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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2011



A century ago, in the spring of 1911, the amateur astronomer and popular science writer William Tyler Olcott called on his fellow enthusiasts to begin to monitor the magnitudes of about a hundred stars whose light varied more or less unpredictably. Such observations of variable stars would aid professional astronomers, and particularly the Harvard College Observatory. By that fall, Olcott reported enlisting 13 members (including three women) to an organization he had formed and named The American Association of Variable Star Observers. The opening third of this volume presents a revealing glimpse into the heroic early days of the AAVSO. Today the association has become the preeminent amateur astronomy society, with more than 1200 members around the world and an archive of more than 19 million individual variable star observations.

My own membership spans more than half of the life of this venerable organization. I joined up in 1947 as a teenager on the Kansas prairies, determined to become one of the core group of observers who racked up more than a thousand observations per year. Alas! I never achieved that goal, but nevertheless the association and I have been mutually helpful ever since. Indeed, the AAVSO has played a very significant role in my career trajectory, in a way I could not have imagined when I signed up as a life member.

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