Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
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Richard Huziak holds the RASC's Chant Medal next to his 10-inch Newtonian
My older brother, Jim, and I both became interested in astronomy in September 1968. Our interest came about from borrowing a few good astronomy books from our town library, and from the great interest that we all had in the Apollo missions to the moon. Our first telescope was a slightly damaged 60-mm Tasco refractor which Eaton's gave us at a discount, and which performed well for many years. This scope showed us the rings of Saturn, the phases of Venus and most of the Messier objects. We also quickly acquired a copy of Norton's Star Atlas which opened the heavens to us! It was in Norton's that I first noticed those stars with little v's beside them., I labouriously plotted the starfields around these stars, made up my own sequences, and plotted my first crude light curves.
In 1976, I entered the University of Saskatchewan, met some other amateurs and soon had joined the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. In the RASC, I met Mike Wesolowski, a just-new AAVSO member. Mike had a regular variable observing program, mostly using binoculars. Mike and I began exchanging common observations and began a long-term study on the eclipsing binary RZ Cassiopeiae.
When Burnham's Celestial Handbook came out in 1978, I read the 3 volumes cover to cover. Burnham's wonderful stories inspired me to begin serious observing. His dozens of variable star charts made variable star watching more fun than ever. I observed and plotted light curves for many years, accumulating hundreds, then thousands of estimates in my logbooks. But I still was not reporting to AAVSO. Quite frankly, I didn't know that non-members could report their observations, and I always seemed to be a member of too many other organizations, which stretched my meager student bank account far enough!
I continued observing variables for my own research projects, and continued to accumulate thousands more estimates. However, guilt was upon me. I knew I had been sitting on these variable star estimates, and that some of those might have some scientific value. Finally, in 1996, I wrote to Janet Mattei, asking if she might be interested in these back observations which dated from 1970 to present. She was delighted, and sent me the AAVSO data entry software. Over the next seven months, I combed through my logbooks, and eventually reported over 7000 estimates of several hundred stars to the AAVSO archives! I even found a "bug" in the AAVSO software that didn't allow reported dates prior to January 1, 1980. When I inquired about the bug, I was told that "even AAVSO's worst procrastinators never waited this long to submit their observations!" I couldn't argue with that!
This bit of embarrassment (and very sore fingers from all that typing) caused me to be far more serious about variable star observing and prompt monthly reporting. In addition to the back observations, I also committed to a target of 250 new estimates per month. So far, it's going quite well, and I usually meet my goal, since we get an awful lot of clear skies around here, averaging about 20 clear nights per month. I do about one-half of my estimates from my back yard in the city (Saskatoon, SK - pop: 210,000) using a 10-inch Newtonian (seen in the picture). The other half are done through a fine 12.5" reflector at our Centre's Sleaford Observatory, 56 kilometers east of Saskatoon in beautifully dark skies.
I do have other observing interests other than variables. I also report to the International Meteor Organization (IMO), the Can/Am Noctilucent Cloud Campaign (NLC Can/Am), the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA), and am a local investigator for and an associate member of Canada's Meteorites and Impacts Advisory Committee (MIAC) fireball reporting network. I also enjoy deep sky and very deep sky observing, and have vowed to observe the entire NGC catalogue, which I am well into and plan to finish when I am 106 (at the current rate). I also recently completed a 6-year stint as the president of the Saskatoon Centre of the RASC.
In the year, 2001, I was honored by two exciting events. First, I won the RASC's Chant Medal, for outstanding research in the field of amateur astronomy, which included some of the work I've been doing on variable stars. (See the photo - I'm holding the Chant). I also was intimately involved with the discovery of P/2001Q2 Comet Petriew. On that fateful early morning, Vance found what he thought was a faint galaxy. I looked in his scope only seconds later and immediately realized that it was indeed a new comet! Making the first positional measurement, verifying the motion and helping Vance properly report this new object was very exciting - a heart-pounder!
Recently, my variable star interest has taken an unexpected turn with the "discovery" that several stars marked "var?" in routinely observed fields were dimmer than they should be. I have taken it upon myself to investigate these stars to the fullest and hope to get them classified as true variables. There are over 2000 suspected variables in the Validation File, and several more reported each year!
Variables remain my observing mainstay. I mean, what else is there to do when the moon comes up and the aurora burns brightly overhead? Deep sky objects fade away in the glow, but variables always seem to shine through, begging for the next estimate!
I have also compiled a list of Millennium Star Atlas Errors and Omissions, which involve a great many variable star problems. This list and other variable-related lists can be found at Gord Sarty's (another AAVSO member) website at http://prana.usask.ca/~sarty/astronomy.html#MSA
In my spare time, I work as a Manufacturing Engineering Technologist at SED Systems, Inc. in Saskatoon, a Western Canadian aerospace firm. In the past, we've launched Black Brant rocket payloads, built the Space Shuttle's Canadarm pre-flight test set; but most of our work is in satellite in-orbit test and ground tracking stations, and military communications equipment.
Editor's note: Minor planet 4143 was officially named "Huziak" on January 14, 2004, in honor of Richard Huziak.