The Great Canadian Observing Challenge

Richard Huziak

Saskatoon Centre, RASC

Here's the challenge:

You observe at least one variable star and report that estimate to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) within the next year. (Sept 16, 2002 - Sept 15, 2003).

My goal is to have 100 Canadian observers showing up on the AAVSO Annual Reports for 2002/2003. The program is intended to promote observing, and variable star observing can be done under such a wide range of conditions that it is a good place to start. More on this below.


My Commitment:

If YOU observe and report ONE variable star to the AAVSO, I will match that observation with a challenge from you. You may challenge me to observe anything observable in the sky in any astronomical category. I will observe this object and I will describe it on this web page, on the RASClist, in your local newsletter or in the Journal, as is most appropriate . You observe and report one variable star as a minimum. I will observe a possible 100 challenge objects in response over the next year. That's fair, isn't it?

Here're the other rules for this: The challenge has to be reasonable! I will not accept "observe the back side of the moon"! It has to be within my means - I own a 10" Dobsonian, but have access to a few larger scopes, and I really enjoy pushing the observing envelope! Also, the challenge doesn't ha ve to be telescopic. I can observe from the city or from a very good dark site. I have "standard" accessories such as color and OIII filters, etc. I do NOT have a CCD camera - that's not real observing anyway! I'd prefer to keep it more on the simplified side anyway, since any challenge given to me I'd like to see others be able to do as well -as a challenge! Get me to observe your favorite stuff or participate in your program for observation. I don't mind a challenging challenge! The point is to promote observing of all types! I will accept your challenge anytime, but I may not complete it until I have confirmed that you have reported. It's called incentive!


Crazy Am I?!?!?

No! Not at all. This challenge began as a response to a lot of whining on the RASClist (the RASC's web discussion list) about a whole lot of things that had nothing at all to do with what astronomy is all about. Some o bservers have even left the list since there wasn't much for observing reports going on! I don't blame them! In my opinion, the "all about" is LOOKING UP! I'd like to promote getting your fingers OFF the keyboard, and onto your telescope - that is, IF you can find it under all that dust! Of 4000 or 5000 members in the RASC, there are precious few observers, and far more members with a mountain of excuses why they don't, won't or can't observe! Horse hoggies!


Why Variable Stars?

Observing variable stars is fun, easy and addicting. You can observe just a few along with all the other things you observe, or you can get right into them and forget that deep sky objects even exist! Not that deep sky objects are bad - I love them - but there seems to be the perception by many observers that observing can only occur during clear, dark skies and from a dark site to boot, and that what is observed has to be fuzzy! In this way, skies are never clear or dark enough, the moon is always in the way, and it is too far to drive to the dark sight! How convenient - a mountain of excuses why not to observe! Well, you occasionally make it to the dark site in spite of this, then the moon rises, or it hazes over orÉ.orÉ. Most observers then just pack up and go home. Variable star observers ADAPT to the changing conditions and keep observing until the sun rises!

Variable stars do not rely on dark, moonless conditions. In fact, I do 90% of my variable star observing in my light-polluted backyard in the city, and 50% of this time is with the moon up! Variable star observing is so much fun that people find themselves going out a few nights a WEEK - not once every new moon like the deep sky guys! (Again - I'm not knocking deep sky guys - just lack of observing)! Variable stars also require an extreme minimum of equipment. You'll need eyes and/or binocular s and/or a telescope, warm clothes, a red flashlight, and some standard variable star estimating charts. More than 3600 of these charts are available FREE OF CHARGE from the AAVSO's website at

It is so simple that you can begin tonight! Get some charts - download these or get a friend to do so, find the field and make an estimate! Beta Lyrae, delta Cephei and RZ Cas are excellent first targets. T here are maybe 50 naked eye variable stars, hundreds of binocular variables and thousands of telescopic ones. Estimates are NOT greatly affected by moonlight or light pollution. If you can see the star, you can estimate how bright it is!


AAVSO Standard Charts

Always use the magnitudes of comparison stars as given on the AAVSO charts (even if you have a source of magnitudes that differs from the charts). Standard is standard - use the charts! To make an estimate, find the variable in the field. Find one comparison star brighter than the variable and one that is dimmer than the variable, then interpolate a brightness somewhere between the two comparison stars. For example, if the variable is 1/3 brighter than a star of magnitude 8.6 and 2/3 dimmer than star of magnitude 7.4, then the estimate will be 8.2 magnitude. This is as easy as it is! Make estimates to 0.1 magnitude. Note that AAVSO ch arts have the decimal removed for comparison stars' magnitudes so that we don't confuse the decimals for stars! Therefore, 82 means 8.2 magnitude, 106 means 10.6, etc.


Reporting to the AAVSO

The AAVSO web site has many utilities for reporting your observation(s). These include a web-based data entry program, a DOS-based program, and good old pencil and paper. Check out the site for details. ANYONE CAN REPORT OBSERVATION S TO THE AAVSO - YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A MEMBER OF THE AAVSO TO REPORT! You will need to request an observer code from the AAVSO before you report. When you get this far, I will help you with instructions!


Why Report?

As an amateur astronomer, you get to do SCIENCE. This is rare in an amateur hobby. The data you collect will be used by professional and amateur researchers all over the world. They rely on the pool of 300 - 400 AAVSO observers to collect the estimates for over 5000 stars! Your observation might create a flurry of activity at a large observatory and may even trigger an orbiting observatory into action! On the other hand, it might just be fun!


The Challenge So Far

See the linked stats table for number of RASC members that have taken up the challenge. Many of these people have reported to the AAVSO already. Believe it or not, only 24 Canadians (of more than 10,000 RASC or independent amateurs in Canada) were observing and reporting variable stars to the AAVSO before this challenge! As of this writing (Oct. 7, 2002), 25 newbie observers have already committed to make observations of variables, and at least 8 of these people have already submitted to the AAVSO. I'm getting the message across! However, that leaves me 51 people short of the goal of having 100 Canadians on the AAVSO annual report! It is for YOU to volunteer a small portion of one night of your observing schedule to get me off your back!


My Challenge?

I am receiving challenges! My results will be posted in the table below. Any sketches or drawings I make will be posted on this web site:


Contact Me

Richard Huziak


Evening telephone (306) 665-3392 (rarely there - I'm observing! - but the answering machine will talk to you)!

Let me know if you accept the challenge. If so, then keep me informed of your observer initials and when you have reported. And don't forget the counter-challenges!