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Guide to Delta Cephei

The "prototype" Cepheid variable star, going up and down in brightness every 5.366 days in a very predictable way.

This light curve was created using all of the observations made by SPA VSS members during a single year - with the brightness changes repeatingly exactly from once cycle to the next, it is possible to combine all observations into a single light curve.

For each observation, the phase (i.e. fraction of the 5.366 day cycle completed) of Delta Cephei was calculated.

As can be seen, the fade from maximum is somewhat slower than the rise back up to maximum. This is the case for the majority of Cepheids.

There are exceptions to this pattern, however - one such exception is the star Zeta Gem (which also on the section's programme) in which the light curve is more symmetrical.

Extreme brightness range 3.4 - 4.3
More typical range always the same range
Period of variation 5.366 days
Frequency of observation Worth checking on every clear night
Observe using

Naked eye - if you have a reasonably dark observing site.

Otherwise use 40mm or 50mm binoculars.

Visibility Can be observed all year round, but is fairly low in the evening sky from March to May

Delta Cephei, like other Cepheid variables, is a yellow pulsating supergiant star whose outer layers pulsate in a very regular way. 

Its brightness variations were first recognised in 1784 by the York-based amateur astronomer John Goodricke. Although it subsequently came to be regarded as the "prototype" Cepheid variable, it wasn't the first Cepheid variable discovered - the brightness changes of Eta Aquilae had been discovered a few weeks earlier. However, Delta Cephei is better placed for observation from the UK and consequently it was Delta Cephei that was more closely studied.

The accompanying chart shows the location of Delta Cephei.

You can follow the brightness changes of Delta Cephei by comparing it with the lettered comparison stars.

Although Delta Cephei is generally described as being a naked eye variable star, the truth of that description depends on the amount of light pollution affecting your observing site.

If light pollution is a problem, then you may find it easier to observe Delta Cephei using 40mm  (e.g 8x40) or 50mm (e.g. 7x50) binoculars.

At maximum, Delta Cephei will be almost as bright as comparison A.

At minimum, Delta Cephei will be slighty fainter than comparison E.

Mu Cephei is also a variable star. It varies in brightness much more slowly (and less predictably), typically varying over a range of about half a magnitude every two years.