Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Tough Times and Astronomy
October 24, 2008

With all the bad things we are reading and experiencing as a community and as a nation, the question becomes: Why Astronomy? What does it offer that brings us out of an economic malaise? The answer is actually quite direct. Great economies thrive on the will of the people of their nation to be innovative, intelligent and inquisitive. The extensive study of Science and Technology is the grease of the nation's and in fact, the world's economy. These pursuits are challenging, and teach people how to allow real world facts to shape their opinions. Astronomy is the grease that helps the flow of the desire to pursue these studies.

Thus Astronomy is the inspiration and motivation that leads to a lifelong interest in Science. This in turn leads to better judgments because people can learn how to evaluate observations and facts for their validit, or at least learn to scrutinize assertions for their veracity.

So, if you learn about Astronomy, you learn about the world around you as it is, not as people want it to be. And you learn about how to understand tricky problems, and how to approach their solutions.

All this is done in the context of beautiful pictures, and stunning realizations about the nature of space, time, and our place in the Universe.

The earliest peoples had only the night sky as their "entertainment". They made up stories about Gods and Heroes, and told them to their communities. The stars bind us to our past, and are a common language with other peoples, no matter their spoken tongue. When our grandparents tell us a story of our families while we sit under a starry sky, we feel a great kinship and bonding. The stars themselves are community-builders, in ways that no TV show or movie or band can ever be. When their shows are over, you had a good, loud time. But the stars' patient insistence, night after night, that we notice them is ever-present.

The greatest romances are by moonlight, and our deepest memories are frequently at the wonder of the night sky.

Astronomy has shown that a deep understanding of the wonders of the universe does not have to destroy the simple joy of looking up at the night sky as you hold the hand of your loved one. Whether it is a father and his son, a boy and girl out on a date, a grandfather and his grand-daughter, or just a couple of guys out drinking on the back porch, all of these great and personal interactions can occur even without a telescope.

So, in tough times, the stars give us a link to our families, our neighborhood, and our nation. They kindle our curiosity and evoke our imaginations. They beckon us to look up and meet the challenge they quietly and gently offer. Now, more than ever, our nation and our planet needs great thinkers. The deepest well-spring of motivation for meeting that challenge comes from the quiet and social contemplation of the humbling darkness punctuated with shining with the glittering points of light.

Come join us outdoors. The stars are always out.

About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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