Rod Stubbings- Aussie Amateur Awesomeness

Rod Stubbings at home in the observatory
I've known Rod Stubbings since 1999, when I got heavily involved in monitoring cataclysmic variables for outbursts for the AAVSO and VSNET. Rod was by far the most active observer in the southern hemisphere, and he was solely responsible for the detection of dozens of rare and significant outbursts and eruptions of variable stars.

I finally had the pleasure of meeting Rod in 2002, at the AAVSO spring meeting in Hawaii. He is a quiet, unassuming man, with a quick smile and a knowing gaze. He doesn't have to say a lot for you to understand there is a lot going on behind those eyes. I liked him right away, and admired him even more after meeting him. Rod had been invited to that meeting by then Director of the AAVSO, Janet Mattei,  because she was going to honor him with the AAVSO Director's Award, one of the highest honors our organization bestows on individuals.

Since then he's been plugging away, observing hundreds of variable stars a week from his observatory in Victoria, Australia. He's been at it for over 18 years now. Today I received a note from my Aussie friend informing me that he has passed a significant milestone in his observing career. A few nights ago he made his 200,000th variable star observation, placing him in the top five visual observers in the history of variable star astronomy.

Hi Mike,

A few nights ago I reached a personal milestone of observing over 200,000 visual observations. This has taken 18 years and 8 months since 1993 which basically means I haven't been anywhere in that time frame! You might be pleased to know that I have finally caught up with my backlog of typing up data and all my observations up to December 2011 are in. I don't want to get 12 months behind ever again. Anyway another clear night tonight so back out to see what I can find until morning.....don't have to work tomorrow!


I was honored Rod thought enough of me to send a personal message, informing me of this outstanding achievement.
Yes, 200,000 is a big number, but let's examine what that means in terms of commitment-
Let's assume he can do 100 stars per night. I'm sure Rod can do more, but sometimes the weather will stop you short. That means he has spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 nights under the stars in 224 months. That's 9-10 nights every month for 18 years and 8 months.

If it takes Rod 90 seconds apiece, and that alone should give you an idea of the kind of productivity we're talking about- that's a minute and a half to find the variable, estimate its brightness record it and move on to the next one- that comes to about 5000 hours of observing time at the eyepiece.

Of course, you don't just walk outside and begin observing. You have to open the observatory, uncover the telescope, get your bearings, turn on your dew heater, etc., etc. And at the end of the night there is a routine to closing up the dome that may be equally as long, so let's add say 20 minutes to each night he observes. That's an additional 667 hours total.

Observations not reported to anyone are not observations, and Rod's do not sit in a drawer or spin on a hard drive somewhere, useless to science. He has taken the time to report them all to the AAVSO and other groups over the years. Let's assume it takes him about an hour to type up 100 observations. That's another 2000 hours at the keyboard entering data and submitting reports.

Add it all up, and you begin to get a perspective on the kind of commitment we're talking about here. He has devoted approximately 7667 hours of his life in the last 18.75 years to variable stars. Or 409 hours a year at the telescope and keyboard. Roughly 3 hours a night 10 times a month, every month, for longer than I've known him.

Consider this also, Rod has been working full time throughout this period to support his family. This amounts to 896 work weeks. In the same time period he has invested the equivalent of 192 work weeks observing and reporting variable star activity.

Rod Stubbings is the quintessential citizen scientist. He has devoted an incredible amount of his time, money and effort into helping astronomers understand the structure and evolution of compact binary systems and other unusual stars, and he has done it all for the love of it.

He doesn't get paid. He doesn't have a grant to assist in the expenses of his contributions to science. He has received recognition and awards, but that isn't what motivates Rod. He just has his trusty telescope, an intimate knowledge of the night sky and an unwavering passion for variable star science.

So, what's next for a verified madman and variable star junkie? Rod says, "I told my daughter I was going to slow down and re-discover my family. Unbeknown to her it was only for a few weeks. When she found out she cracked up laughing, saying "I should have read the fine print!""

Congratulations, Rod. I hope we get to meet again, before you catch up to the other living legend of variable star observing in the southern hemisphere, Albert Jones. It's rarified air you're breathing down under these days.

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