It’s often said that astronomy is one of the few sciences where amateurs can still make a valuable contribution. When it comes to HOYS-CAPS, the project wouldn’t exist without us!

HOYS-CAPS, which stands for Hunting Outbursting Young stars with the Centre of Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences, is a project run from the University of Kent by Dr Dirk Froebrich, started in 2014. The aim is to study the formation of stars and terrestrial planets in the disks surrounding young stars. It does this by collecting photometric data of clusters in star forming regions younger than 10 million years and within 1kpc of us.

I found our December talk by Dr Aleks Scholz of the University of St Andrews fascinating, so much so that within a few days, and after a few email conversations with Dr Froebich, I had submitted my first two data sets.  It’s interesting that the HOYS-CAPS project depends on amateurs providing the bulk of the data, supported by a number of professional and university observatories, including St Andrews.

HOYS-CAPS has a list of about 20 target objects that are regularly monitored by participants around the world. The intention of this distributed monitoring is to remove as many data gaps as possible due to bad weather. Our normal amateur instrumentation is very suitable for the task: a reasonable sized telescope and an astronomical camera with an appropriate filter – normal imaging RGB or H-alpha filters are fine. The techniques are also what astro-imagers would be used to: take a number of frames of the same object, stack them, calibrate with dark, bias and flat frames, and then upload the final image to a specially developed web interface where it can be analysed automatically.

Objects include old favourites such as the Orion, Rosette, Pelican and Cocoon nebulae. So if you’re imaging these already then it’s a relatively simple task to format and re-purpose the data for the HOYS-CAPS project. In fact I submitted the raw red channel image of M42 at the top of this article, having taken it during a normal imaging session.

The project hopes to recruit more amateurs and has embarked on giving a number of talks to societies around the country to raise awareness. If you want to keep up to date with the project then you can join the HOYS-CAPS Facebook group and maybe even consider getting involved… the project does depend on the likes of us after all!

Article by Mark Phillips