Hi, my name is Mike Simonsen, and I am a hopeless variable star junkie.
What is a variable star junkie? A person who is willing to brave the elements and sleep deprivation, while investing substantial sums of money, time and spousal permission units to observe stars that, for a variety of reasons, fluctuate in brightness on timescales of minutes, hours, days or years. Once addicted, the VS junkie can never get enough telescope time and spends much of his day fretting over the weather, planning observing sessions, analyzing data, organizing variable star charts, surfing the web and reading books on variable star related topics.
I own a private astronomical observatory that houses a computerized 14" f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. I observe every clear or partly clear night, averaging about 100 nights per year. Since 1998, I have submitted over 95,000 observations to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO).
The AAVSO is a worldwide organization of amateur and professional astronomers who are interested in the study of variable stars. Its purpose is to collect, archive, analyze and publish variable star observations, and to make these observations available to professional astronomers, researchers, and educators.
Variable star research is one of the few areas in astronomy where amateurs can make an exciting and significant contribution to science. In fact, the line between amateur and professional gets a little blurred at times nowadays, in part due to the excellent equipment available to the amateur.
My current area of research is a subtype of dwarf novae called Z Cam stars. I have been the author or co-author of more than thirty peer-reviewed papers on Z Cams and cataclysmic variables. I have met and collaborated with dozens of interesting and brilliant people. I've also been fortunate to be recognized for my contributions.
In 2005, I received the AAVSO’s highest honor, the AAVSO Director's Award. In October 2011, I became only the third recipient of the Charles Butterworth Award, the British Astronomical Association Variable Star Section’s highest honor. In July 2012, I was honored to receive the Leslie Peltier Award from the Astronomical League. And in 2015, the American Astronomical Society named me recipient of the Chambliss Amateur Achievement Award for my research on Z Cam stars, “which promises to have a long-lasting impact on the field of accretion-disk theory."
Main belt asteroid 367732 is named Mikesimonsen in my honor. That was a kick in the head, and quite an honor!
Please, take a look around, but first let me share this advice from one of the most famous amateur astronomers of all time, Leslie C. Peltier:
"I feel it my duty to warn any others who may show signs of star susceptibility that they approach the observing of variable stars with the utmost caution. It is easy to become an addict and, as usual, the longer the indulgence is continued the more difficult it becomes to make a clean break and go back to a normal life."
Never were truer words spoken.
Mike Simonsen (SXN)
C. E. Scovil Observatory
Imlay City, Michigan, USA