Carolyn J. Hurless was the most active and prolific female observer in the history of the AAVSO, with a total of 78,876 observations in the International Database. But that only scratches the surface of this remarkable woman’s life and career as an AAVSO observer, councilor, officer, mentor and ambassador.
Born in Lima, Ohio, November 24, 1934, Carolyn became interested in astronomy at the age of 13 through her love of science fiction. As a young woman, she was invited to join the Lima Astronomy Club, when President Herbert Speer found her name on the borrowers cards of people who had checked out astronomy books from the public library.
Shortly after that, she decided to make her own 8-inch reflector with the guidance of fellow astronomy club members. When the initial grinding was done, Carolyn found that in her excitement she had hogged out a short focus mirror of f/4, instead of the typical f/8 or f/9 scope most were making at the time. In the end it turned out to be a fine instrument. In fact, the short tube length gave her, as she described it, a “feminine” telescope, easily transported and set up for observing. Most of her observations were made with this telescope and she never felt the need to upgrade to something else.
Carolyn learned variable star observing from legendary AAVSO observer and fellow Ohioan, Leslie Peltier. During a visit to her home in 2011, Don Hurless, Carolyn's husband, showed me how Carolyn learned the sky and location of the variables in her program. She had marked an X and circled the area around each one in her copy of Norton's Star Atlas. She memorized the star fields and eventually all the comparison star magnitudes, so that after a few years she didn't need to use variable star charts any more. In this way, she could whip the telescope around from one field to another quickly, and her annual totals climbed.
Carolyn would make the trip to Delphos, Ohio, a few miles away, to observe faint “inner sanctum” stars with Peltier’s 12-inch refractor nearly every week during their lifelong friendship. She knew she was fortunate to have Leslie as a mentor and was more than happy to pay it forward by mentoring other newcomers and sharing her enthusiasm with other variable star observers around the world.
One way she managed to do that was by publishing the monthly newsletter Variable Views in which she shared ideas about astronomy, stories of variable stars and amateur astronomers and humorous notes about her own experiences. She started the newsletter at her own expense and published it for 22 consecutive years.
Carolyn and her husband, Don, invited variable star observers to summer gatherings at their home, where she was able to share her love of the stars and observing in person. These informal star parties, or "August Orgies", as they became known in AAVSO folklore, also included trips to Leslie Peltier's observatory and frequently ended in late night jam sessions with Don and Carolyn accompanying AAVSO member musicians, like Clint Ford.
She managed to reach out and touch people across international boundaries also, in a time when this was not easy to do. She sponsored a Czechoslovakian observer, Jaroslav Kruta, to AAVSO membership. Through persistent correspondence, mainly tape recordings, she taught Jaroslav English, and was able to introduce several other AAVSO members to him by arranging for them to meet when they visited Czechoslovakia. Kruta was so grateful for the friendship he hand made a telescope for Carolyn as a sign of his gratitude. The remarkable story of that telescope can be found here.
Besides sharing her enthusiasm for astronomy with the public, she was a gifted musician who maintained a full-time position as a music teacher, inspiring countless young musicians through the years.
Her service to the AAVSO includes two years (1965-1967) as a councilor and six years as 2nd Vice President of the Council (1967-1973).
Her life ended tragically in 1987, when, after years of excruciating pain from an undiagnosed disease, she died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Her husband, Don, never remarried and continued to live in their home in Lima, Ohio, where he taught piano students. Don Hurless died June 15, 2015, at the age of 87.
Discovered in 1981 by Brian Skiff, the asteroid 3434 Hurless was named after Carolyn. Carolyn's name was suggested by Paul Sventek who provided the citation.
In 2011, the AAVSO successfully ran four pilot programs as a first step towards creating an online education center. We chose to honor Carolyn Hurless by naming this program after her, The Carolyn Hurless Online Institute for Continuing Education (CHOICE). CHOICE will be officially launched in 2012, and the AAVSO is proud to carry on in the tradition of this remarkable woman.