Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Flare Research: Not done yet

It's been a year and a half since I mentioned anything new on the research on superflares on solar type stars I'd started my last semester at KU. I did mention I keep an eye out for things in the journals that might pertain to it, but I've been pretty much finished with any further work.

But last week, Dr. Melott dropped me an Email saying he had a new student interested in continuing the research. So I typed up a gigantic summary of what I'd done. Well, it wasn't really that much. 75% of it was recommendations on how to further investigate the problem.

One of the main ways I'd thought of going about things was to look through sky surveys like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and check to see if any of the stars had flared again and they'd happened to capture it, or if any stars with close in planets had flared like the hypothesis suggests, and no one had been paying attention when they had.

I finally poked around the SDSS archive today and the problem I'd suspected ended up being right: The SDSS goes down to pretty faint magnitudes of stars, so the stars we were interested in were horribly overexposed (see right for example). That obviously wasn't going to work.

I'd also prepared some notes on the 9 stars that had been known to flare, and many of them were known variables of the BY Draconis type which is a class of variable stars that varies due to chromospheric activity and sunspots. If the stars were variable, it was possible the American Amateur Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) had observations of them.

So I spent awhile tonight poking around their archives and found that for most of the stars, the only data was unusable observations that were taken with just naked eye estimates (or eye + telescope). The variations for the flares we were interested would be lost in the inherent scatter of such observations, so that was useless. However, I realized that the AAVSO allows astronomers to put in requests for observations and some of their members have the CCD technology necessary to make measurements detailed enough to statistically detect the reported flares if they were to occur again.

Thus, putting in a request for an observing campaign with them may be a possible route to take. We'll have to see what the rest of the team decides.

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