Imagine an astronomer. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Did you picture a lone man, high atop a mountain in a cold observatory, peering silently through his gigantic telescope into the depths of space? If we continue the classic movie trope, he is making a final triple check of the terrifying data he’s been gathering for months…yes…a gigantic asteroid is headed right for Earth! Quick, grab the red phone – a direct line to NASA!
It’s okay if you imagined some version of that scenario. Most people do! Astronomy is perceived as something that geeky men do alone, in the dark, far away from the rest of the world.
Now to be fair, some professional astronomers do work high atop mountains at observatories! After all, the air is generally clearer and colder up on top of a mountain, and clear, cold air is just what you need for looking out into space. But those men – and women! – never work alone. Observatories generally have pretty good sized staffs, and new astronomers are coming and going all the time doing their research. Let’s face it, like most human endeavors, we prefer to do our astronomy in groups!
That’s especially true of amateur astronomers. For many of them, the best thing about their hobby is sharing it with as many people as possible! Professional and amateur astronomers alike love to gather at star parties and share the view of their favorite celestial object with as many people as they can. We gather at conferences, at parks, at campsites, at public observatories. We gather. We share. We inspire.
In this strange time of global pandemic, however, we’ve had to stop. I’m writing this to you sitting in my breakfast nook at home. I can’t go to my planetarium or my observatory. I miss them. I miss all of you!
We’ve been doing stargazing events on the second Saturday of the month at the Virginia Living Museum since 2009, The International Year of Astronomy. We’ve held them rain or shine. We had a stargazing event with a special guest speaker from NASA during Hurricane Matthew. We moved a stargazing event to a Friday rather than cancel when a huge event booked the museum on a second Saturday. We’ve always taken the time to come together to share our love of the sky over Virginia.
Except last month. For the first time since we started in 2009, we had to cancel. And this coming Saturday…we will still be closed. We will miss another stargazing event. I miss all of my staff and my amazing volunteers who make these events so much fun. Most of all, I miss sharing the sky with you, our wonderful guests.
But don’t worry. Like all things, this too, shall pass. We may need to spend a little time apart, but soon, we’ll be getting back together. We’ll be gathering at the planetarium and the observatory. W’ll be sharing our love of the sky, our sense of wonder and amazement. We’ll inspire each other to learn more, to discover more, to be more. I may be missing all of you now, but I’m also looking forward to the day when we will gather once more.
Until then, I’m still going to be sharing the sky with you! Take some time each day and go outside. Look up. The world is still an amazing and beautiful place, and sky above is filled with wonders. The Virginia Living Museum is sharing our love of the natural world with you through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even TikTok. You’ll find daily posts about what’s happening in the sky, videos of our animals, things you can find on your own nature walks and so much more. We’re staying connected even as we need to stay apart for a little while.
Just think how great it’s going to be when we can all get together again. Until that time, stay safe and healthy. Stay strong! And keep looking up!