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Why did you become an Astronomer?

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Why did you become an Astronomer?

I am an Astronomy student and I want like to know why you (José Navarro) became an Astronomer and if you still own a telescope.


I have been fascinated by Astronomy from a very early age. I built my own telescope when I was 11 or 12 and regularly observed the stars and the planets. While at high school in Barcelona, Spain, I helped the local observatory with their weekly asteroid observations and was an avid reader of popular astronomy and space science books. I did not make up my mind then as to what to base my career in, because many other fields in science also interested me.

I consider that I actually became an Astronomer the moment I chose to join a graduate program in Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). I had other options, like X-Ray physics at MIT or gravitational physics at Stanford, but when I visited Caltech I liked the school, the faculty and the students, plus there seem to be enough interesting projects there, so I followed that route.

What I find fascinating about Astronomy is that it involves objects that are very different from our daily surroundings, and yet function according to the same rules and laws that we are governed by. Thus the two are linked, and understanding one helps one understand the other. Unlike many other sciences, it is very difficult to perform controlled experiments in Astronomy. Instead, you must build a theory based on what you observe, use it to make predictions and then do special observations to see if your predictions can be verified or refuted. Also, even though my current job is interesting, being an Astronomer is much more glamorous!

When you become a professional Astronomer you have easy access to powerful telescopes, that someone else pays for and maintains, so it no longer makes much sense to keep your own unless you want to use it very often. I kept the telescope that I built for a few years, but it wasn't very good and I later gave it away to someone younger. I no longer own a telescope but I keep a pair of binoculars and star charts handy when I travel, especially if I go to the southern hemisphere (the southern skies are absolutely fantastic).

Have a look at the Caltech web site