Monday, May 05, 2003

My interest in astronomy was awakened when I was 16 years old. Through a recommendation from an older classmate, I went to the Thacher SSP program.

The class size was 36 and we were all housed together in a mountain campus for six weeks. This sequestration made us all very close. Many couples formed among the co-ed group and strong friendships were forged. One friend of mine, made that summer, lives in Germany now where he works for the Max Planck Institut. Another works as a cryptographer here in the Bay Area.

Besides lectures and other activities, our main project was to observe a particular celestial object and spend the summer tracking it across the sky and calculating its orbital components. We were broken up into teams of 3 students and assigned to track the orbit of some celestial body - we were lucky to get the comet Giacobini-Zinner which was then streaming through the solar system.

We used an old telescope that demanded heavy involvement from us. It had no tracking mechanism so 'tracking' consisted of one of us staring into a small guidescope for up to an hour, picking a tracking star, and keeping the telescope focused on it by making fine adjustments to where the telescope was pointing. It was hard work but the end result is that we had helped to make new observations which we collated with other "real" astronomers across the globe.

The experience transformed me, it drew me in deeply. I still remember all of it, the luminescent stars, the fleeing little comet and us three kids in a small observatory, bleary-eyed and bathed in infrared light.

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