An Unimaginable Dream – A Letter of Gratitude to the Club

On September 16th, I will start my job as the Dark Sky Coordinator intern at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah, managing the astronomy outreach and education program, and measuring the darkness of the sky with an SQM to determine whether the Bortle scale is 1 or 2, probably 1.

How did I get here? Copernicus? Newton? Einstein? Isaac Asimov? The AAA? I have asked myself the same question so many times and exclaimed how fortunate I am to be in this stellar location with national parks and dark skies galore!

MW at Cedar Breaks by Matthias Schmitt
Sony A7rii | Rokinon 14mm | 13 seconds | 16000 ISO | F/2.8

The answer: It is because of the AAA of NY. Its existence and the generous support and many words of confidence from the members made me climb the cosmic distance ladder to get to 10000 feet altitude. But let me elaborate a little bit:

I observed my first total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, and something happened to me. The darkening of the central fire in our Solar System and the subsequent re-ignition fueled the pilot flame of love of astronomy and physics in me like the birth of a protostar when nuclear fusion kicks off.

When I returned from my eclipse trip in 2017, I continued work as the executive producer of the animated kids’ TV show Space Racers. But something was different. There was a thirst of knowledge in me that needed quenching: Add more propellant to the fire! (I know thirst and fire are antipodals.)

I started taking Coursera astronomy classes and then signed up for the AAA class Astronomy 101, taught by Dave Kiefer. After the course, I emailed him and asked what school would offer a Master’s in Astronomy for people who work. He guided me to his Alma Mater, the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University in Australia. So, in 2018 I embarked on going back to school while working full time. I totally enjoyed being a student. The learning curve was steep, and I gobbled up knowledge like a White Dwarf accretes matter from a Giant Star.

In 2019, my Observare Annus Mirabilis, I experienced a total lunar eclipse in New York, a total solar eclipse in Argentina, the Transit of Mercury in Florida (and a SpaceX launch), and an annular solar eclipse in Oman. Yet I flailed a few times taking pictures. I think Stand Honda in his presentation said 15 times not to forget to take off the lens cap! 16 times might have been better.

In September, a message was posted in the AAA email distribution where the Harlem Educational Activities Fund was looking for an astronomy instructor for their high schoolers in their after-school program. I was at first hesitant because I didn’t have a teaching license, but Peter Tagatac encouraged me to apply, so I did. On a Friday I applied, I was in school next Monday for a test lesson, and on Wednesday they offered me the job. I taught there for the last 12 months, and if you have ever been a teacher, once you survived 7th grade, you are steeled for life.

M31 Andromeda by Matthias Schmitt
Sony A7rii | Sony 24-70mm | 70mm | 6 seconds | ISO 51,200 | F/4.0

 

In January of this year, Dave and Irene Pease asked me to teach Astronomy 101 on Zoom, so I did. If one is teaching, two are learning, I thought. I loved every moment of the class and hoped that some of the students got inspired to learn more about astronomy and become regular observers. You will gasp in awe once you have seen Bart Fried’s monster scope.

Once the pandemic arrived and I was cooped up in my apartment, I went inside my mind and heart. I decided that after having lived in New York for 15 years and having discovered my newfound love for teaching astronomy and physics and the amazement of the night sky, this is the time to change. I started applying for teaching jobs out West. My very first application was at a Charter School in Arizona. I applied on a Monday, had a Zoom interview on Wednesday, and was offered the job as a biology science teacher on Thursday. I thought that since I wanted to accelerate my Master’s in Astronomy, I probably couldn’t teach a whole new subject during a school year and take two classes, so I graciously declined. Plus, biology starts with LUCA 3.5 bn years ago, and I’d rather go all the way back to the Big Bang. I figured, there might be something else, maybe a Job X – there ain’t no Planet X but I remain open-minded.

In June, I saw a posting for a Dark Sky Coordinator in Utah at a national park (it helps to cast your net wide with search terms on Indeed.com). It sounded promising since navigating a dark sky seems easy since there is nothing to see if it’s that dark! I applied with my resume on June 25th and followed up with a 13-page presentation. Maybe they thought I was overly ambitious? I was invited for a Zoom interview on July 15th, which lasted 30 minutes. The Search Committee initially asked to tell them about me and why I was interested in the job. After 20 minutes, the head of the search committee said, “that is super-interesting, but we have 8 more questions and only 10 minutes left, and we want to give everybody the same chance!” – “No problem; I am a New Yorker and can easily answer 8 questions in 10 minutes.” The following Monday, I was offered the job and accepted.

I have been here in Utah since August 15th and seen my future workplace and the night sky. They are amazing. There are so many stars you have trouble making out the constellations!

This job is a dream I didn’t know existed, and the AAA of NY helped to realize it, turning matter into energy into action. I cannot thank all of you enough from the bottom of my heart. If I missed mentioning your name, don’t worry, you’ll get first dibs for the visitor’s bedroom.

My return gift to you: I am inviting the members to visit me in Utah. Just not all at once.

Wishing you clear and dark skies.

Matthias

 

MW Time Lapse at Duck Creek Campground by Matthias Schmitt

Sony A7rii | Rokinon 14mm | 107 images | 13 seconds | 12800 ISO | F/2.8

Location: Dutch Creek Campground

 

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