AAVSO: American Association of Variable Star Observers

Revisiting Caroline Furness’s An Introduction to the Study of Variable Stars on its Centenary (Poster abstract)

Volume 44 number 1 (2016)

Kristine Larsen
Department of Physics and Earth Sciences, Central Connecticut State University, 1615 Stanley Street, New Britain, CT 06053; Larsen@ccsu.edu


(Abstract only) A century and one month ago (October 1915) Dr. Caroline Ellen Furness (1869–1936), Director of the Vassar College Observatory, published An Introduction to the Study of Variable Stars. Issued in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Vassar College, the work was meant to fill a void in the literature, namely as both an introduction to the topic of variable stars and as a manual explaining how they should be observed and the resulting data analyzed. It was judged to be one of the hundred best books written by an American woman in the last hundred years at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. The book covers the relevant history of and background on types of variable stars, star charts, catalogs, and the magnitude scale, then describes observing techniques, including visual, photographic, and photoelectric photometry. The work finishes with a discussion of light curves and patterns of variability, with a special emphasis on eclipsing binaries and long period variables. Furness’s work is a valuable snapshot of the state of astronomical knowledge, technology, and observing techniques from a century ago. This presentation will analyze both Furness’s book and its reception in the scientific community, and draw parallels to current advice given to beginning variable star observers.