October 18 - Contact Binary Stars--Quick New Finds and Characterization
Daniel Van Noord, Calvin College Physics & Astronomy Department student and
Professors Larry Molnar and Steve Steenwyk, Calvin College Physics & Astronomy Department
“Quick” in the title applies in multiple ways to our recent work on variable stars. We will quickly address the following topics. (1) The discovery rate of variable stars by Calvin observers was quickened over 100x using software developed by Daniel Van Noord. Non-uniform spatial distribution of various star types is suggested when mapping our finds. (2) Variable star discoveries needed to be quickly submitted to the Variable Star Index (VSX) so these discoveries can be known to astronomers world-wide—about 50 were accepted by the VSX this summer. (3) We focus our attention on the quickly revolving eclipsing binary stars whose surfaces are in contact, orbiting one another in less than a day. We will show how characteristics of such stars may be extracted from their light curve shapes. (4) We will present strong evidence that one contact binary in Cygnus, having a well-established period of revolution, has suddenly shifted to a quicker period. (5) Calvin College holds the record for the quickest contact binary known. Though discovered in 2010 by Andrew Hess, only when reporting this find to the VSX this summer did we learn that its period of 5.06 hours set a speed record! We will discuss why this is important. We will also describe the broader goals of our observational program to shed light on the mysteries surrounding the evolution of contact binaries that remain unresolved.