University Lowbrow Astronomers

Why Astronomy? Part I.

Compiled by Mark S Deprest & Norbert Vance
Printed in Reflections: October, 2010.

A few months ago our Lowbrow meeting was held at EMU and hosted by Norbert Vance. We found out what sparked Norbert’s interest and subsequent career in Astronomy. During that meeting he passed out 3 x 5 cards to the audience of Lowbrows and guests and asked them to write down a few quick lines about what sparked their interest in astronomy and to my surprise everyone did. Then Norbert handed them all over to me saying, “now you have some material for your newsletter.” For that I am eternally grateful to Norbert!

My task then was to do something with this wonderful gift. It took some thought on how I wanted to present these mini stories and as I read through them I noticed a pattern or trend emerging. There were groups of people who shared certain “catalysts”, and when I finished reading all of them I notice 5 basic themes:

  1. Specific Astronomical Event provided by a Mentor
  2. The Space Program
  3. Formal Education
  4. Books
  5. First Scopes (Paying it Forward)

Then there were 3 that just didn’t fit or were too special to fold into one of the above themes.

I will attempt to present these mini stories to you in a series of articles, over the next few months that I have titled “Why Astronomy?”. If after reading this first article you feel left out or inspired to contribute, please send me your mini story, I would like nothing more than to add it to a wonderful subject that we can all relate to! With all that said, I now present you with the first installment of “Why Astronomy?”.

Theme 1. Specific Astronomical Event provided by a Mentor

Jack Underwood from the EMU Astro Club wrote that his interest was sparked by something his uncle Harry had told him about. Namely witnessing (as a boy) the 1910 return of Halley’s comet!

Another person wrote that their spark came when they saw the night sky while camping, and although this person didn’t say if this happened recently or sometime long ago when they were young. Anyone who sees the night sky from a truly dark site can’t help but be moved in some way over the sheer beauty they behold.

Ed Isabel, a Lowbrow remembers that as a boy of 10 years old he saw “Shooting Stars” maybe for the first time and that single event stayed with him 55 years and ignited his interest in astronomy.

Jack Gibson tells of many nights spent with his father, a member of the Genessee Astronomical Society learning to love and appreciate the wonders of the night sky. Jack says these experiences still drive his interests in astronomy today.

Mary Shindell wrote that her older sister took her the Longway Planetarium in Flint some 40 or 50 years ago when she was in early elementary school and that this experience was particularly entertaining due to a wonderful narrator by the name of Richard Walker, who was there for many years. Sometimes we remember special people and how they touch our lives.

Mike Radwick says that many small things started in his childhood but it wasn’t until he was invited to a star party as an adult that his astronomical passion was piqued.

Many of you reading these little anecdotes are probably thinking that is how I got my start or you can relate similar experiences to the answer the question “Why Astronomy?”. This is the end of Part I and if you feel you can contribute to future articles in this series, please send them along. I would love to keep this going as long as possible. Part II will be about those inspired by the Space Program and if this sounds like you send me your story.

I want to thank everyone who contributed and especially Norbert Vance who grabbed these up and passed them on!


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