by Theodore R. Frimet
Gary Kasparov to the Rescue!
I have not been a Chess enthusiast, oh, for so many years. I remember my finest moments in a chess club, vintage 1980’s downtown Manhattan. Surrounded by Grand Masters, I found myself teased into challenging the best that New York could offer. Well enough said that this sampling was ever limited to the programming and staff of E.F. Hutton and Company. Imagine my brilliance, or at least my narcissism kicking in, when I defeated my first champion. I was no master. I was barely a novice. Never, ever to be repeated again. The same can be said of my Algol study.
Last year I embarked on a resolve to gather light data on Algol. I did not find for want, as her 2.86739 days (Burnham’s Celestial Handbook V3, p1414), of eclipsing binary variability were made accessible to me. I am forever grateful for our clubs access to University of North Carolina, Chapel Hills’ Skynet, and the remote 14 and 17 inch telescopes’ managed by the Dark Sky Observatory (DSO). And yet, due to a twist of fate, my interim data were lost to me. Sadly, my decision to disconnect from a personal server, lost my Excel spreadsheets. Yes, woe unto me. It must be the wrath of the demon star!
I eventually teased out a plan. I am ever so grateful for the oversight of our clubs membership, and separately to Astronomer, Dr. Mary Lou West of Montclair. Please be it known, that despite my temporal association with both clubs, under the joined affiliation of The United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey (UACNJ), that I must admit, my adoration for the kindness that has been shown to me, by all parties. Let’s rock on, shall we!
Gary Kasparov writes, in an editorial, published 7 December 2018 Science (AAAS) p1087, “…machine dominance has not ended the historical role of chess as a laboratory of cognition”. He inspires me, to be persistent that despite the many billions of dollars invested in technology, and the great span of education that melds the mind, we continue to have at our disposal our eyes, and some wonderful automated resources to probe, and validate the depths of our experiential Astronomical knowledge. Perhaps AlphaZero will show us the way, on how to probe the superb starry night, against the black ink of the night sky?
You see, machines can be the experts, as Mr. Kasparov writes, and tells us that they are not merely the tools. However, I must put in the eyepiece, and reconnoiter the night sky, myself. Astronomy is my tool. And I must ask you all to merit the process, and decide if we have been successful as amateurs? My study, and as of late – the reported results are messy – yet may be passable to the curious onlooker. May your observations, my dear Amateur Astronomers, rage against the storm. Be kind. Be discrete, and be happy for me. Rejoice with me, that although we had lost our data, to the cloud, we did not lose our determinism for the stars!
I decided to image Algol, for a few hours before and after her minimum, with 600 seconds worth of pause, between imaging. And again, acquired images during on UT November 10, 2018 from 05:58:58 thru 06:27:14 for 60 seconds between each exposure. 0.1 seconds exposure were planned. However, ‘the plans of mice and men, oft’ go astray’. I say this, as the actual minimum reported in the Observers Handbook, 2018, is Saturday, November 10, 2018, at 05:13 AM UT.
I decided on tasking more than one telescope, in the event the primary 14 inch were not available. And so, in our ‘before’ eclipse, many substitutions were performed by the 17 inch DSO, at 0.17 seconds exposure. Not to worry, as the batch photometer application, hosted by UNC’s Skynet’s Afterglow software, made short work of it. Of course, my learning curve kicked in, and over the course of a few hours, I managed to wrangle out some data. [Placing a side note, here – the magnitude data has not been adjusted to a main star. The plot data, y and x axis, are all relative measurements, to each other and are valid. Having said, I have my doubts that the software correctly placed the coordinates of the main star, in both the 14 inch telescope view and the 17 inch telescope view – which probably accounts for the very steep decline in magnitude in the “before” and “after” images.]
At first, the data appeared misleading, as the 29 minute main segment of eclipse dropped off in magnitude several times. Akin to a a previously learned lesson on tumbling asteroids, that give many variations due to albedo, I watched my light curve fall off, abruptly. A probable earth bound intervention took place, as the sky above DSO is not all laminar flow in the Northern Hemisphere, as is found in Cerro Tololo, Chile. DSO, by contrast, is located at 0 meters elevation, here at Latitude 36.253 degrees, Longitude -81.415 degrees.
And due to atmospheric change, my light became askew. I feigned to myself, this is going to go somewhere or nowhere. In my desperation, I remembered the letter I wrote to Gary Kasparov, just this morning. Here are a few words, of the many that were sent. Please recall that Mr. Kasparov sparred against IBM’s DeepBlue in 1997. We have moved so far in artificial intelligence, that the historical dominance in machine learning has long since changed names:
After two cups of coffee, you have inspired me to move forward, with my amateur analysis of a common, run of the mill, eclipsing binary star, Algol.
And despite poor stellar photography results, will plunge myself into a few hours of diagnostic and culminate with an essay for my Astronomy clubs’ next months publishing.
It is after all, what AlphaZero would do. And perhaps, if I may be so brave to express an opinion of sorts, my morning pursuit, would also be the choice of yours, to seek what is not presently known, and to explore a road, not frequently traveled.
Ah yes. The data. As I mentioned previously, I programmed for three astrophotography sessions (UT):
ID 3235779 November 10, 2018 04:19:18 thru November 11, 2018 00:22:10
ID 3235780 November 10, 2018 05:58:40 thru November 11, 2018 00:33:42
ID 3235781 November 10, 2018 05:58:40 thru November 10, 2018 06:27:14
I made the above choices based upon data in the Observers Handbook 2018, USA Edition. Here was the plan: 11/10 – Algol minimum at 5:13 UT (1:13 EST), new Moon 11/7.
Just jotting down a few notes for myself, so I don’t become complacent, here:
Given that the minima of Algol is stated as a mid-eclipse, time the photography as starting 5 hours and 10 minutes prior to the mid-eclipse. Take images every 10 minutes, for five hours, then an image every minute for 20 minutes, then an image every 10 minutes for five hours.
Image capture prior to minima: 6 x 5 = 30 (prior to mid-eclipse) plus 6 x 5 = 30 (after mid-eclipse) plus 20 images during mid-eclipse for a total of 80 exposures.
The images I captured, left me scratching my head. They were not the images I had hoped to capture to make a video. Last month, I turned to Vice President Larry Kane, and said, “Larry, I’ve got to make lemonade out these lemons!” I will do a light study, and publish the results. Yes, my Amateurs, it took two doctors, and a club member friend, to help self-motivate and get the below images to you. I hope they do not drive you insane, as you ponder, “why, oh why, has it taken him so long to espouse a simple opener for a very basic graphic”?
Yet, I could of opined:
“all I ask for is a star
a telescope to guide me
instill within me the strength
to tarry the longest,
whilst navigating the ocean
of the nights sky”.
Look below. And when done, go to your telescopes, and look above. Peace be unto you, this Holiday Season. Blessed are the keepers of the 5%.
I finally got the bandwidth to visually look over the 17 inch telescope images, this fine Sunday morning (December 23, 2018)!
Algol is clearly moving out of frame, and the resulting photometric is observing a dark field, and not Algol on the 17” DSO telescope. This applied to the study ID 3235779, which is the “BEFORE”
This project will have to go onto the back burner, for another year, or until the next moonless night with Algol approaching a minimum.
However, since the “AFTER”, which is study ID 3235780 made 29 image captures with the 14 inch telescope, and only two (#25, and #26) were imaged with the 17 inch DSO, there may be some science of consequence to compare the “DURING” to the “AFTER” images.
In the words of Ursa Comicus, aka Winnie the Pooh, “oh bother”.
There are scientists, who will not submit data for publication, when the outcome doesn’t match their expectations. At the “minimal”, if the experiment is a flop, don’t expect to read about it. There are real time developments to the contrary, however.
The particular ethic of publishing, or not, is measurable. A repository for scientific peer reviewed papers was developed. That is, papers are prepositioned in a database, pre-experiment and then the commitment must be made, to publish, post-experiment.
It is in this spirit, that I offer my “mistakes”, so that you can watch out for the pitfalls that I have experienced, both those that are visible, and the few glaring mistakes that, as an amateur, that I may have missed altogether. You know, “I can’t see the forest for the trees”?
Allow me to close the essay, “Deep Thought, Deep Thinking”, with a directed prose to AlphaZero. Whom I would like to bestow the informal nickname, “AZ” (Alt-Az):
“sweep away the mistakes
not under the carpet
nigh, sweep away under the stars.
for all that can peer with scope in hand
to view once more the inner sanctum of truth.”
As you approach the last few milestones, dear AZ, be cautious. You will attain what others lack in awareness. And end up making the fools of us, alt-ogether.
P.S. – I ran another look at Algol, and my latest BEFORE wasn’t executed until the approximate minimal time. Probably so, because I started the first run, just after sun-down. So I pondered. I thought to myself, “this has happened before – don’t cancel the observation – you will need it”. I gave it a few seconds, which to AZ would have been a short lifetime. And decided to cancel the remaining observations.
Of course, came the morning. I had a good nights sleep. Then awareness overtook me. I became, once more, a rational, thinking human being. Slowly, I came to regret cancelling all observations. Yes, I should have stopped the “BEFORE”. The remaining two legs of data could have been managed and used to confirm a 30 minute minimal, and a new “AFTER”.
Final Jeopardy: “I’d say thistles, but nobody listens to me, anyway.” Answer: Who is Eeyore?