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Interview with an inspirational female amateur astronomer

A story involving persistence, and love for astronomy and life. Roseann Johnston is indeed an awesome lady. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, she was told by her doctors after a severe health problem that she would never walk again. Well, she proved them wrong! You will find her outside in the company of her family and friends and alongside the best, doing what we all love: "being one with the universe: here and beyond."

Roseann, tell me about the lovely dark skies and fireflies that were a beacon to you as a child in Alabama.

Roseann Johnston:
"I was born in 1956 in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. My love, or rather passion for astronomy comes from growing up in the country near Ward, Alabama, with my grandparents. Our closest neighbors were at least a half-mile down the road. There were no yard lights and very little traffic where we lived. The most light during summer evenings were from the fireflies. It was so dark, the stars looked like diamonds."

Were you attracted to the study of the stars in school?

Roseann Johnston:
"In school, my interests were geared towards the sciences. There were no astronomy classes offered, but I enjoyed the small segments of studying the stars and planets in the regular science classes. Any night I go out, I stand in awe. It doesn't matter whether I have my binoculars and scope or if it's just me out gazing.

"To sit outside beneath a canopy of dark sky and gaze into the depth of infinity, to me, captures the essence of the vastness of our universe, and to realize that I too, am part of all of it. What a glorious feeling it is to know that we are a part of the universe. We are all intertwined, linked from the beginning and on into the future. At any moment, we are the today, the yesterday, and the tomorrow.

"The more I observe, the more I want to learn. I graduated from high school in 1974. I don't have a college degree. My study of astronomy has been mostly self-taught. My husband Scott knows how much I enjoy it. He encourages me and helps me, and my family is also very supportive. Since I can't lift my scope, Scott and the kids help me set up the scope, my chair and other things and then bring it all back inside later."

Roseann started out with a small reflector, a gift from her husband, Scott. She then graduated to a 4.5 inch reflector and her latest and greatest eye to the heavens is an 8 inch Dobsonian which Scott gave her for their 26th wedding anniversary.

Roseann Johnston (continues):
"I've taken a free online astronomy class, offered by Barnes and Noble which was lots of fun. I have been a member of AAAA and AL for two years now. I have earned four observing certificates and pins for the observing programs offered. These were fun to work on."

What other areas of astronomy have you touched on?

Roseann Johnston:
"I'm also learning about astrophotography. During the Christmas eclipse of 2000, I took a picture of the eclipse by just holding my solar shades in front of my little 110 camera. It worked, and I was hooked. A friend gave me a camera to try some night shots. The first set of photos was really bad with lots of squigglies. My photos were better with help from my friends and patience. Oh, the first time I got actual star trails, I was beside myself!

"A few years ago,I had a tumor on my left thigh. I went through chemotherapy to reduce it enough to remove it. I endured 7.5 hours of surgery to remove the tumor and my quadriceps muscle, plus leg reconstructive surgery where the doctor removed part of my femur replacing it with a donor bone, metal rod and screws holding me together! While in the hospital, Scott made sure I had some of my astronomy books to read. I was fitted with a full-length leg brace and then was told by the doctors I would never walk again without it.

"After several months of recovery, My wonderful husband Scott would set my scope out on the front porch and I would go out, balancing myself on my walker. I was all bundled up, especially my head, since I was as bald as could be from the chemo, I would gaze as long as I could, thoroughly enjoying myself. When I was going through radiation I'd still go out at night to observe. The radiation so irritated my leg, I had to forego the brace and use crutches. One Sunday morning I just got up, grabbed my cane, and started walking."

Roseann is so strong and persistent! Last August she had a small tumor removed from her lung, and she told me that it still didn't keep her from her passion for observing, even though she had limited movement in her arms.

Roseann Johnston:
"You bet! I'll always have a grand time amidst the night winds, kitties, crickets, and other country critters, totally absorbed in the sheer splendor of observing. Be it something I've seen many a time or for the very first time. It's what I do."

Roseann has described why we all love the art of stargazing - wouldn't you agree? At time of writing I recieved a message from Roseann's friend who has informed me that Roseann's cancer has returned. We all wish her a prompt and total recovery and hope to see her at the next starparty.

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Author: Lydia Lousteaux

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