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Interview with talented young astronomers

Lydia interviewed some young amateur astronomers in whose hands the future of astronomy lies. These boys and girls have achieved an awful lot in a short space of time and have boundless enthusiasm for stargazing!

Mr. Youth in Astronomy

Ryan M. Hannahoe is 16 years old and a member of seven astronomical organisations. He is also the President and Founder of the Schuylkill Valley Youth Astronomers. Ryan is the Astronomical League's Youth Activities Committee Chairperson. His impressive resume includes over 110 volunteer lectures across the United States in the past three years. He has attended the Pennsylvania State University's Aerospace Camp and the University of Arizona's Advanced Astronomy Camp.

Ryan has won numerous awards, including, but not by any means, limited to: The Horkheimer Award, first and second place, and first place at Stellafane. Ryan says he got involved with telescope making after seeing the movie October Sky.

In addition, Ryan does astrophotography, having several of his CCD images published in astronomy magazines. Working to preserve dark skies, he has met with elected officials, including US Congressmen, to discuss how to resolve the problems of light pollution, and has dedicated much of his valuable time to fundraising for this important cause.

Ryan, I hear you have visited quite a few observatories.

Ryan Hannahoe:
"Yes, just recently I was awarded time on the Mt. Evans Observatory in Colorado. I have also visited and/or observed at Kitt Peak, Chamberlain, Schupmann/McGregor, Mt. Lemmon, Steward, Mt. Bigelow, Mauna Kea, and several others."

You are also a prolific writer on astronomy as well.

Ryan Hannahoe:
"Yes, I have at least 50 articles, some of them featured in Sky and Telescope, Astronomy, Optical Engineering and other national magazines, including The Reflector - the AL Newsletter.

Ryan, the Student Telescope Network (STN) is a very impressive and important project for young people in astronomy. How did you come up with this idea?

Ryan Hannahoe:
"I am very excited about the student telescope network. It will bring telescopes to the classroom and to every high school age youth with internet access and capabilities. This valuable youth program was the idea of Dr. Robert Stencel of the University of Denver Astronomy Program and myself."

So the STN's goal is to make telescopes available to every student in every high school in the world. Totally awesome!

Ryan Hannahoe:
"I must also mention that the STN is made possible with the cooperation of the Youth Activities Committee of the Astronomical League, the University of Denver Astronomy Program, New Mexico Skies, and Software Bisque. It is revolutionary in style and manner, and will be a fabulous tool for all high school age youth interested in the field of astronomy."

Young and Talented Dark Sky Advocate

Jonathan, tell me about your involvement with International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

Jonathan Casselman:
"As Chairman for IDA's Youth Working Group, I am assembling a Youth IDA-Team; recruiting youth from across North America and adult mentors from the major sectors of Astronomy. For this purpose, I'm developing a youth astronomy forum web site.

"Our goal is to bring universal awareness to the needless loss of our night skies, emphasizing that we can eliminate light pollution by utilising full-cutoff, motion-sensor and reduced outdoor lighting."

Jonathan, did you receive much interference from those in your area before you were successful in getting the lighting company to even consider the "option" or "sky caps"?

Jonathan Casselman:
"Of course there was the initial resistance to change by certain factions. Much to their credit however, our power company has acted as a partner with me in programs and suggestions that save energy; with the Hubbel SkyCap Project being no exception. It is a real pleasure working with them and I feel like we are on the same team. We have developed a program where anyone with an Inland Power yardlight, who purchases a SkyCap, can have it installed free of charge! This greatly simplifies the upgrading of these lights and encourages customers to take a proactive role in preserving our night skies."

And you were telling me about your Dark-Sky Preservation Project, this indeed sounds interesting.

Jonathan Casselman:
"Presently, the focus of my Dark Sky Preservation Project has been directed towards establishing the IDA Youth Working Group. However, I have experienced several recent advances in the local arena.

"One example: our nearby neighbour, who operated an antiquated 175 Watt Mercury Vapor yardlight which could not be upgraded with the Hubbel SkyCap, moved. Through a positive contact with the real estate agent, I was able to connect with the new owners; the ensuing friendship resulted in the yardlight being disconnected. The results are eliminated glare and light trespass, perfect for our neighborhood star parties!"

Let's talk about Stargaze - tell me about your involvement this year and in years past.

Jonathan Casselman:
"StarGaze is a highly publicised annual outreach where members of the Spokane Astronomical Society set up their telescopes for public viewing of the cosmos.

"It was at StarGaze 2000, with more than a thousand people in attendance, that I was able to show Clavius and its craterlets at nearly 600 power through my 9 1/4" Schmidt-Cassegrain to more than 50 visitors. Unarguably, the main attraction that night was viewing through the 41.2" Hercules telescope. This behemoth rewarded the attendees with outstanding views of Saturn's intricate disk detail, its delicate ring system and visible moons!

"I was privileged to conduct a 2001 Branch Outreach for the Spokane Valley Area. Following a multimedia educational astronomy program, we adjourned to the telescopes. From the complexity of our universe and how we can preserve our view of it, to the beauty of the crescent Moon and the sparkling globular cluster M13, I believe astronomy came alive for our 50 plus visitors, many of whom were young people!"

What, if any, drawbacks have you encountered because of your young age?

Jonathan Casselman:
"Although for some it has been difficult to accept the achievements of a youth, it has been my personal and pleasant experience that the more talented the man/woman, the more advanced their age, education, and achievements, the more encouraging and supportive has been their affirmation.

Do you have any published papers?

Jonathan Casselman:
"At the present time, I am collaborating with Dr. Richard Schmude, Astronomy Professor and ALPO Remote Planets Coordinator, on publishing a research paper studying Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Through a series of photometric observations, we intend to monitor Titan for any brightness fluctuations that may be indicative of changes in the moon's atmosphere."

Talented star child from Kansas

Miss Courtney Hale wanted to see so much on her first visit to Washburn University that she missed the plantetarium showing! (The displays at the planetarium kept her attention for too long.)

Courtney Hale:
"I can still remember when I looked up onto the ceiling, how excited I was, and how much envy I had for the people who knew about space. After the show I talked to one of the Professors about volunteering. He told me to leave a note for Brenda Culbertson, who is in charge of the planetarium and observatory. As I walked home, I hoped so much that she would call me."

Well, Miss Courtney's 'wish upon a star' came true when Ms. Culbertson phoned her the next morning.

Courtney Hale:
"I never dreamed that this would become such a large part of my life. Most kids don't even know what a planetarium or observatory is. I can tell them more than they ever wanted to know. Volunteering has helped me believe in myself and others, by knowing there are things beyond just this small planet."

On 28 June 2001, AL Vice President Bob Gent presented Miss Coutney with the 6th place Year 2000 Horkheimer Award.

Neither rain, sleet nor snow can keep Miss Courtney from her duties at the observatory. Her 'spicy personality' is perfect for controlling the frequent visitors who sometimes may number in the hundreds on observing night. She has also learned to run the 112-year-old telescope. Astronomy is definitely 'in the stars' for Courtney Hale.

Enthusiastic Astrogirl

Ariel is one of the youngest astronomers in Topeka, Kansas. She is a friend of and works alongside Courtney Hale, 6th place 2001 Horkheimer Award winner, at Crane Observatory in Washburn University.

"Courtney and I help give tours to Crane Observatory and the planetarium."

I hear you are a very talented young lady and have been working at Washburn since the tender age of eight.

"I got my volunteer job at Washburn from my grandmother (Ms. Brenda Culbertson) who works there. I run the projector in the planetarium, which is very old, so during the tours we get donations to try to fix it. During the planetarium tours, I work the dials and switches while my grandmother tells the group about constellations."

Ariel made a 'glow-in-the dark' necklace to wear so her grandmother could find her in the dark at star parties. Do you go out often to observe, Miss Ariel?

"I go out every chance I get, to my grandmother's house, because the city has too many lights. I like to go out on the front porch and sit and watch the stars through the binoculars and whenever my grandmother has a star party at her house, I like to set up my telescope next to the others' so I can look at the night sky, too. I have a very small telescope, but would like to get a bigger one sometime soon."

Ariel received her first desktop refractor at the age of four from a teenager who had moved on to a larger one. So what do you observe at star parties, Ariel?

"I'd have to say that my favorite thing to observe is constellations because they have so many stories, and it's also fun to connect the dots. One of my favorite constellation stories is about the winter sky. The sisters are being chased by the bull, which is being chased by the hunter and his dogs."

So are you a future astronaut, Miss Ariel? Do you think you may one day travel into space? Live in space? Work in space?

"I like astronomy as a hobby, but I think I want to be a photographer. Maybe I'll take pictures of the night sky."

Ms. Culbertson tells me that her granddaughter would tell her own stories about the stars and her theories on how they came to be when she was as young as four. She has always been an active young lady and was winning talent contests at 3, 4 and 5. She also does comedy routines.

"At night, I would ask my grandmother why the stars were so jiggly in the binoculars and hand them to her so she could see the jiggly stars and I also wanted to know why they were different colours, and why the Moon was so bright, things like that. We would talk for hours."

Ariel's grandmother says this about Ariel: "She would look in the telescopes and tell us what we were looking at most of the time. She could recognize constellations and comets when they were around. She could even stay up longer than most adults. She still likes to attend star parties and look at the night sky."

"Everyone should get involved in astronomy because it is educational, a fun experience and you get to stay up late."

'Mr. Nebula' - Young Ambassador to the Stars

Steven Wooton is an eighth grade student from northeast Kansas. He explained to me he got his first taste of Astronomy when he was younger and his grandfather would take him out to look at the Moon. Every Thursday he goes to "Crane Observatory at Washburn University to look through the big telescope".

How did you get the name: 'Mr. Nebula'?

Steven Wooton:
"Since I like to look at nebulae, Brenda started calling me that. Nebulae are fine things to observe. I also enjoy observing galaxies, star clusters, planets, and the Moon. My mother and aunt took me to the planetarium at Crane Observatory and I enjoyed it so much, I asked to speak with the coordinator to see if I could help out there. I was overjoyed when she said yes."

Steve 'Nebula' Wooton, is a wonderful example of our responsible youth, dedicated to observing the night sky.

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Author: Lydia Lousteaux

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