My name is Rod Stubbings, and for 27 years now I have been an amateur astronomer, residing in Tetoora Road, Victoria, Australia…. or more or less residing in my observatory for the majority!
My introduction to Astronomy started in 1986 while reading a magazine, it showed a 60mm refractor with stunning pictures of the Planets, and this could all be seen with a magnification of 500X! Well, it was ordered immediately and I eagerly awaited its arrival. With my new telescope in hand, I headed outside to see these Planets, no not that one, must be this one, etc, etc….. could not find anything, and I even had trouble focusing on the stars. I went back inside a little deflated with the whole situation. Not to be deterred, I headed to the newsagents for some books on astronomy. My choice was ‘Astronomy without a telescope’. This book showed the names of the brightest stars in each constellation with lots of well-known objects, double stars and of course where to find these elusive Planets, thus my observing career had started. I still remember the first time I found Mars at 3AM one chilly morning; it looked just like an orange peel.
The general interest in astronomy continued for a few years and I eventually went along to a local astronomy club The Latrobe Valley Astronomical Society LVAS, where I met Peter Nelson, who had an interest in variable stars. Peter was always writing articles on variable stars and trying to get someone (and the more I’ve thought about it “bait” someone) to go out and make some observations. At this point, I was looking at the same objects each night so I thought I could put my time to better use. The bait was taken and with my basic knowledge of the night sky I set out to find all about these variable stars.
The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand RASNZ variable star section was founded in 1927 by the late Dr Frank Bateson, OBE, (1909-2007) and became the recognized centre for Southern Hemisphere variable star research. Armed with a beginner’s book on “The Observations of Variable Stars” from the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, I made my first variable star observation on the Mira star R Cen in May 1993.
My first month of observing produced 10 observations, with countless hours of star hopping and locating variable star fields. I progressed up through the stages of observing from the naked eye, binoculars, 60mm, 150mm, 250mm, 320mm, 400mm and currently a 550mm custom made reflecting telescope. The transition from each instrument was always a new learning curve with more stars and deeper fields to get accustomed to.
I started to monitor the dwarf novae class of variable stars for outbursts. Over the next few years, I was detecting a lot of outbursts which were kept in my logbook and sent to RASNZ every month. With the Internet starting to make a presence, I came across the Variable Star Network (VSNET) a global professional-amateur network of researchers in variable stars and related objects alert mailing lists, which reported outbursts of stars. Reading the VSNET alerts I thought to myself that I had also observed the outbursts mentioned plus a few others that were not reported. There was no point in keeping my outbursts detections in my logbook, so I started sending every outburst detection to VSNET since 1997, which was quite a few per night!
A few weeks later I received an email from Frank Bateson, ‘You may receive e-mail messages resulting from your alert messages requesting additional data. If you do I suggest you tell the enquirer to contact me so they can obtain our complete record. I have already received such requests from those who know you are one of our observers but others may not know of this connection.’
Two months later another email from Frank, ‘I returned at the end of last week from the meeting in Switzerland. You will be pleased to know that your alert notices are being well-regarded worldwide. Keep up the good work.’ So I was quite happy to keep sending every outburst detection to VSNET.
I was now averaging over 1400 observations a month and detecting between 30 – 50 dwarf novae outbursts each month. In 1999 I recorded over 17,500 observations.
Each observing night any outbursts I detected were sent via alert messages to VSNET and the RASNZ. I followed the rise and fall of each outburst until it faded, posting nightly observations. I often receive requests from astronomers to monitor stars for them as well as important program stars from each variable star organization.
My involvement with the American Association of Variable Star Observers AAVSO, the world’s largest variable star organization began in 1997. I received an e-mail from the Director Dr Janet Mattei (1943-2004) “If you would be interested in sending your observations directly to the AAVSO, in addition to the other networks to which you send them, we would very much like to include your observations in the AAVSO News Flashes”. This was a further encouragement to continue observing, especially coming from the Director of the AAVSO.
On June 8, 2002, my 9th year of observing, I recorded 100,000 visual observations, something that was never thought about in 1993. This achievement was made on a star called KK Telescopium, a SU UMa type dwarf nova. I believe I was the first Australian observer to reach this total.
On July 19th, 2002, I was checking my e-mail and noticed a message from the Director of the AAVSO Dr Janet Mattei, titled, ‘Invitation’. It was an invitation to attend the Pan-Pacific, 91st Spring Meeting of the AAVSO, held at Waikoloa Beach, Hawaii, to receive a Director’s Award……” for your very significant contributions to variable star astronomy, particularly to special observing programs.”
After reading the contents several times I felt very honoured, but I could not possibly attend this meeting. After all, I have not even travelled out of my own state, let alone travelled on a plane. Thankfully Janet encouraged me to attend and the realization of stepping into an international plane and travelling overseas to the Big Island of Hawaii was about to come true.
The flight arrived in Honolulu at 1.00AM and the short hop to the Big Island of Hawaii was not until 5.00AM. On the early morning flight to the Big Island, we were treated with a magnificent sunrise coupled with a beautiful view of the islands. AAVSO staff members were on hand to greet arrivals at the Kona airport and then driven to the resort, talk about being spoilt!
Having been in contact with several observers via e-mail only, the meeting provided great satisfaction with finally seeing the faces of so many talented observers and amateur astronomers. I walked up to introduce myself to Janet Mattei (after all, no one knew this guy from Australia) and was greeted with a warm hug! Finally meeting the staff members was also rewarding for both parties, as I had been only known as ‘SRX’ (observer code) at headquarters. Being my very first AAVSO meeting, listening to talks and enjoying the social activities was such an experience I regard myself as very fortunate to have been a part of it.
My main interest in variable stars has been Cataclysmic Variables (CVs) and Dwarf Novae (DNe) although I am now adding more types to my observing list. In the field of variable star astronomy “outbursts” of Cataclysmic Variables and their physics is of particular interest to professionals. As professionals have to schedule observing time at large observatories up to a year in advance, these outbursts would otherwise go unobserved. As there are literally thousands of these stars unstudied in the southern skies, there is a need to try and cover more of these objects.
The novel field of “Transient Object Astrophysics” is becoming a rapidly growing field of astronomy. These events include outbursts of X-ray transient and cataclysmic variables. I have been involved in many professional – amateur collaborations with VSNET, (a global worldwide network of observers particularly devoted to transient object astrophysics) AAVSO and RASNZ which needed a satellite and ground-based observations.
Over the years I have been honoured to receive many requests from astronomers around the globe for notification on specific stars that went into outburst to assist their research programs. It is surreal to think that my observations have directly triggered satellite observations with the EUVE and XTE satellites, European X-ray satellite BeppoSAX, Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra satellite, Fuse satellite, XMM-Newton and Swift satellites.
On January 24, 2012, another personal milestone was reached when I recorded my 200,000th visual variable star observation on the recurrent nova T Pyx which was visible at magnitude 12.5. This was achieved in 18 years and 8 months, and I believe only the 7th visual variable star observer in the world to reach this milestone in the history of variable star astronomy.
Journal: The Astronomer, Vol. 48, Issue 12, pp.311-311
In May 2014, I received an email from the Director of Astronomical Society of the Pacific Linda Shore, informing me that I had been selected as the 2014 recipient of the Amateur Achievement Award that recognizes significant observational achievement by an amateur astronomer. http://www.astrosociety.org/about-us/awards/ This included a cash award and engraved plaque, as well as travel and lodging to accept the award at a banquet in San Francisco. * Citation* “recognizes significant observational or technical achievements by an amateur astronomer to Rod Stubbings, a visual observer who has been responsible for notifying the astronomical community of rare or important outbursts of cataclysmic variables for nearly two decades. If it were not for his persistent coverage of the southern sky we would have missed outbursts of recurrent novae and WZ Sge type objects entirely. He has been referred to as a southern hemisphere fire spotter, who notifies the astronomical community so they can throw water on these “fires” as they erupt with their CCDs and spectrographs. In 2012 Rod passed the 200,000 observation mark, one of only a handful of observers to ever reach that goal. He is author or co-author of at least 80 publications in ADS. In recent years he has been instrumental in helping redefine the Z Cam sub-type of dwarf novae, and discovered the recurrent nova V745 Sco in outburst in the morning sky, triggering an AAVSO Alert Notice and significant attention from the astronomical community.”
On October 9, 2015, my 250,000th visual variable star observation was recorded! This has taken 22 years and 10 months. Almost 30 observations a night for the past 22 years with an average of nearly 11,000 visual observations per year. The presentation was made at the 106th Annual Meeting of the AAVSO at Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee, held November 2-4, 2017.
Just five other observers worldwide have made over 250,000 observations of variable stars which are, Albert Jones (New Zealand), Dannie Overbeek (South Africa), Hiroaki Narumi, Taichi Kato (Japan) and Gary Poyner (England). Only two of these observers Narumi and Poyner are still activity observing.
October 6, 2018, a very special observation was made on the symbiotic star AR Pav which was my 300,000th visual variable star observation. This has been achieved in 25 years and 5 months with an annual average of 11,800. Officially the fourth individual to reach this milestone of visual variable star astronomy. The other observers are Albert Jones (New Zealand), Hiroaki Narumi and Taichi Kato (Japan)
A total of 19,867 visual observations of variable stars were recorded in this year with 938 outburst detections of dwarf novae stars.