Although our stargazing parties are temporarily on hold, we’re thrilled to offer you a recent interview with Dennis Mammana – a unique individual and Internationally-known Astronomer, writer, photographer, and leader of the Borrego Night Sky Tours.
What led you from the microscope to the telescope?
I always had an interest in the sky. When the first satellites were launched in the late ‘50s my dad and I would stand outside and watch for them. What little kid staring into a star-filled night sky is not going to be immensely curious? So, while my first hopes were to become a physician, astronomy quickly took over and that’s when the telescope came. Interestingly, had the telescope come first I may have lost interest… a kid working in the dark under a sky he doesn’t yet know, on a piece of befuddling optical equipment would have been a mistake. The fact that I started with a microscope meant I could learn all about optical properties (eyepieces, focal length, magnification, field-of-view, light-gathering power, etc.) in the comfort of my home; when I received my first telescope I was able to go full steam ahead!
Why should young people study the stars?
It’s imperative to have interests and visions greater than ourselves, and what is greater than the universe itself! The sky that young people learn about tonight from home will be the same sky they’ll see their entire life no matter where on Earth (or our solar system) they travel. So why should they care? Because they are made of the ashes of dying stars… the calcium in their teeth and bones, the iron in their blood, the oxygen they breathe-all originated in the stars and were distributed by colossal stellar explosions. In a very real cosmic sense the stars are our great grandparents, and by learning about them we learn much about ourselves… and possibly others who may share the universe with us.
In your opinion, what celestial events are most interesting to adult ‘newbies’?
The big, grand events are those things that capture anyone’s imagination. Eclipses of the sun or the moon, comets and meteor showers are certainly at the top of the list. Of course, the universe displays many amazing subtleties that are equally fascinating, but usually folks won’t be inclined to look for them on their own. From my experience in sharing these subtleties with the public over the decades, I’m always amazed at how what seems to be the most minor phenomenon can spark someone’s interest-especially those phenomena that people have always seen but never understood what they were seeing.
Where should an adult begin his or her star journey?
People should begin not where they think. Most begin by purchasing a telescope-often one much too expensive and complex for them to operate-which soon winds up in the closet next to the NordicTrack. No, a telescope is the last thing to consider. One should begin by learning the night sky-what we can see from our location and others, what changes up there from night to night, from month to month, and learn to identify stars, planets and constellations. Then, to support the need to see more, binoculars could be the next step-amazing sights are visible with binoculars. Visit local amateur astronomy “star parties” and have a look through a variety of telescopes. Only when one understands the sky and telescopes fully should one even ask the question: which telescope should I buy? But, by then, they will already have figured out the answer!
You mention that you collaborated with Arthur C. Clarke. I would certainly love to know more about this and so would many other fans of astronomy, science fiction, and the future.
In the late ‘80s when I was the astronomer and planetarium production director at San Diego’s Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater we decided to adapt Clarke’s short story “Wind from the Sun” for the planetarium. He was quite enthused by the project. He helped us as much as he could by offering many wonderful ideas that helped the production come to life. Unfortunately, we never did meet because he wasn’t well at the time and lived in Sri Lanka, but working with him by phone and mail was thrilling enough for me. Of all the productions I’ve written, produced and/or directed, “Wind from the Sun” is definitely one of my favorites!
Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences, Mr. Mammana… We’re looking forward to the day when the Borrego Night Sky Tours can resume.
Anza-Borrego State Park and the vast sky above it is open 24 hours a day. Have your very own stargazing party as you enjoy the October Meteor Showers under the only International Dark Sky in California. Dennis Mammana and the Borrego Night Sky Tours will be back soon.
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