Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine their Spotlight on Jim J. Zebrowski, who is conducting our EVENING OF ASTRONOMY event TONIGHT AT 7:00 PM! Join us at our 65 James Street address for a night of hands-on, interactive night with the stars! See some beautiful slides, learn about space, and if the night is clear, use a high-powered telescope to discover more outside our planet.
Jim J. Zebrowski is the current President of Aldrich Astronomical Society, Inc., a local non-profit astronomical society offering educational programs for adults and STEM activities for youth to encourage an interest in science and star gazing. He has also been a volunteer since 2001 in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program which is a national public engagement program that communicates the science and excitement of NASA missions of exploration to better understand our solar system and the universe we live in.
Jim is semi-retired from his job working as physicist working as a photolithography process engineer in the high tech sector in Massachusetts for over 30 years building circuits that helped our nation’s defense and our planet explore the solar system and universe using remote sensing devices.
Thank you so much for joining us, Jim! What’s your earliest memory about exploring astronomy? What drew you to the stars?
My father (Joseph Zebrowski) introduced me to astronomy when I was 6 or 7 years old because he had taken a course in celestial navigation when he served in the army air corp during World War II – he helped taxi B17 bombers off the runway to get them ready for combat. I had so many questions for him that he finally directed me to our local library in Syracuse, N. Y. ( Hazard Branch Library!!) where I used to walk every day to pick up books and read about science and astronomy!
It always intrigued me that the stars were so far away – how did we know anything about them? How about the planets – especially Mars? Many unknowns that pulled me into wanting to learn more about science and especially astronomy and the space program!
What are your favorite things to study in astronomy? Or your favorite things to find in your telescope?
Favorite things to study are the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system and the search for Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars! I always enjoy looking at double stars, globular clusters, galaxies and of course the nearby planets like Jupiter and Saturn.
What’s the most important lesson astronomy teaches all of us?
It helps connect us to past cultures who also had many people looking up in wonder at the same skies filled with stars that I try to tell people and especially youth about today. Our connection to the stars is in our DNA – we are all star dust and linked to universe we live in.
Is there a particular thing you teach or share with people that gets the most surprise or “I didn’t know that” response? What is that thing and what can you share about it?
Most people do not appreciate that telescopes are not magnifiers but are essentially light collectors! Magnification is not the most important part of the telescope – I try to explain to people that a telescope’s aperture or light gathering mirror, or lens is the essential part of the telescope that allows the human eye to resolve or separate closely spaced objects in great detail! A typical adult pupil that is dark adapted at night is only 4 mm across – a child’s pupil when fully dark adapted can be up to 8 mm in diameter. Imagine that instead of 4 or 8 mm, I can give you a pupil that would be 150 mm across – that is the real power of the telescope – it allows you to resolve closely spaced objects in space and see the beauty of double stars, planets, craters on the moon or distance nebulae!
What’s the most important piece of advice you can give to someone who wants to get into astronomy either as a hobby or as a profession?
To become an astronomer, I learned you need to have a rigorous background in mathematics, which I was not good at, and you have to be willing to spend long hours gathering and analyzing data from any observations you make using the limited amount of telescopes that are available to professional astronomers. Or you can go into public outreach and share your passion for astronomy and space exploration as an amateur astronomer which is wonderful way to learn about the universe you live in!
What are some of your favorite resources for stargazing and astronomy? What are your favorite tools?
The local library is still a great resource along with your local astronomy club – we deliver modified telescopes to local libraries so patrons can explore the night sky from their own backyard by borrowing a tabletop telescope from their library using their library card! I also highly recommend monitoring breaking news through spaceweather.com or going to the NASA Youtube video section to watch What’s Up for October 2017? The latter feature offers sky watching and space updates for each month in a really easy to understand 3 minute format!
What’s your favorite thing to teach people about astronomy and why?
I want people to not be intimidated by what they do not know – astronomy is the most basic of sciences dating back to as long as humans looked up in wonder at the night sky. It helps connect us to our past and helps ground us for a better future – all it takes is a little effort to begin your own personal exploration of the universe by visiting your local library or by joining your local astronomy club. I always tell my students or club members that the stars will always be there for you – if you can look up at the stars and know something about them, you are taking the first step to better understanding the world you live in. It is what I would call, developing your cosmic perspective!
What has been your favorite adventure as an astronomer?
Taking a leap of faith by committing myself to drive across the country to view the total solar eclipse from Tetonia, Idaho on August 21, 2017. I had never driven that far or taken that much equipment with me to any event – it was an amazing experience that I was able to share with my wife and with a few members of my club. It was also an experience that included talking to people as we took our journey across the country – it was an experience of a lifetime!
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
Check out the Aldrich Astronomical Society’s website for all current listings and programs at http://aldrich.club
Thank you again, Jim, for the great interview! We look forward to your Evening of Astronomy tonight, at 7:00 PM, at our store!