A Personal Confession

The truth of the matter is that I’ve had relatively little success as an observational astronomer, never no mind the embarrassing fact that I’ve been at it for more than forty years.  Resorting to numeracy, alone, there are at least at least 3×1023 stars in the observable universe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star) yet I’ve barely glanced at a measling fraction of that whole.  Take the 4×1012 stars in the thirty-nine Messier Galaxies, for instance, then toss in a few odds and ends from the ARP and NGC yet that wouldn’t even put me within ten orders of magnitude of the theoretical total.  Not that the reality of it all is likely to be a fraction of that optimistic number.  No, I’d be astounded to learn that I’d so much as glanced upon a quadrillionth of it all.  And I’m an unabashed optimist!

So the question one might ask is : “Why bother?”

It’s a great question, not that I find myself quite able to answer it well.  Indeed, when I think back upon my astronomical life I can’t help but focus on the frigid nights and the long and dangerous drives to the middle of nowhere.  Plus the bears; I’ve been accosted by way too many bears for my taste.  Add in the great expense and a host of technical difficulties, plus the all-too-likely likelihood of being skunked—I once spent several thousand dollars and great deal of effort to haul my ass up to the largest observatory in Europe (Pic Di Midi) only to be met by an honest to goodness blizzard; on a June 1st, no less!—and any rational observer (pun intended!) would have to be perplexed as to why I do it.

Now I know I’m supposed to wax glorific, to expound upon the spectacle of it all, to offer something pompous and poetical, but the truth of the matter is that I do view my life in astronomy as somewhat quixotic.  Like most of my fellows I rarely look at things that haven’t been looked at before.  And even then, my instruments have been far from ideal.  For a start, I’m more than a little blind (literally, I mean; my vision barely corrects to 20/30 with glasses) but the metaphor is pretty apt, too.  Those with keener “sight” have come before me.  They’ve perceived the heavens with more sharpness and fervor and love than I; no mean trick if I may be allowed to boast.

Happily, though, I’m long past the point of trying to suss it all out.  Indeed, I can’t quite even remember a time when I didn’t think of myself as an astronomer.  Yes, it’s all too often a pain in the ass and frequently underwhelming.  Not to mention difficult; like “Make you feel fifty IQ points dumber than you’d prefer” difficult.  And inconvenient; “No we can’t {whatever rational nighttime activity you want}, I have to go outside and look up before I miss it.”  And it’s cold; did I mention the cold.  Astronomy comes with a whole lot of bone aching “What the in the world could I have been thinking?” chill.  Hell, it doesn’t even come in color; not really, not like in the magazines.  No, there are countless negatives.

Then again, and here’s the rub of it all, there’s wonder; unabashed mouth-agog can’t-stop-yapping-about-a-bunch-of-overachieving-photons-while-you-freeze-your-toes-off astonishment.  Yeah, I know it doesn’t make a normal kind of sense.  Then again, I’m an astronomer.

BTW, and I probably should have started with this: I’m “your” new president (if you’re a DVAA member, that is).  Hello!

I very much doubt that I will be able to serve you as well as any one of my wonderful predecessors but I do promise to try.  There’s a bunch of the day to day stuff to get done but if I may be so bold I hope to do more.  With your help, that is….