From pipes to planets: plumber wins astronomy medal

A stargazing plumber from Australia has won a prestigious astronomy medal.

Rod Stubbings is the 2024 recipient of the Astronomical Society of Australia's (ASA) Bernice and Page Medal that is awarded for scientific contributions by an amateur astronomer that have advanced astronomy.

He's just one of three people in the world to have made 400,000 measurements of the brightness of variable stars and his observations have helped astronomers in more than a dozen countries better understand stars in the Milky Way.

"I don't know what I am going to see each night. Some nights, there will be ten outbursts or more amongst my list of stars, some nights just one or two," Mr Stubbings said.

Living at the base of the Strzelecki Ranges in southern Victoria, Mr Stubbings bought a telescope in 1986 but struggled at first to use it.

However, when he learnt about variable stars he realised he could do something useful for science.

Now every clear night he's in the observatory in his garden, looking at up to 300 stars.

"Each night, it leads to an alert I send to astronomers around the world enabling them to study outbursts in the stars of interest in them," Mr Stubbings said.

He doesn't take photographs, instead he works from memory as he assess each star for its brightness.

He continues to work as a plumber but admits his nocturnal stargazing can at times interfere with his paid gig.

"The local builders know if the weather's good, I won't be on site until smoko," he said.

ASA president Stas Shabala says Mr Stubbings' work is a reminder that everyone can look at the night sky and observe.

"Rod has shown how 'amateur' observations can make a real difference to our understanding of the Milky Way and the universe," Associate Professor Shabala said.