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Friday, June 24, 2022

Science Corner – Look up at the sky!

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In elementary school were you very interested in dinosaurs or insects, or stars and planets? If so, I hope you still are because that could develop into a lifelong passion and, if you are as lucky as I was, into a career in science. I was lucky for many reasons. My dad encouraged my interest in science and on a clear dark night I could see hundreds of stars and the Milky Way from my back garden in England. I made a small telescope, looked at planets and explored craters on the moon.

I lived a bicycle ride away from a wonderful man named Patrick Moore, who was writing books about astronomy for people like me. I could go and look through his backyard telescope, he passed me for my Boy Scout’s astronomy badge, and his enthusiasm was catching. In 1957 he started a monthly TV program called “The Sky at Night,” presenting it for 55 years, a world record for a TV presenter. Simply check Sir Patrick Moore in Wikipedia.

The first episode was about a bright new comet, Arend-Roland, that was visible in the evening sky. I was 13, and I remember my excitement at seeing and drawing it over several evenings. I noted to my surprise that in addition to the tail, which I knew always should point away from the sun (blown by the solar wind) there was an “anti-tail” pointing in the opposite direction.

The next evening it was not there. I sent my observation to the Journal of the Junior Astronomical Society, and they published it. I was not the only person to observe that, but it is a rare and brief phenomenon, an effect of perspective, and I was very lucky to see it. So, in astronomy amateurs, even schoolkids, can make discoveries. Look for meteors, erroneously called shooting stars but they are really grains of dust burning up in the atmosphere. You may see a bright fireball – note its path and the time, or even discover an asteroid heading toward Earth.

If your childhood love was dinosaurs, then collect fossils and perhaps you may make a discovery. Whatever your passion, do it as well as you can, and you may be able to make it a career. Go for it!

I decided to make my career in subatomic particle physics, reasoning that I could enjoy astronomy as an amateur, but not the other way round! Nearly 60 years later, that’s how it worked, and I still feel lucky!

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Michael Albrow
Michael Albrow
Michael Albrow is a scientist emeritus at Fermilab, Batavia and a member of Naperville Sunrise Rotary. Born in England, Mike lived in Switzerland and Sweden before settling in the U.S. 25 years ago.

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