several images over several nights. Then he combines his images and, after a fair bit of analysis, publishes the information that he has spent months working on.

Most of us didn’t realize that amateur astronomers made important contributions to the field, but people like Jenkinson, who observe for the love of the subject, showed us that even part-time astronomers can help us understand this incredible universe.

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