Variable stars and astronomical research
Throughout this book, we have described the basics of variable star astronomy, the many ways in which variable stars have increased our understanding of the universe, the frontier areas of this field, and the questions that remain. What part will variable stars play in astronomical research in the next generation? Here are a few possibilities:
The sun is the nearest and most important star, because its energy output and its activity both affect the earth, and life on it. It may be ‘average’ and relatively benign, but the nature and cause of its activity are still poorly understood. Study of other sun-like stars will continue to help.
Sky surveys will continue to expand in terms of depth and continuity of coverage, turning up rare stars which are ‘Rosetta stones’ for understanding the processes which occur in stars.
Continued studies of pulsars – especially binary pulsars – will provide unique information about the laws of physics which apply in the most extreme environments in the universe.
Optical interferometry and the GAIA astrometric satellite will usher in a new era in ‘precision astrophysics’ by measuring the physical properties of stars to better than 1 per cent.
Asteroseismological satellites such as MOST and COROT will provide stringent tests of theories of the structure and evolution of stars.
Faint, distant supernovae will lead to a better understanding of the nature of dark energy.