At my age of 60 years, some would say it is utter foolishness to entertain the notions that David Eicher brought up in the September 2012 issue of Astronomy
. But Brian May did it at around my age, why not let his remarkable accomplishment inspire me towards what would normally be unthinkable? As David proposed, what would I do if I “could magically go back to school and earn a doctoral degree in astronomy” In his words, “what would the subject be and why?” Well, to understand the answer to that question, it’s necessary to know something of my lifelong relationship with astronomy.
While growing up in a far less than affluent family, I dreamed of being an astrophysicist since I was eight years old. A state grant allowed me to get a Bachelor’s degree since it essentially paid for my tuition and almost
all of my expenses. Working all my summers paid for the remainder. I know I was extremely lucky to get that grant and am grateful for it to this day! But the catch to it was that I could only choose from among universities in my home state and none of those offered degrees oriented in the astrophysics direction. I ended up getting a B.S. in geology, though my heart wasn’t really in it.
After graduation, I chose to enter software engineering. I was a pioneer in personal computers, buying my first one in 1978 (long before the Mac or IBM PC) and there ensued a successful 30 year career. As the years unfolded I married a wonderful woman named Julie Simpson and bought a telescope beyond my wildest childhood dreams: a seventeen inch reflector for which I built a digital tracking drive from a kit. Later, we built a house on 21 acres of dark sky in a remote section of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains where my large reflector still resides.
But something was always missing. One day in 2006 while we were sitting on the porch of our mountain home with the spectacular view not relieving a somber mood that I was disparately trying to hide, my wife said something to me that I will never forget. She mentioned that she sensed there was something missing from my life that I regretted not doing. She then asked, “If you could do anything in the world, what you most want to do?” My decades-long dream came spilling out of me before I knew it.
Her answer to my confession was, “Why not now?” I was stunned by those words. I came up with a number of excuses, not the least of which was that at my then age of 54, becoming an astrophysicist wasn’t realistic and that the loss of much of our savings in the last economic downturn made it impossible anyway. In reality I was just plain afraid of failure, but she eventually brought me around.
So in 2010, I received my Master of Astronomy on the astrophysics track with High Distinction, an academic adventure more fully described on my public service science education website: http://astromaven.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html
. Furthermore, I was awarded the University Medal “for outstanding academic achievement at the Master’s level”, an honor above cum laude.
My next goal was to become a PhD candidate doing interesting research. I wanted to do a cutting-edge research project into the physics of H II regions because I have been fascinated by emission nebulae since my teen years. Having been accepted after a year of preliminary candidature work, I am currently well into my PhD research with observations from the Australia Telescope Compact Array, a 6 km wide interferometer consisting of six 22 meter dishes. It’s maybe the most intimidating challenge of my life, but I have never been so excited about doing anything. However, I never forget that none of this would be possible without the initial push and incredible ongoing unconditional support of Julie. Every hurdle I have overcome really is as much her accomplishment as mine. That is the truly “magical” part!
"A Kind of Magic"
by Jay Mosley
I am an 11-year old student at a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) school in Hartford, CT. I am planning on getting my PH.D in astronomy when I am older. I am hoping to study the various types of asteroids. I want to study the chances of Earth being on collision course with major asteroids. I realize that most asteroids don’t pose a threat to us but there are some which us scientists will need to focus on. I would like to work on the problem of asteroid 1950 DA. It is larger than 1 kilometer across and could cause mass extinction if it hit Earth. It is expected to come near us March 16, 2880 so we have lots of time to work on this problem. There is a 1 in 300 chance of it hitting us. I want to find out more about asteroids by looking at data from various space probes. It is probable that there may be other asteroids that may pose more of a threat that we don’t know about yet. I want to be the one to find them. I’d like to work with other scientist to figure out a way to blast asteroids so that the pieces won’t be catastrophic to humans. I also want to find out whether life is in other places due to asteroids carrying life from place to place across space. The theory of panspermia needs more research and I would like to help with that inquiry. I would want to study asteroids by putting tiny probes on them to send back data and video of where they travel. I picture it in my head like how marine biologists tag whale for study. I feel that this would be a fascinating line of study and would benefit humanity.