My first observations were made with a small 60mm OG bought for me for my 7th birthday in 1965, along with a copy of Nortons Star Atlas. Once my parents realised that I was serious about astronomy, they quickly upgraded me to a superb 6" (15cm) f8 Charles Frank reflector, which introduced me to the wonders of Planetary observing - and in particular Jupiter. In 1970 I joined the Birmingham Astronomical Society as a 12 year old junior member, but I only remained for one year -I did learn a lot in that time though. It was to be another 8 years before I joined another group - The Chelmsley AS (now the Heart of England AS).
I continued to make serious observations of Jupiter with the 6 inch Franks telescope until the late Summer of 1975, when an event occurred in the constellation of Cygnus which was to change my astronomical life forever. Yes you guessed it - Nova Cyg 1975 (V1500 Cyg). From that moment on I was hooked on these strange new stars which can appear without warning. Following this it was a natural progression to move into the study of Variable Stars. I upgraded to a 10 inch f6 telescope in 1977, which served me well for 10 years. By this time 95% of my observing time was spent on Variable Stars. In 1987 I upgraded again, this time to a 16 inch f5 reflector. Made by Dark Star Telescopes, and using a David Hinds Mirror, I made in excess of 100,000 Variable Star observations with this superb telescope until it was sadly damaged in a fire in December 2000. It was replaced with a far from perfect 18 inch f4.5 reflector in March 2001. A Meade 14 GPS replaced the 18 inch in 2003, and in October 2010 the Meade was replaced with an Orion Optics 20 inch f4 reflector. In addition to this I also own an 8.75" reflector which is portable, allowing me to move the telescope around the garden to observe VS fields not visible with the main instrument. Although I am primarily a visual observer, many photometric CCD observations have been made robotically with the Bradford Robotic Telescope, and the Sonoita Research Observatory Telescope. Some of this data can be seen in the light curves displayed elsewhere on this web site.
In 1978 I joined the British Astronomical Association and 'The Astronomer' (TA) organisation. In 1989, Guy Hurst invited me to become assistant co-ordinator for the UK Nova/Supernova search programme, a position I filled until I was invited to become Director of The BAA Variable Star Section in February 1995. I handed over the Directorship to Roger Pickard five years later. From 2000 to September 2018 I have been editor of the monthly Variable Star pages in 'The Astronomer' magazine, processing nearly 500,000 observations for these pages, as well as being a member of 'The Astronomer' editorial board. I am currently editor of the BAA Variable Star Section circulars, secretary of the Cataclysmic and Eruptive Variable Star section of the VSS and webmaster for the Section. I also run the Yahoo BAAVSS Alert group, and manage CVnet. In 1993 I joined the AAVSO, to which I remain a member. I have also served on the editorial board for the 'Open European Journal for Variable Stars' at it's inception in 2006. In 2009 I was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. On the local society side of things, I'm currently Chairman of the Heart of England Astronomical Society & past President of Wolverhampton Astronomical Society.
I have been fortunate in receiving several awards over the years. In June of 2000 the British Astronomical Association awarded me the 'Steavenson Award' for "Outstanding contribution to observational astronomy". The award - consisting of a certificate and a book prize - was presented at the June 2000 BAA Exhibition Meeting. In the Spring of 2003, I was awarded the 'AAVSO' Directors award, presented at the Spring meeting in Tuscon Arizona. This consisted of a written citation and a rather nice 'star' shaped timepiece mounted on a marble base. This award was also very special in that it was the last presented by Janet Mattei before she died. Looking at the names of past recipients for both awards, it was indeed a great honour to receive them. On April 17.913 UT 2007, I made my 200,000th visual variable star estimate (DW Cnc at 15.1mv). For this achievement I was presented with the 'Charles Butterworth' award at the 2008 joint BAAVSS/AAVSO meeting in Cambridge. This consists of a 25cm wide thick slate, with my own light curve of DY Per showing on the face. Charles Butterworth was an early 20th century English amateur astronomer, and the first observer to make one hundred thousand visual Variable Star observations. In October 2011 and June 2019 I was presented with the 'George Alcock' award by 'The Astronomer' magazine for services to the magazine. In May 2020 it was a great honour and pleasure to be awarded the premiere award of the BAA - The Walter Goodacre Medal and Gift. Although with lockdown restrictions likely to be in place for some time, I have no idea how this will be presented!
Variable Star interests
My main interest in Variable Stars are Cataclysmic Variables (CV's), especially Dwarf Novae (DNe). I have around 500 variables on my observing programme, of which some 90% are CV's. In particular I try to monitor as many of the eclipsing DNe as possible. In 2007 I set up a new observing programme within the BAA Variable Star Section dedicated to the monitoring of neglected Magnetic Variables called the Long Term Polar Monitoring Programme. More info. here. In addition to this, since 1994 I have been co-ordinating the BAAVSS international OJ287 observing campaign. This project was designed to observe the two predicted outbursts of this Blazar, in order to confirm the binary black hole nature of this extraordinary object. The campaign web page can be seen here. The project is now over, and was a huge success with papers published in Astronomy & Astrophysics and Nature. More recent observing campaigns I have set up include a joint project between the BAA VSS and Deep Sky section to monitor both the variable star RR Tau and it's variable nebula GN05.36.5.0 (2014-2015) and an observing campaign to determine the dwarf nova type of NSV 2026 in Taurus (2015-2016). On October 10th 2018 I made my 300,000th visual variable star observation in addition to over 45,000 CCD measures.
Working with Professional Astronomers is one of the most rewarding aspects of specialising in CV research. Having collaborated with many over the years, I can honestly say that all I have come into contact with have been supportive of the amateur cause. In May 2007 Prof. Boris Gaensicke & I appeared on BBC News and an I-Cast film (shot in my study and observatory) made for Warwick University concerning the suspected enigmatic UGWZ star HS2331+3905 (now known as V455 And) , which had never been seen to outburst. Little did we know that just a few short months after the films were made, V455 And would shine bright enough to be seen in small binoculars - and the same time that Boris had time allocated at the William Herschel Telescope. An amazing coincidence! The picture on the right shows Boris posing with the Meade 14 during the BBC News and Warwick I-Cast shoot.
The Sky at Night
In February 2012 I had the honour and pleasure of appearing on 'The Sky at Night' to talk to Patrick Moore about Variable Stars. This was a wonderful treat meeting the BBC and Sky at Night team and spending a couple of days filming at Farthings. I even got to observe with his 15 inch telescope along with Chris Lintott and Paul Abel! Wonderful! If only I had managed to see Jimi Hendrix play live before his death in 1970, my life would now be complete!
What astronomer would pass up the opportunity to be photographed with two of the most most famous telescopes in the UK? The top image is the 15 inch Newtonian, and the bottom one is the 'legendary' 12 inch planetary telescope.
The University of Birmingham
In 1990 the University of Birmingham granted me an Honorary Fellowship, bestowing on me the title 'Honorary Research Associate' at the School of Physics and Astronomy. The University have supported me a great deal over the years, in particular providing me with a remote Starlink access since the early 90's before that system was replaced.