Variable star

Trifid Nebula contains Cepheid variable stars

A variable star is a star whose brightness as seen from Earth (its apparent magnitude) fluctuates.

This variation may be caused by a change in emitted light or by something partly blocking the light, so variable stars are classified as either:

  • Intrinsic variables, whose luminosity actually changes; for example, because the star periodically swells and shrinks.
  • Extrinsic variables, whose apparent changes in brightness are due to changes in the amount of their light that can reach Earth; for example, because the star has an orbiting companion that sometimes eclipses it.

Many, possibly most, stars have at least some variation in luminosity: the energy output of our Sun, for example, varies by about 0.1% over an 11-year solar cycle.[1]


An ancient Egyptian calendar of lucky and unlucky days composed some 3,200 years ago may be the oldest preserved historical document of the discovery of a variable star, the eclipsing binary Algol.[2][3][4]

Of the modern astronomers, the first variable star was identified in 1638 when Johannes Holwarda noticed that Omicron Ceti (later named Mira) pulsated in a cycle taking 11 months; the star had previously been described as a nova by David Fabricius in 1596. This discovery, combined with supernovae observed in 1572 and 1604, proved that the starry sky was not eternally invariable as Aristotle and other ancient philosophers had taught. In this way, the discovery of variable stars contributed to the astronomical revolution of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

The second variable star to be described was the eclipsing variable Algol, by Geminiano Montanari in 1669; John Goodricke gave the correct explanation of its variability in 1784. Chi Cygni was identified in 1686 by G. Kirch, then R Hydrae in 1704 by G. D. Maraldi. By 1786 ten variable stars were known. John Goodricke himself discovered Delta Cephei and Beta Lyrae. Since 1850 the number of known variable stars has increased rapidly, especially after 1890 when it became possible to identify variable stars by means of photography.

The latest edition of the General Catalogue of Variable Stars[5] (2008) lists more than 46,000 variable stars in the Milky Way, as well as 10,000 in other galaxies, and over 10,000 'suspected' variables.

Other Languages
العربية: نجم متغير
azərbaycanca: Dəyişən ulduz
বাংলা: বিষমতারা
беларуская: Пераменная зорка
Esperanto: Varianta stelo
français: Étoile variable
한국어: 변광성
Bahasa Indonesia: Bintang variabel
Kiswahili: Nyotabadilifu
Кыргызча: Өзгөрмө жылдыз
Lëtzebuergesch: Verännerleche Stär
македонски: Променлива ѕвезда
മലയാളം: ചരനക്ഷത്രം
Nederlands: Veranderlijke ster
日本語: 変光星
norsk nynorsk: Variabel stjerne
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Oʻzgaruvchan yulduzlar
português: Estrela variável
română: Stea variabilă
Simple English: Variable star
slovenčina: Premenná hviezda
slovenščina: Spremenljivka (zvezda)
српски / srpski: Променљива звезда
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Promenljiva zvezda
українська: Змінні зорі
Tiếng Việt: Sao biến quang
中文: 變星