Gary is one of the most prolific variable star observers in the world. He has reported over 100,000 visual observations to the AAVSO and BAAVSS databases. Quite an accomplishment, considering the fact that he observes from the heart of light-polluted Birmingham, England.
He is a past Director of the BAAVSS, and is currently assistant coordinator of both the UK Nova Patrol and UK GRB detection programmes. Gary is editor of the monthly Variable Star Pages of 'The Astronomer' and is the current coordinator of the Recurrent Objects Programme; the subject of our interview.
CVnet: What is the Recurrent Objects Programme (ROP)?
Gary: The ROP is an observation programme dedicated to cataclysmic and eruptive stars. It all began in the mid 1980's when Rob McNaught observed the first outburst of DO Dra. This was quickly followed by Stephen Lubbock's first ever outburst detection of RZ Leo. Guy Hurst quickly realised that there were many such objects just waiting to be observed, so compiled the first ROP list of stars. I began to observe all of the objects on the ROP in the late '80's. At that time there were very few observers of faint CVs around the world (all visual), and as I was the only contributor to the program around 1989, Guy asked me if I would like to take it over - which I did in 1990. When I became Director of the BAAVSS in 1995, the first thing I did was to incorporate the ROP into the telescopic programme of the VSS!
CVnet: What are the main goals of the program?
Gary: To monitor for outbursts or unusual behaviour either visually or with a CCD. To determine an outburst cycle, orbital period and of course to establish what sub-group if any the object belongs too! To obtain high quality CCD photometry and astrometry once the outburst has been detected (usually by a visual observer), and to provide the professional community with this information once we have it. Finally to raise the profile of the objects to the amateur community, so that greater observational coverage can be achieved!
CVnet: What types of objects are in the program; and how many are there?
Gary: The objects included in the program are poorly studied stars where outbursts occur at periods greater than once per year, and/or where few or no observations of an outburst have been secured. Currently, there are 81 objects on the programme. These are type UG, UGSU, UGSU+E, UGWZ, N, NR, NL, VY, IP and of course objects which are only suspected of belonging to these sub-groups.
CVnet: How often is the list revised?
Gary: I look at the programme regularly, but only make major revisions on a yearly basis. However, if an object comes up that looks like it may be a ROP candidate, then it goes on immediately. If it turns out to have outbursts frequently, I take it off. Once any object is taken off the list, it doesn't mean all the work is done. The star remains on the BAAVSS telescopic programme for continued observation. Any object which is seen to be outbursting more frequently than once per year is taken off. I'm always on the look out for new objects. VSNET was a major source of new candidates, and Taichi Kato and others were instrumental in bringing to my attention many objects worth consideration. These days the SDSS is throwing up some really interesting stuff, and of course the IBVS is always a valuable source.
CVnet: Can you tell us about some of the successes of the program?
Gary: We have had many successes. First ever visual outbursts of many stars including SS UMi, V1113 Cyg, LL And, UW Tri, QY Per, DI UMa, DV UMa, etc. I could go on. There were some very memorable moments too, like Patrick Schmeer’s detection of the outbursts of EG Cnc (and that fantastic light curve) and HV Vir. Also, I remember Tonny Vanmunster picking up the first ever visual outburst of DV UMa, and ringing me for confirmation. We ended up decscribing the outburst to each other on the phone at the telescope, whilst we were actually observing it in different countries! The same thing happened with LL And and UW Tri if I remember. There is also the other part of the tale where stars thought to be rare outbursters were actually quite frequent - SS UMi and V344 Lyr are good examples. These were originally on the ROP, and because they weren't being observed at all were thought to be long period outbursters. The ROP raised the profile of these two stars, which were eventually found to be very interesting short period UGSU stars! I have many examples of this type of thing.
We have also had stars like HN Cyg, which again was thought to be a very rare outburster. ROP observations clearly showed it be a SR star. And of course V635 Cas, which was observed visually in outburst for the first time along with X-ray outbursts being monitored by professionals at Los Alamos! Another success of the programme has been the cooperation with other like-minded groups. The Belgian VVS started a CVAP programme similar to the ROP in the 1990's. Tonny and I worked together to make sure we didn't duplicate our efforts, and exchanged ideas as to what and what not to observe. It also led to a long term friendship!
CVnet: How can CVnet help the program?
Gary: Simply by raising the awareness of the stars on the programme - which I'm confident it will do. Unlike those dark, distant days of the 1980's, many more visual observers are now monitoring these objects for outbursts, and are exchanging observations through the Internet. Outbursts are still missed I'm sure, but not much gets through unnoticed these days. CVnet will play an important role in announcing outbursts so that others can continue to monitor either visually or with CCDs. Also, feedback is very important. Now that VSNET is off-line, CVnet has a very important role to play here.
CVnet: How could professional astronomers be of assistance?
Gary: We need to know which objects are suitable for inclusion into a programme like the ROP, and professional astronomers are our best source of information. Also, it's important that these guys give feedback to the amateurs who make those valuable observations. I've found that in most cases, professional astronomers have been very helpful and supportive in this respect.
CVnet: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Gary: Only that the ROP will evolve along with current trends and interests. We may see more IPs on the list for example. Whatever happens the ROP will continue to highlight many of these weird and wonderful objects, where at this moment in time we haven't got a clue as to what they'll do next - that's what's so exciting!
For the complete listing of objects in the ROP:
Gary Poyner’s Variable Star Pages: